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Analysis of National Health Service prescription data for the antidepressants from 1980 to 1989 shows a consistent secular trend towards the increased use of generic names on prescriptions for this group of drugs. This apparently reflects national trends for all drugs, and was similar for most antidepressants. However, generic prescribing had by 1989 increased significantly more rapidly with fluvoxamine, which was introduced in 1987. The two drugs introduced in 1989, fluoxetine and amoxapine, also had a high generic prescribing rate in their year of introduction. Increased generic prescribing may become a feature with further new drugs. However, the use of the generic name on the prescription has relatively little influence on what is dispensed to the patient. Pharmacists may dispense a brand name when given a generic prescription. Moreover, pressures on doctors to write generic names on prescriptions may have limited relevance for some drugs; generic alternatives were available for only four out of 22 antidepressants.