Objectives: To analyse temporal trends and geographical variations in testosterone prescribing in Australia.
Design and setting: An analysis of testosterone prescribing over the past 11 years according to products and region, determined by Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) expenditure in Australian states and territories.
Main outcome measure: Patterns of monthly PBS expenditure on injectable, oral and implantable testosterone products from 1 January 1991 to 30 December 2001, classified by state or territory.
Results: There were two periods (1993–1994 and 1998–1999) of striking upsurge followed by declines in national total prescribing of testosterone. These changes were more prominent for oral than injectable testosterone products, and patterns were similar in all regions, apart from a disproportionately higher peak in Western Australia in 1998. On a per-capita basis, Western Australia showed a dramatic increase in prescribing of oral and implantable, but not injectable, testosterone coinciding with the opening of a franchised men’s sexual health clinic in Perth.
Conclusion: The two striking upsurges in testosterone prescribing despite no convincing new evidence to justify them appear to reflect promotional activity to prescribe testosterone for older men, rather than overcoming the underdiagnosis of androgen deficiency related to pituitary or testicular disease in younger men. The curtailments after the introduced restrictions to PBS prescribing for older men without overt androgen deficiency were partial and temporary, suggesting that such regulatory barriers are only partly successful in counteracting the commercial and populist pressure driving excessive testosterone prescribing. Professional and community education is needed for appropriate diagnosis of genuine androgen deficiency in younger men, while discouraging unproven testosterone treatment for ageing men.
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