A total of 5.34m more prescriptions for central nervous system (CNS) stimulants and drugs used for ADHD have been issued than expected in England since lockdown, alongside smaller rises in prescribing for dementia and antidepressant items, data has shown.

NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) data for England released today revealed that the 5.34m CNS stimulants and drugs issued between March 2020 and September 2022 was 323,000 items, or 6.4%, more than the 5.02m items expected based on historical trends.

However, it also found that prescribing of ADHD drugs been increasing steadily since 2017/18. Between July and September 2022, 607,000 of these medicines were prescribed – a 19.3% rise from 509,000 items in the same time period a year ago, and 67.5% up from the same period in 2017/18.

An estimated 170,000 identified patients were prescribed at least one CNS stimulants and drugs used for ADHD item between July and September 2022 – a 20.4% increase from the 141,000 identified patients during the same period in 2021.

The NHSBSA said that this is likely to be an overestimate of the actual increase in patient numbers, as the proportion of patients who could be identified increased over the time period.

Dr Alex Conner, chair of ADHDadult UK and co-host of The ADHD Adults podcast, told The Pharmacist that with research suggesting that 2.5% of adults would reach the clinical threshold for an ADHD diagnosis, and an increase in the number of people seeking support for their ADHD as a result of the pandemic, more support is still needed.

'The stimulant medication is highly effective for ADHD, The figure of 170,000 prescriptions for stimulant medication represents about 0.3% of the population of England alone. So we welcome the increase in diagnosis and prescriptions of effective and relatively safe medication, but more needs to be done to help people facing very serious problems with mortality rate, quality of life and social stigma,' he said.

It also found that 2.77m more antidepressant items were also issued than expected based on historical trends, although it noted that while the 5.34m increase in CNS stimulants and drugs since March 2020 is a statistically significant increase, the rise in antidepressants issues is not.

Between July and September 2022, an estimated 21.4m antidepressant drugs items were prescribed - an increase of 0.93% from the 21.2m items in the previous quarter.

This also represents a 3.22% increase on the 20.8 million antidepressant drugs items prescribed between July and September 2021.

There was also a 1.68% increase in drugs prescribed for dementia, with an estimated 1.06m items prescribed between July and September 2022 compared to 1.04m items in the previous quarter.

This is an increase of 3.27% from the 3.27% from the 1.02 million items estimated to have been prescribed between July and September 2021.

There has also been a slight increase in the prescribing of antipsychotic items, which the NHSBSA is consistent with long-term trends of overall prescribing of items.

In total, 3.33 million antipsychotic items were prescribed between July and September 2022, a 0.59% increase from the 3.31 million items prescribed in the same quarter in 2021.

The NHSBSA also said that there were 3.44m hypnotics and anxiolytics prescribed in the second quarter of the 2022/23 financial year (between July and September 2022).

This was a 2.23% decrease from the 3.52 million items prescribed in the same period last year, and is consistent with the decline in hypnotics and anxiolytics prescribing since 2017/18, the NHSBSA said.

In 2021, NICE draft guidance recommended that prescribers do not routinely offer patients with ‘less severe’ depression antidepressants as the first line of treatment, unless it is the patient’s preference.