Stress Medications Hold Up in Economic Doldrums, Study Shows

Eli Lilly & Co. Antidepressant Cymbalta
Eli Lilly & Co. antidepressant Cymbalta. Photographer: JB Reed/Bloomberg

If you think the economy is giving you heartburn, you may not be alone.

Use of acid reflux medications showed a 93 percent correlation with the U.S. unemployment rate over the last five years, according to a study by Bloomberg Rankings. Drugs for high blood pressure and antidepressants had correlation rates of 92 percent and 85 percent respectively, the data show.

Unemployment in the U.S. declined to 8.6 percent as of Nov. 30, from a high of 10.1 percent in October 2009. Patients taking drugs for high blood pressure, including ACE inhibitors like Pfizer Inc.’s Accupril and AstraZeneca Plc’s Zestril, or antidepressants such as Eli Lilly & Co.’s Cymbalta have found ways to keep paying for them through economic doldrums, said Andrew Berens of Bloomberg Industries.

“The demand for drugs, especially in those classes, appears to be independent of major macro indicators, suggesting that people will find a way to pay for them,” said Berens, a senior health-care analyst based in Skillman, New Jersey, in a telephone interview. “Especially the ones that alleviate anxiety, depression and maybe hypertension, which can be related to anxiety, too.”

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Pharmaceuticals Index, with 12 members led by New York-based Pfizer and New Brunswick, New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson, has gained 14 percent this year. That compares with a gain of less than 1 percent for the S&P 500.

Correlation Vs. Causation

To be sure, “correlation does not mean causation,” said Les Funtleyder, a health-care strategist and portfolio manager at Miller Tabak & Co. in New York.

“Just because a number is high and positive doesn’t mean the two are related,” Berens said. “It just means in that time period they traveled in the same direction.”

The study examined medicines for pain, cholesterol and erectile dysfunction as well, showing correlation rates with unemployment of 87 percent, 93 percent and 68 percent, respectively.

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