Pharma’s “happy” healthy market

June 30, 2008, 9:43 PM UTC

Last week we told you that Pfizer CEO Jeff Kindler had visited Fortune and fielded questions on the slow-growing pharmaceutical industry — an industry suffering its lowest rate of expansion since 1961. Today we read in The Wall Street Journal that the FDA approved just 19 new medicines in 2007 — the fewest in 24 years. Depressing, yes?

Every depression, though, has its bright spot — and the bright spot here happens to be anti-depressants. Last year, for the sixth year in a row, anti-depressants ranked as the No. 1 therapeutic class of dispensed prescriptions in the United States. Americans filled more that 232 million prescriptions — to the tune of nearly $12 billion in revenues, according to a March report by IMS Health.

Who knew that 16% of women ages 20-44 take antidepressants? This fact comes from a recent report by Medco Health Solutions , the pharmacy benefit manager. Medco also disclosed that, for the first time, a majority of the insured population is taking prescription drugs to treat at least one chronic health problem.

Diving deeper into anti-depressants, we asked Express Scripts , another pharmacy benefit manager, to tell us which Fortune 500 companies represent the biggest consumers in terms of employee prescriptions. No go. Nor would Express Scripts reveal which industries account for the highest consumption. But the company does report that among its members, antidepressant use increased 33% from 2000 to 2006.

That’s a healthy market for sure. Where in the United States is the anti-depressant business most vibrant? Utah ranks No. 1., followed by Kentucky, Maine, Arkansas and Louisiana (are Utahans replacing drinks with drugs? Utah ranks at the bottom in alcohol consumption.). The lowest usage, meanwhile, is in Illinois, Nevada, California, New Jersey and New York. You might guess where antidepressant consumption spiked in the past few years. Alabama and Louisiana. Lingering damage from Hurricane Katrina? – Jessica Shambora