Small shift recorded in top prescription drugs for students

Bei Hu

Boynton Health Service sold more birth control pills and antidepressants than any other prescription drugs in recent years.
“For college populations, you should expect birth control pills to be on top,” said David Golden, Boynton’s director of health education. “The antidepressants have not always been that way,” he added.
Although the clinic serves both faculty and students, Boynton officials say the figures reflect student demands because they make up about 90 percent of the clinic’s patients.
Golden said there has been a gradual increase in antidepressant prescriptions because of growing confidence in the drugs’ efficacy and their limited side effects.
The most frequently prescribed antidepressants at the clinic include Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil, which are used for a wide range of problems including anxiety and eating disorders.
“It’s just that this group (of drugs) is so safe and so effective for all kinds of things that it’s being prescribed much more frequently than it used to be,” Golden said.
A 1995 University student health survey indicated about 4 percent of the sample took medication for depression. The figure stands out because antidepressants — which often supplement psychotherapy sessions — are only prescribed to patients who show strong symptoms of depression.
In such cases, Golden said, patients’ lives are usually becoming unmanageable. “It’s more than just being sad.”
Pearl Barner, head of Boynton’s mental health department, said the survey ranking indicates an increased use of mental health care services on college campuses.
The mental health program handles 11,000 patient visits annually, Barner said. Roughly 25 percent of the patients are on medication.
Boynton patients on anti-depressants undergo physical examinations to ensure there are no negative interactions with other drugs they may be taking. They also need a specialist’s evaluation and supervision. Most of the patients on medication receive counseling at the same time.
By the end of the fiscal year, which ended June 30, 1996, the patient base at Boynton’s mental health program had jumped 5 percent. Barner says he is reluctant to predict a sustained increase in patient visits, but said his staff has felt the strain.
“Medicine is not something that we push on people,” he said.
High use of birth control pills has been common at the University and other colleges for awhile, Golden said. Oral contraceptives are the No. 1 prescription drug at college health services all across the country, he added.
Prevention of unintended pregnancy has been a priority at Boynton, where a program introduces students to contraception options. In addition to birth control pills, Boynton distributes 50,000 to 100,000 condoms each year.
Boynton studied the feasibility of an on-campus abortion clinic in 1992, but it triggered heated debates between abortion-rights advocates and pro-life supporters. The plan was eventually dismissed because it wasn’t considered cost-effective.
David Golden said the drug ranking, in which antibiotics were third, is based on annual tallies of the drugs Boynton’s pharmacy sells.
Birth control pills and antidepressant drugs are widely distributed through Boynton, Golden said, because the pharmacy offers the most frequently prescribed drugs at the lowest prices possible.