Pharmacy and medical costs associated with switching between venlafaxine and SSRI antidepressant therapy for the treatment of major depressive disorder

Rezaul K Khandker, Denise T Kruzikas, Trent P McLaughlin
Journal of Managed Care Pharmacy: JMCP 2008, 14 (5): 426-41

BACKGROUND: While much has been published on utilization of antidepressants and associated resource use, surprisingly little information is available on the relationship between a change in antidepressant agent and health care utilization. Given that many patients will not respond to initial therapy (and therefore would be candidates for switching treatment) and the array of antidepressant medications on the market, information on the impact of switching would be beneficial to both providers and policymakers.

OBJECTIVE: To explore patterns of antidepressant drug use and depression-related and all-cause medical costs for patients who switched therapy between 2 drug classes, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and the selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) venlafaxine.

METHODS: Using an administrative claims database of 36 million members from 61 health plans, this retrospective cohort analysis examined patients who had (1) a diagnosis of major depressive disorder (MDD, International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification [ICD-9-CM] code 296.2x for MDD single episode, 296.3x for MDD recurrent episode, 300.4 for dysthymic disorder, and 311 for depressive disorder not elsewhere classified) and (2) a newly prescribed antidepressant during the year 2002. Costs were defined as amounts paid by health plans for all inpatient, outpatient, physician and pharmacy services (i.e., allowed charges after subtraction of member cost-share). Depression-related costs were defined using (1) medical claims with primary diagnosis of depression and (2) pharmacy claims for antidepressants. Using an index date of the first antidepressant claim, 12 months of pre-index and postindex data were available for all eligible patients. Switching was defined as occurring between the SSRIs and venlafaxine (i.e., patients who switched within the SSRI drug class across different SSRIs were treated as non-switchers until they switched to venlafaxine), and there was no minimum or maximum gap in therapy. The SSRIs included fluoxetine, citalopram, sertraline, and paroxetine; the only SNRI on the market at the time was venlafaxine. Multivariate regression analyses determined predictors of switching and factors influencing overall and depression-related costs, while controlling for confounding factors. For the 12-month period following the index date (fixed length of follow-up), the study compared per-patient per-year (PPPY) costs for (1) patients who switched versus those who did not switch and (2) patients with single versus multiple trials of SSRI for the subgroup of patients who switched from an SSRI to venlafaxine. For the time periods before versus after the switch (variable lengths of follow-up), per-patient means and medians of monthly cost averages (with follow-up periods <1 month set to 1 month for 16.5% [n=272] of SSRI-to-venlafaxine switchers and 14.1% [n=103] of venlafaxine-to-SSRI switchers) were calculated for the subgroup of patients who made a switch.

RESULTS: A total of 48,950 patients were included in the study, with 43,653 (89.2%) treated first with SSRIs and 5,297 (10.8%) treated first with venlafaxine. Of the initial SSRI users, 1,645 (3.8%) switched to venlafaxine, and of the initial venlafaxine users, 733 (13.8%) switched to an SSRI. Mean (standard deviation [SD]) 12-month total (medical plus pharmacy) depression-related costs in 2002-2003 dollars were 118.0% higher for SSRI switchers ($1,225 [$3,438] vs. $562 [$2,153], P<0.001) and 18.4% higher for venlafaxine switchers ($863 [$1,503] vs. $729 [$1,185], P=0.021) as compared with non-switchers. From the pre-switch to post-switch periods, depression-related mean monthly medical costs declined by 66.4% among switchers from SSRIs ($113 [$912] vs. $38 [$347], P=0.001) and by 61.1% among switchers from venlafaxine ($54 [$299] vs. $21 [$138], P=0.005). Monthly mean depression-related pharmacy costs increased by 62.2% following a switch from an SSRI to venlafaxine (from $45 [$38] to $73 [$62], P<0.001) and declined by 17.3% following a switch from venlafaxine to an SSRI (from $52 [$45] to $43 [$38], P<0.001). After adjustment for multiple covariates including demographic characteristics, 10 selected comorbidities, and physician specialty, general linear models with log-transformed costs as the dependent variables demonstrated significant associations between switching and total costs (both all-cause and depression-related) in both the SSRI and the venlafaxine cohorts.

CONCLUSIONS: Although relatively few patients switched antidepressant drug classes, patients who made a switch had higher all-cause health care costs and higher depression-related costs than patients who did not switch. Switching drug classes was associated with lower mean monthly depression-related health care costs following the switch. For those patients switching from an SSRI to venlafaxine, mean medical cost reductions offset higher pharmacy costs; for patients switching from venlafaxine to an SSRI, mean medical and pharmacy costs declined.

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