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Psychiatr Q. 2001 Summer;72(2):149-66.

Lithium revisited: savings brought about by the use of lithium, 1970-1991.

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Neuropsychiatry Branch, National Institute of Mental Health-National Institutes of Health, 5415 W. Cedar Lane, Suite 106B, MSC 2610, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.



Recent estimates of the cost of manic-depressive illness totaled roughly $45 billion in 1991. Using data from the Epidemiological Catchment Area (ECA) study, this study estimates the savings brought about by the use of lithium between 1970 and 1991.


Total savings are the difference between estimated actual costs and projected costs had lithium never been introduced. Actual yearly costs were interpolated from data for 1970 and 1991, and projected costs were obtained by adjusting 1970 costs with Consumer Price Index (CPI) and population inflaters. All costs for 1970 were obtained using methods almost identical to those used to calculate the 1991 costs of manic-depressive illness, presented in a previous publication. All savings are presented in 1991 dollars.


Between 1970 and 1991, lithium saved over $170 billion, or roughly over $8 billion per year. Approximately $15 billion in direct costs, which included inpatient and outpatient care as well as research, was saved between 1970 and 1991. The savings are more dramatic for indirect costs, which include the lost productivity of wage-earners, homemakers, family caregivers, and individuals who are in institutions or who committed suicide; these totaled roughly $155 billion.


Our results suggest that, although manic-depressive illness is still costly, lithium has been tremendously successful in treating the illness, and has provided enormous financial savings in the process.

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