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The prescribing of psychotropic drugs, i.e. antidepressants, sedatives (anxiolytics, hypnotics), and antipsychotics is considerable and a large proportion is prescribed by general practitioners (GPs). There are concerns about dependency and medicalisation, and treatment decisions in psychiatry may appear arbitrary. Increased knowledge of GPs’ opinions on the prescribing of psychotropics may lead to more rational use of these drugs. We aimed to quantify GPs’ attitudes, beliefs and behaviour towards various aspects of psychotropic drug prescribing.
A questionnaire was distributed to physicians in all 199 GP practices in Region Västra Götaland, Sweden. The questions concerned determinants of psychotropic drug prescribing that had been identified in a previous, qualitative study.
Questionnaires from 516 physicians (64% of whom were specialists in family medicine, 21% interns in family medicine, 15% others) at 152 GP practices (59% of which were state owned, 72% in an urban area, with a median of 7808 registered patients) were returned (estimated response rate: 48%). A majority – 62% – of GPs found it easier to start prescribing psychotropic drugs than to stop (95% confidence interval, 57%, 66%) vs. 8% (6%, 10%). Most GPs considered psychotherapy more suitable than psychotropic drugs in cases of mild psychiatric disease: 81% (77%, 84%) vs. 4% (3%, 6%). The problems treated with psychotropic drugs were considered to be mostly socioeconomic, or mostly medical, by similar proportions of physicians: 38% (34%, 42%) vs. 40% (36%, 45%). GPs were on average satisfied with their levels of antidepressant and sedative prescribing in relation to medical needs. More GPs regarded their prescribing of antipsychotics as being too low rather than too high: 33% (28%, 39%) vs. 7% (4%, 10%).
This study illustrates the complexities of psychiatric drug treatment in primary care and identifies potential drivers of increased prescribing of psychotropics. The manifold factors, medical and non-medical, that affect prescribing decisions may explain a sense of arbitrariness surrounding psychotropic drug treatment. This notwithstanding, GPs seem mostly content with their prescribing.
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