November 21, 2005

Widespread use of SSRI antidepressants drives soaring health care costs in Canada

In a new report commissioned by the working group, Women and Health Protection (funded through the Women's Health Contribution Program, Health Canada), researcher Janet Currie documents the vast increase in the use of SSRI antidepressants among Canadians. The number of SSRI prescriptions dispensed in Canada went from just under 9 million in 1999 to over 15.5 million by 2003. In her report, entitled The Marketization of Depression: Prescribing SSRI antidepressants to women, Currie questions the science behind the drugs and their real-world effectiveness. She draws attention to the serious harms that these drugs can and do cause, as well as to their addictive properties.

Currie also points out that 2/3rds of SSRI users are women. "The clinical trial results for SSRIs raise many questions about their effectiveness, and yet hundreds of thousands of Canadian women are being exposed to these potent brain chemicals, sometimes for many, many years despite their many risks and side effects," says Currie.

Currie suggests a number of reasons for the increasingly widespread use of these drugs, one of which is an increased acceptance of the view that depression is a biologically-based phenomenon. Hand-in-hand with this view has come an era of aggressive marketing tactics by pharmaceutical companies. "One has to ask - is there a reason why depression rates have soared so dramatically in the last 15 to 20 years at exactly the same time as SSRIs came onto the market and have been aggressively promoted by drug companies?" she says.

Currie's report effectively documents the full gamut of issues relating to SSRI use. It looks at the expanding definition of depression and links what appears to be an epidemic of depression and mental illness to the marketing of drugs designed to treat these conditions. Currie adds that in Canada, "depression is the fastest rising diagnosis made by office-based physicians. Visits for depression have almost doubled since 1994 and 66% of office visits for depression in 2004 were made by women." Her report further states that 81% of physician visits for depression in 2004 resulted in a recommendation for an antidepressant -- almost always an SSRI or a related drug.

At a time when health care costs are soaring out of control, the report indicates that total antidepressant drug costs were estimated to have risen 347% from 1993 to 2000. Eighty-eight percent of these additional drug costs were due to SSRI antidepressants.

Convincing doctors and their patients that depression and other emotional disorders are widespread and woefully under-treated, and that this is an alarming and costly situation, makes good business sense for the drug companies. However, "Their effectiveness in delivering this message, which has resulted in huge profit margins for big pharma, is what is truly alarming," says Currie.

In addition to Currie's report, Women and Health Protection has produced a fact sheet on women's use of SSRI antidepressants as part of its "Facts to act on" series. The fact sheet, designed to provide accessible, straightforward information, explains why SSRIs are prescribed so often, when they are appropriate, what risks and harms are Associated with the drugs, and what some of the alternatives to drug treatment are.

To see the complete document, The Marketization of Depression: Prescribing SSRI antidepressants to women, as well as the fact sheet SSRI Antidepressants: their place in women's lives, visit

Women and Health Protection is a national working group that conducts research and advises Health Canada on the impact of Canada's drug regulatory system on women's health. Founded in 1998, it is made up of consumer organizations, researchers, health providers, and women's health activists.

For interviews contact:

Janet Currie
tel: 250-479-2962

Anne Rochon Ford,
Coordinator Women and Health Protection
tel: 416-712-9459


Copyright ©2006-2010 Women and Health Protection
Supported by the Women's Health Contribution Program,
administered by the Gender and Health Unit of Health Canada.

In partnership with The Canadian Women's Health Network.