Antidepressant, Sleeping-Pill Sales Get No Rest in Recession

Prescriptions Rise as Economy Keeps People Up at Night, Even Though Marketing Spend Is Down

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NEW YORK ( -- You snooze, you lose? Not for some pharmaceutical companies seeing big sales jumps for sleep aids and antidepressants, despite lower marketing spending in both categories.

Despite dramatic decreases in marketing, prescriptions for sleeping pills are up.
Despite dramatic decreases in marketing, prescriptions for sleeping pills are up.
According to IMS Health, prescriptions for major sleeping-pill brands rose 7% last year, while antidepressant-brand prescriptions jumped 15%.

The economy, it appears, is keeping us up at night, according to a new "Sleep In America" poll out this week from the Washington-based National Sleep Foundation. Some 31% of respondents said they are losing sleep over the dismal economy and their own financial situation.

"The pattern certainly suggests" the economy is a factor, said Amy Wolfson, a professor at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., and one of five members of the poll taskforce. "There are worries about the economy and that can certainly lead to insomnia ... so, yeah, it certainly makes sense that the [prescription] numbers would be up."

Spend down on sleeping pills
Even more surprising, prescriptions are up despite a dramatic decrease in marketing -- in the case of sleeping aids, by hundreds of millions of dollars. According to figures from TNS Media Intelligence, spending on sleep-aid Ambien CR fell from $190 million in 2007 to $150 million in 2008 while outlays on Lunesta plunged to $107 million in 2008 from $271 the prior year. Rozerem alone cut spending by $100 million from $140 million in '07.

The cutbacks were less clear-cut for antidepressants. Spending on Cymbalta was pretty much flat at $179 million in 2008 but spending on Effexor fell by more than half from $21.2 million in 2007 to $9.8 million last year, TNS figures show.

According to a 2008 study by Marketdata Enterprises, Tampa, Fla., sleep is a $23.7 billion annual industry in the U.S. That includes medications, sleep labs/sleep centers, mattresses and pillows, continuous positive airway pressure machines and retail sleep aids. According IMS Health, almost $19 billion of that comes from direct-to-consumer prescription sleep medications.

Trend won't end soon
Dr. Robert Aronson, a sleep specialist at Cardinal Sleep Center in Joliet, Ill., said there is a correlation between the falling economy, a lack of sleep and the uptick in prescriptions and purchase of sleep aids -- and he doesn't see it ending soon. "The economic problems are likely to be protracted," he said. But, he added, continual use of sleep aids or antidepressants are "not good because sedative hypnotics are best used for short-term insomnias due to transient stressors."

Sales of antidepressants in 2008 were up 2% compared to 2007. While prescriptions were up, dollar sales of prescription sleep aids were down 30% in '08 vs. '07 because the patent expired on Ambien (which was succeeded by Ambien CR). Sales were also hurt by the introduction of the cheaper generic Zolpidem, not to mention the emergence of more wallet-friendly over-the-counter sleep medications such as Unisom.

The total over-the-counter market for sleep aids reached $604 million in 2008, an increase of 9% over 2007 according to Packaged Facts, a division of Rockville, Md.-based Market Research Group.

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