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Most Prescribed Psychiatric Drugs Monthly (July 2013 – June 2014)

A newly released report from research firm IMS Health collected data on the most prescribed drugs in the United States from June 2013 to July 2014. Although the number one drug was Synthroid, a thyroid medication with over 22 million prescriptions, rounding out the top ten most prescribed were Cymbalta (#8), Vyvanse (#9), and Lyrica (#10). The list is interesting because it shows which psychiatric drugs are being prescribed most often.

When it comes to psychiatric drugs, most doctors and people like something new. This may be why a relatively newer antidepressant that works as an “SNRI” called Cymbalta is the most prescribed psychiatric drug in the U.S. Additionally it seems as though people are hopping on the Vyvanse bandwagon because it is supposed to be newer and safer than Adderall.

Most Prescribed Psychiatric Drugs (July 2013 – June 2014)

The list below is narrowed down to a Top 14 list due to the fact that data wasn’t released on more than 100 drugs and of the 100, only 14 happened to be psychiatric.  Keep in mind that the numbers recorded below are based on number of monthly prescriptions from July 2013 to June 2014.

Understand that the data collected by this research firm may not be 100% accurate, but it does provide us with a good estimation as to which drugs are filling the most prescriptions.  If you are interested in reading about whether prescription numbers were on par with biggest profits, read about the top 12 selling psychiatric drugs from July 2013 to June 2014.

1. Cymbalta (10,065,788)

This is an SNRI (serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor) that is manufactured by Eli Lilly. It is most commonly prescribed for major depression, but can be utilized for general anxiety disorder (GAD). In some cases it is also used to treat peripheral neuropathy, particularly in cases of diabetes.

Other conditions that it has been approved to treat include: fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, and musculoskeletal pain. With the variety of conditions it is used to treat, it makes sense that this would be the number one psychiatric drug of the past year.

2. Vyvanse (10,019,178)

This is a psychostimulant medication that is manufactured by Shire. It is utilized primarily for the treatment of ADHD and is considered the prodrug of Adderall. Many consider it to have less overall side effects than other drugs in its class. It can be used to treat ADHD in children starting at age 6.

It is currently being investigated to help treat conditions like major depression, the cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia, hypersomnia, and binge eating disorders. If it gets approved to treat more conditions than ADHD, expect prescriptions to further increase.

3. Lyrica (9,684,884)

This is an anticonvulsant drug that is manufactured by Pfizer. It is used primarily for neuropathic pain and in some cases to help treat partial seizures. In Europe, it can be prescribed for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Sometimes this drug is prescribed to help manage symptoms associated with chronic pain.  Other conditions that it has been prescribed to treat include: diabetic neuropathy, fibromyalgia, and post-herpetic neuralgia.

4. Abilify (8,777,842)

This is an atypical antipsychotic drug that was made in Japan by Otsuka. It is marketed in the United States by Otsuka America as well as Bristol-Myers Squibb. The drug is primarily utilized to help with the treatment of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. In recent years, it was approved for depression (as an augmentation strategy), tic disorders, and irritability among individuals with autism.

This is a drug that was created to treat schizophrenia, but has been put through clinical trials for other conditions and was deemed helpful enough by the FDA to get approval. This is one of the most-heavily marketed drugs in the United States, leaving many people to believe that they “need” this drug for their depression.

5. Namenda (7,640,319)

This is a novel Alzheimer’s disease medication is marketed by Forest. It has been associated with slight improvements among individuals suffering with moderate-to-severe Alzheimer’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies. It works primarily by blocking NMDA receptors within the glutamatergic system. The drug is heavily researched and hasn’t been found to have an effect on individuals with more mild cases of Alzheimer’s.

6. Suboxone (7,011,882)

This is a semi-synthetic, mixed agonist-antagonist that is marketed by the British pharmaceutical company Reckitt Benckiser. It also has been approved to help control moderate acute pain and moderate chronic pain in non-opioid tolerant individuals. Those who are addicted to opioids may use this drug for opioid replacement therapy. This type of therapy involves stopping the addictive opiate (e.g. heroin) and switching to Suboxone.

The person may then slowly taper down off of their Suboxone in order to minimize opiate withdrawal symptoms. It has been considered for the treatment of depression (read: Suboxone for depression) and buprenorphine is being synthesized in a new formula called “ALKS 5461” to treat depression.

7. Pristiq (3,023,546)

This is an SNRI antidepressant that was developed and marketed by Wyeth (part of Pfizer). It was approved specifically to treat major depression, and is a synthetic formula of the active metabolite in Effexor. Therefore it was considered both a pro-drug and patent extender for the drug Effexor.

The reason for high prescription numbers is that the company’s goal is to transition patients from Effexor to Pristiq. This drug is also is being investigated as potentially the first non-hormonal based therapy for menopause.

8. Focalin XR (2,866,278)

This is a psychostimulant medication that is sold by Novartis. It works as a NDRI (norepinephrine dopamine reuptake inhibitor) and is approved as a treatment of ADHD. It is considered an improved version of the drug Ritalin, and seemingly more potent.

The “Dex” prefix added to the methylphenidate allows for smoother release of the drug with less anxiety. The XR form of Focalin is considered “extended release,” allowing for up to 12 hours of ADHD symptom relief.

9. Lunesta (2,590,519)

This is a nonbenzodiazepine hypnotic drug that is marketed by Sunovion. This drug is primarily utilized to treat insomnia that prevents a person from falling asleep. It is in a class of drugs referred to as cyclopyrrolones, or drugs that have similar pharmacological profiles to their benzodiazepine derivatives.

