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What proportion of initially prescribed antidepressants is still being prescribed chronically after 5 years in general practice?

Peter F M Verhaak, Derek de Beurs, Peter Spreeuwenberg


  •  Antidepressant prescribing almost doubled in the Netherlands between 1996 and 2012, which could be accounted for by longer continuation after the first prescription. This might be problematic given a growing concern of large-scale antidepressant dependence. We aimed to assess the extent and determinants of chronic antidepressant prescribing among patient aged 18 years and older. We hypothesise a relatively large prevalence of chronic (>2 years) prescription.


  • A longitudinal observational study based on routinely registered prescription data from general practice.


  • 189 general practices in the Netherlands


  • 326 025 patients with valid prescription data for all 5 years of the study.

Outcome measures

  • Primary outcome measure: the number of patients (N) receiving at least four antidepressant prescriptions in 2011, as well as during each of the four subsequent years. Secondary outcome measure: the above but specified for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and for tricyclic antidepressants.


  • Antidepressants were prescribed to almost 7% of our 326 025 participants each year. They were prescribed for depression (38%), anxiety (17%), other psychological disorders (20%) and non-psychological indications (25%). Antidepressants were prescribed in all 5 years to the 42% of the population who had at least four prescriptions dispensed in 2011. Chronic prescribing was higher among women than men, for those aged 45–64 years than for those aged >65 years and for those treated for depression or anxiety than for non-psychological indications (eg, neuropathic pain). Chronic prescribing also varied markedly among general practices.s.


  • Chronic antidepressant use is common for depression and for anxiety and non-psychological diagnoses. Once antidepressants have been prescribed, general practitioners and other prescribers should be aware of the risks associated with long-term use and should provide annual monitoring of the continued need for therapy.

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  1. Verhaak PFM, de Beurs D, Spreeuwenberg P. What proportion of initially prescribed antidepressants is still being prescribed chronically after 5 years in general practice? A longitudinal cohort analysis. BMJ Open 2019;9:e024051. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2018-024051