Increased Risk Among Older Veterans of Prescribing Psychotropic Medication in the Absence of Psychiatric Diagnoses

Published:October 28, 2013DOI:


      This study uses Veterans Health Administration (VHA) pharmacy and encounter claims to evaluate the use of psychotropic medications without a psychiatric diagnosis across age groups.


      National VHA administrative data for fiscal year 2010 (FY2010) were used to identify all veterans who filled a prescription for at least one psychotropic medication from VHA (N = 1.85 million). Bivariate and multivariate analyses were used to compare the proportion of these veterans without any psychiatric diagnosis, across age groups, adjusting for possible medical indications. Analyses were repeated for six different classes of psychotropic medications and comparing mental health utilizers and non–mental health utilizers. Comparisons were made to prescribing of HIV and diabetes medications without an indicated diagnosis.


      Of all VHA patients prescribed a psychotropic medication in FY2010, 30% had no psychiatric diagnosis, with highest proportions among veterans ages 65–85. This practice was most frequent among nonmental health utilizers and far more prevalent for psychotropic medications than for HIV or diabetes medications. Logistic regression analysis found that age greater than 65 was the strongest predictor of being prescribed a psychotropic without a psychiatric diagnosis. Adjustment for possible medical use of psychotropics and overall medical comorbidity did not substantially alter these trends.


      Older veterans, especially those not using specialty mental healthcare, are more likely to be prescribed psychotropic medications in the absence of a psychiatric diagnosis, perhaps representing unnecessary use, under-diagnosis of mental illness, or incomplete documentation.

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