International study of expert judgment on therapeutic use of benzodiazepines and other psychotherapeutic medications: VI. Trends in recommendations for the pharmacotherapy of anxiety disorders, 1992-1997.
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To assemble expert clinical experience and judgment regarding the treatment of anxiety disorders in a systematic, quantitative manner, particularly with respect to changes during the preceding five years.A panel of 73 internationally recognized experts in the pharmacotherapy of anxiety and depression was constituted by multistage peer nomination. Sixty-six completed a questionnaire in 1992, and 51 of those completed a follow-up questionnaire in 1997. This report focuses on the experts' responses to questions about therapeutic options relevant to seven vignettes describing typical cases of different anxiety disorders.The preferred initial treatment strategy in 1992 was a combination of medication with a psychological therapy for all vignettes except simple phobia, where a psychological procedure alone was favored. There was little change in 1997, primarily some decrease in the choice of psychological therapy and some increase in the choice of medication for social phobia. Experts recommending a medication in 1992 most often chose as first-line treatment a benzodiazepine anxiolytic (BZ) for panic disorder (PD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), simple phobia, and adjustment disorder. They recommended a beta-blocker most often for social phobia and a tricyclic anti-depressant (TCA) for agoraphobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Nearly a fourth chose a combination of medications, usually a TCA plus a BZ. In 1997, the expert panel's most frequent recommendation for agoraphobia, PD, and OCD changed to a specific serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI); and they also recommended these compounds more often for GAD, social phobia, and simple phobia. Fewer experts chose BZs or TCAs. However, in 1997 many again chose a combination of medications, often a BZ plus a SSRI, so that, overall, there was only a small decline in recommendations for BZs. As second-line medications (1997 only), the experts recommended SSRIs most often for most vignettes, but a TCA for PD and GAD. Recommendations for a combination of medications rose substantially for most vignettes, usually a BZ plus an antidepressant.Combined cognitive-behavioral therapy plus medication was highly favored by the experts as the initial treatment strategy for anxiety disorders. During the preceding five years, SSRIs displaced older antidepressants as the experts' first-line choices for the pharmacotherapy of anxiety disorders. In case of an unsatisfactory response, the experts' second-line choices more often were an older antidepressant or a combination of an antidepressant plus a BZ. According to the experts' judgements, the BZs, especially combined with an antidepressant, remain mainstays of pharmacotherapy for anxiety disorders.