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Antidepressant Strategies for Treatment of Acute Depressive Episodes Among Veterans.

OBJECTIVE: The 2016 VA/DoD Clinical Practice Guideline for Management of Major Depressive Disorder offers consensus-based recommendations when response to the initial antidepressant medication is suboptimal; however, little is known about "real-world" pharmacological strategies used by providers treating depression in the Veterans Affairs Health Care System (VAHCS).

METHODS: We extracted pharmacy and administrative records of patients diagnosed with a depressive disorder and treated at the Minneapolis VAHCS between January 1, 2010 and May 11, 2021. Patients with bipolar disorder, psychosis-spectrum, or dementia diagnoses were excluded. An algorithm was developed to identify antidepressant strategies: monotherapy (MONO); optimization (OPM); switching (SWT); combination (COM); and augmentation (AUG). Additional data extracted included demographics, service utilization, other psychiatric diagnoses, and clinical risk for hospitalization and mortality.

RESULTS: The sample consisted of 1298 patients, 11.3% of whom were female. The mean age of the sample was 51 years. Half of the patients received MONO, with 40% of those patients receiving inadequate doses. OPM was the most common next-step strategy. SWT and COM/AUG were used for 15.9% and 2.6% of patients, respectively. Overall, patients who received COM/AUG were younger. OPM, SWT, and COM/AUG occurred more frequently in psychiatric services settings and required a greater number of outpatient visits. The association between antidepressant strategies and risk of mortality became nonsignificant after accounting for age.

CONCLUSIONS: Most of the veterans with acute depression were treated with a single antidepressant, while COM and AUG were rarely used. The age of the patient, and not necessarily greater medical risks, appeared to be a major factor in decisions about antidepressant strategies. Future studies should evaluate whether implementation of underutilized COM and AUG strategies early in the course of depression treatment are feasible.

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