JUNE 13, 2023

TELUS Health 2023 Drug Trends Report: Diabetes now the top drug category for claims; antidepressants surged for youth

Annual report indicates noticeable impact on prescription medications post-pandemic with clear link to declining mental health

Toronto – Today, TELUS Health issued its annual 2023 Drug Data Trends and National Benchmarks Report, revealing that diabetes has replaced inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, as the top drug category for claims in Canada. A significant increase in the use of antidepressants by plan members below 19 years of age was also noted, with a clear link between the impacts of the pandemic on declining mental health.

“It is our hope that the findings in our 2023 Drug Trends Report will continue to offer private payors and benefits advisors valuable insights to help adjust and improve benefits plans,” said Martin Bélanger, Managing Director, Payor Solutions, TELUS Health. “We remain committed to delivering actionable information to plan sponsors, providers and advisors on key drivers of change in cost and utilization, as well as the impact of cost-management measures. This kind of industry collaboration is what’s needed to help support employees in their pursuit of better health and wellbeing today and for years to come.”

The most significant finding in the report is that plan members already diagnosed with diabetes saw rising eligible amounts. This was in part due to increased utilization of higher-cost, second- or third-line therapies. The positive impact these drugs have on weight loss also drove prescribing activity — including the potential for off-label use by people who do not have diabetes.

“The fact that growth in spend has been observed in a specific diabetes class of drugs suggests that existing claimants are switching to more costly therapies,” noted Lavina Viegas, Pharmacist, TELUS Health. “My prediction for the future of the diabetes category is that there will be continued growth, especially with more products slated to hit the market that have shown good clinical efficacy in both diabetes and weight loss.”

The continued impact of the pandemic on young people included declining mental health with a clear link to the increased use of antidepressants by plan members below 19 years old. Of all claims for antidepressants, the proportion of claimants from this age group climbed from 15.9 per cent in 2018 to 19.3 per cent in 2022.

The TELUS Health 2023 Drug Trends Report also highlighted the noticeable impact on the use of, and need for, prescription medications and insurance claims in 2022 for children under nine years old, specifically for antibiotics usage to treat respiratory infections. Young children avoided exposure to a number of infections like flu, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) and strep throat during the early years of COVID-19, and respiratory infections came back with a vengeance when public health measures were lifted.

Other 2023 key findings included:

For the first time in more than 10 years, the growth rate for specialty drugs fell behind that of traditional drugs

  • A combination of factors contributed to the surge in spend for traditional drugs. Utilization has gradually rebounded since the start of the pandemic, and two of the top-10 categories - diabetes and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), are seeing very strong growth for drugs that are relatively high-cost compared to other traditional drugs.

Drugs to treat ADHD appear poised to overtake antidepressants, while their share of claims is one-third that of antidepressants

  • The category of drugs for ADHD in adults is the fastest growing in both eligible amount and claims, overtaking depression and asthma.

  • There are more adult claimants for drugs to treat ADHD, as the number of adult claimants overtook pediatric claimants in 2022. Growth is highest in the 30 to 39 year old age demographic.

Biosimilar switching policies influenced cost trends in 2022, with their dampening effect expected to continue in 2023 and 2024 as additional provinces and territories roll out their biosimilar switching policies for public plans, prompting some private payors to adopt similar approaches

  • Overall growth in spending by private drug plans was moderate for the third year in a row, and slightly declined in 2022, likely due to biosimilar switching policies. Provincial biosimilar-adoption policies have had a ripple effect on private drug plans, particularly in B.C. and Quebec.

  • Nationally, biosimilars’ share of claims for biologics has grown from just 4.2 per cent in January 2019 to 32 per cent in December 2022. That will likely accelerate in 2023 and 2024, as remaining provinces and territories complete their transition periods.

Canadians are trying to catch up with medical appointments that were skipped or delayed due to the pandemic but are now facing significant waiting lists

  • While the number of plan members making claims appears to be returning to pre-pandemic levels, the backlog in Canada’s health care system may take several more years to address and catch up on delayed medical appointments, diagnostic tests and surgeries. During that time, there is a significant risk of chronic diseases and serious illnesses going undetected or worsening as a result.

Published annually since 2015, the TELUS Health Drug Data Trends and National Benchmarks Report is based on the claims data of the 2022 TELUS Health portfolio, and provides a contextual view of adoption rates of plan management trends to help insurers and employers alike understand major trends in prescription drug utilization. The report provides a snapshot of the previous year and compares it to five years ago, drawing upon drug claims activities from the largest private payor Pharmacy Benefit Manager (PBM) in Canada.

About TELUS Health

TELUS Health is a global health care leader serving people in more than 160 countries delivering both digital innovation and clinical services to improve total physical, mental and financial health and wellbeing across the full spectrum of primary and preventive care. By leveraging the power of technology to deliver connected solutions and services both in-person and virtually, TELUS Health is improving access to care and revolutionizing the flow of information while facilitating collaboration, efficiency, and productivity for physicians, pharmacists, health authorities, allied health care professionals, insurers, employers and people globally, progressing its vision of transforming health care and empowering people to live healthier lives.

Our clinical team is composed of renowned and passionate health professionals around the world delivering best-in-class people-centric care to hundreds of thousands of employers, professionals and their families.

For more information, please visit: www.telushealth.com.


For media inquiries, please contact:

Jill Yetman
TELUS Health
[email protected]