It also contains the active dextrorotatory stereoisomer of the drug zopiclone (Imovane). Researchers have noted that this drug carries a potential for dependence and abuse.

10. Seroquel XR (2,405,130)

This is an atypical antipsychotic medication that was developed by AstraZeneca. It was approved for the treatment of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, as well as major depression when used as an adjunct. The XR or “extended release” version provides symptom relief for up to 24 hours. Many consider this drug to be an improvement from first-generation antipsychotics, but whether it actually is superior is up for debate.

11. Strattera (2,387,756)

This drug works as a NRI (norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor) and is created by Eli Lilly for the treatment of ADHD. It has been approved for the treatment of ADHD in children (ages 6 and up), adolescents, and adults. Many regard this medication as having significant advantages over psychostimulants because it has minimal potential for abuse.

Although it may take longer to work and efficacy may be less than that of stimulants, it is a very helpful medication and usually carries less severe withdrawal symptoms. It has also been found effective to help prevent bedwetting, binge eating, and for weight loss. It is currently being investigated for depression (read: Strattera for depression).

12. Viibryd (1,447,730)

This is a serotonergic antidepressant drug that was developed by Merck and approved by the FDA in 2011. It works differently than most antidepressants on the market because it acts as a partial receptor agonist and serotonin reuptake inhibitor. Preliminary research suggests that this drug carries fewer side effects and is better tolerated than most antidepressant medications on the market. Since people are looking for newer drugs with less side effects, it makes sense that the number of Viibryd prescriptions is relatively high.

13. Namenda XR (1,319,963)

This is an extended release version of Namenda, a drug that was ranked fifth on this list. The XR version was developed to provide longer lasting relief from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies. Some people would rather take one longer-acting drug than multiple doses of shorter-acting medication.

14. Latuda (1,123,396)

This drug was approved by the FDA primarily for the treatment of schizophrenia. It is considered the newest atypical anitpsychotic and was developed by Dainippon Sumitomo Pharma, marketed by Sunovion in the United States. In addition to being used to treat schizophrenia, it was recently approved to treat depressive symptoms associated with type-1 bipolar disorder.

This drug is considered unique because it has been found to elicit an antidepressant response in those with bipolar disorder as a monotherapy. It is also thought to be helpful for treating cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia and other memory deficits.

My opinion on the top prescribed psychiatric drugs of 2013

Personally I think that this list of most prescribed psychiatric drugs is pretty dismal. Although these drugs help many people, certain drugs have no business being prescribed with high-frequency. I have experience taking many of the drugs on this list including: Cymbalta, Vyvanse, Pristiq, Viibryd, and Abilify. Of the drugs I’ve taken, the only ones I don’t have much negative to say about are: Vyvanse and Viibryd.

Two drugs that I would never touch again are Cymbalta and Abilify. When Cymbalta was initially approved, I was excited because I knew I needed a new antidepressant to help manage my symptoms. Upon actually taking Cymbalta, I experienced increases in anxiety, depression, suicidal thinking, and became depersonalized. Cymbalta withdrawal is an experience that lead me seemingly through the depths of hell and back.

I would have never touched Abilify if my first psychiatrist had told me it was primarily to be used for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. It affected my ability to think, made me tired, increased my laziness, and I couldn’t focus at school. Once I realized this was an antipsychotic, I immediately stopped taking it. Why? The potential permanent side effects such as neuroleptic malignant syndrome are not worth the risk.

The list of most prescribed drugs is relatively disappointing. With the exception of Viibryd, there aren’t any drugs that are much different from other medications on the market. There are no major “groundbreaking” drugs on the list. In part, this is because pharmaceutical developments are slowed by the extensive FDA clinical trial process. Additionally, most pharma heavyweights are looking to maximize profits rather than waste money with experimentation and/or developing a unique medication.

Why are certain drugs prescribed more than others?

Certain medications are prescribed more frequently usually because they are new, improved, have less side effects, are different, can be used for multiple conditions, and/or are heavily marketed. Many of the most prescribed drugs are also medications that have the most funding for marketing efforts. Increased marketing tends to increase drug sales – especially in the case of Abilify which seems to have commercial time on every major network.

Closing thoughts: What do you think?

There are no breakthrough drugs on this list. With all of these drugs, it’s important to realize that they can be helpful under the right circumstances for the right people. Problems are created when these drugs are prescribed, approved, and/or requested for conditions other than for what they were originally intended. The pharmaceutical trend seems to be: get each drug approved for as many conditions as possible so that we can make money.

What do you think about the most prescribed psychiatric drugs in the United States? Do you think that most of these drugs are helpful? Or do you think they are being prescribed too frequently for conditions that don’t warrant their use? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Tim Ryan November 20, 2014, 1:22 am

    Thanks for taking the time to put these lists together.

  • Tim August 29, 2016, 6:05 pm

    I agree with you. I’ve gone through something similar, being placed on medications I have no business being placed on. A knowledgeable patient, unfortunately, is a must when it comes to psychiatric treatment. I have no faith in 70-80% of psychiatrists. They should be on fixed salaries by the government. Making it less of an incentive screwing with patients lives.

    Pharma companies are just trying to make money. Fetzima for example is the enantiomer of Milnacipran (Savella). Could they have studied Savella for MDD, yes. Why not? It’s generic now. Let’s study the enantiomer, make a new brand name drug with analogous MOA. More profits.

    It’s unfortunate, when mental health patients should be treated with more care than people without mental health concerns. Many can’t afford these compounds nor visits to their psychiatrists. It’s a sad situation.

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