Antipsychotics, ADHD meds fuel rising psych-drug use

With sales figures showing that individual psych meds are among Big Pharma's best sellers--think Eli Lilly's ($LLY) Zyprexa, for one--it's no surprise to see the percentage of Americans using drugs for mental illness is on the rise. These days, one in 5 insured people in the U.S. have taken one psychotropic drug or another during the past year, according to a new prescriptions report from Medco Health Solutions.

What might be surprising is that the mix of frequently used psych meds is changing. As The Wall Street Journal reports, use of heavy-duty antipsychotic drugs showed a big increase in both kids and adults. This is in spite of safety warnings that these meds--again, think of Zyprexa, but also AstraZeneca's ($AZN) Seroquel, Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) Risperdal, and Bristol-Myers Squibb's ($BMY) Abilify--come with the potential of serious side effects, including severe weight gain that might lead to diabetes. And only a minority of patients using these drugs have their blood sugar checked annually, the WSJ said.

Meanwhile, adult use of ADHD drugs also grew. Meds such as Shire's Vyvanse and J&J's Concerta, not to mention old standards such as Shire's Adderall, have moved way beyond the hyperactive-kid niche. Increased diagnosis of attention problems in adults as well as kids have fueled prescription growth; Shire R&D chief Jeff Jonas told the WSJ there's an increased awareness that ADHD is actually a lifelong disorder. (Marketing campaigns no doubt have helped with that awareness.)

- see the WSJ piece

Special Report: Eli Lilly - 10 Largest U.S. Patent Losses