According to Dr. Dworkin, a Maryland anesthesiologist and senior fellow at Washington's Hudson Institute, who has authored: "Artificial Unhappiness: The Dark Side of the New Happy Class", doctors are now medicating unhappiness. "Too many people take drugs when they really need to be making changes in their lives", he says.
For Dworkin, statistics back his statements. According to a government study, antidepressants have become the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States. They are prescribed more than drugs to treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma, or headaches.
In a study, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), looked at 2.4 billion drugs prescribed in visits to doctors and hospitals in 2005. Of those, 118 million were for antidepressants. High blood pressure drugs followed with 113 million prescriptions.
The study claims that the use of antidepressants and other psychotropic drugs (those that affect brain chemistry) has skyrocketed over the last decade. Adult use of antidepressants almost tripled between the periods 1988-1994 and 1999-2000, while between 1995 and 2002, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the use of these drugs rose 48 percent.
Yet, for most psychiatrists, this statistic is good news - a sign that finally Americans feel comfortable asking for help with psychiatric problems.
"Depression is a major public health issue," says Dr. Kelly Posner, an assistant professor at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City. "The fact that people are getting the treatments they need is encouraging."
Posner adds that 25 percent of adults will have a major depressive episode sometime in their life, as will 8 percent of adolescents. "Those are remarkably high numbers," Posner opines.
At the same time, while Posner says genuine depression is fueling the prescription numbers, Dr. Robert Goodman, an internist in New York City, says the real force behind skyrocketing antidepressant prescription rates is pharmaceutical marketing to doctors and to consumers. "You put those two together and you get a lot of prescriptions for antidepressants," he says. Goodman questions whether all these prescriptions are necessary. "It's hard to believe that number of people are depressed, or that antidepressants are the answer," he states.
Goodman is the founder of a group called "No Free Lunch," a group that encourages doctors to reject gifts from pharmaceutical companies. He claims that patients sometimes see ads for antidepressants on television and ask doctors for the drugs - and that studies show these requests work.
In a study published two years ago in the Journal of the American Medical Association, actors pretending to be patients went to doctors in the San Francisco area and said they were depressed.
Incidentally, the "patients" who asked for an antidepressant were significantly more likely to get a prescription for one than patients who did not.