Family Docs Outstrip Specialists in Prescribing Mental Health Drugs

Fifty-nine percent of prescriptions for mental health medications are written by family physicians, not mental health specialists, which raises concern about the quality of some treat ments, a new study indicates. The research, conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and Thomson Reuters, examined 472 million prescriptions written for psychotropic drugs from August 2006 to July 2007. The study found that primary care physicians wrote the bulk of prescriptions in two main categories — antidepressants and stimulants.

The researchers said the findings are important because published independent research suggests that most people treated for depression are more likely to get adequate care in specialist psychiatric settings than from a family physician.

Jeffrey Buck, PhD, a researcher for the survey and chief of the survey, analysis, and finance branch in the Center for Mental Health Services at SAMHSA, says that these findings “underscore the need to recognize that nonspecialty providers play a significant role in the treatment of mental disorders.

“It may not be too surprising to see that nonpsychiatrists are accounting for the majority of stimulant prescriptions, especially for children,” says Buck, “because only about half of antipsychotics are being prescribed by psychiatrists. The rest are being prescribed by other types of physicians and other types of health care providers, such as nurse practitioners or physician assistants.”

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