Do Certain Times of Year Increase the Number of Medications Prescribed?

Do Certain Times of Year Increase the Number of Medications Prescribed?

The frequency and intensity of many health conditions varies seasonally

A wide variety of factors, including seasonal ones, influence the prescribing of medications like Xanax. Some health conditions have seasonal peaks and valleys. Unsurprisingly, medications to treat those conditions also vary in the prescribing patterns they follow.

Health Conditions with Seasonal Variations

Health conditions that may follow a seasonal pattern resulting in differences in medication prescribing include the following:

  • Flu– Antibiotics are often prescribed to treat respiratory symptoms associated with the flu. Because flu has a season, use of antibiotics to treat it may also follow a seasonal pattern. A 2011 article in the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology notes that the occurrence of influenza is a strong predictor of the use of antibiotics in the fluoroquinolone class. The authors estimate that a 20 percent reduction in influenza activity would result in an 8 percent reduction in fluoroquinolone prescriptions. A 2014 article in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy reported that a study of antibiotic prescribing patterns from 2006 to 2010 found that antibiotic prescription rates were 5 percent higher in the winter than in the summer.
  • The seasonal jump in antibiotic prescriptions may lead to a corresponding seasonal increase in resistance of certain bacteria to the antibiotics prescribed. A 2012 article in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases notes that the use of antibiotics in winter may significantly affect the prevalence of resistant bacteria. The study found that the prevalence of resistant Escherichia coliand MRSA bacteria was related to the prescribing patterns of fluoroquinolone and aminopenicillin antibiotics. The prevalence of resistant bacteria peaked about a month after the peak of antibiotic use.
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – A 2008 article in the journal Psychiatry reports on prescribing trends for ADHD patients. The study found that medication prescriptions for patients under 18 years of age dropped 22 to 29 percent between May and July. This may be related to an increased perceived need to use the medications during the school year.
  • The seasonal prescription trends may also be due to variations in symptoms during certain times of the year. examined ADHD rates in 10 countries and found that the prevalence of the condition was related to solar intensity. This may be due to variable vitamin D levels since vitamin D is produced in the body from sunlight exposure. A 2014 article in Pediatrics International reported that children and adolescents with ADHD had lower vitamin D levels than did healthy controls. Because vitamin D levels tend to be higher in the summer months, ADHD symptoms may be lower.
  • Depression – The amount of sunlight received is also a factor that may contribute to depression. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a condition in which people have normal moods during the rest of the year but suffer from recurring episodes of depression in the late fall and winter. The condition may be caused by varying levels of the hormones melatonin and serotonin, which respond to light levels. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that symptoms often begin in October or November and subside in March or April.
  • Peaks in depression coincide with peaks in prescriptions for antidepressant medication. A 2010 article in the Journal of Affective Disorders reported on the initiation of antidepressant therapy in the Netherlands from 2002-2007. The article reported that antidepressant use peaked during the autumn and winter months.
  • Other mental health conditions – Although the data is sparse, it appears likely that symptoms of other mental health conditions also peak during the winter months and the prescribing of medications to treat them may increase as well. A 2013 article in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reports on an analysis of Google mental health queries. The article reported a higher number of informational searches in the winter for a wide range of conditions including anxiety, bipolar illness and eating disorders.

Variations in the Prescribing and Use of Prescription Painkillers

Prescription opioid painkillers are some of the most widely prescribed medications. Prescription rates seem less tied to seasonal variations than to geographical ones. A 2014 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that in 2012 prescribers in Alabama wrote almost three times as many prescriptions per person than did prescribers in Hawaii. Seasonal variations do exist, however, for suicide attempts using prescription opioids. A 2014 article in the Journal of Affective Disorders reports that such attempts follow a seasonal pattern which follows latitudes within the United States.

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