Drug-Mania Lacks Support

Researchers find that commonly prescribed antipsychotic drugs lack evidence of efficacy

January 8, 2011 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

Rate This Article

3.65

(dailyRx News) As prescriptions for antipsychotic drugs become increasingly common, concerns about their effectiveness are also on the rise.

According to a new study in the journal Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety, there exists limited compelling evidence that atypical antipsychotic medications actually help patients.

Atypical antipsychotic medications, which were originally approved by the U.S. government to treat schizophrenia, are used today to treat a variety of mental health conditions, including autism, bipolar disorder, depression, delirium, dementia, and personality disorders. In 2008, these drugs composed almost 5 percent of all US pharmaceutical spending - more than $10 billion in drug costs.

In light of these staggering numbers, researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine and University of Chicago set out to see if these popular antipsychotics actually worked. They analyzed data from physicians' surveys that detailed the types of conditions that doctors treated and the drugs they prescribed. After determining which drugs were being used for which conditions, the researchers evaluated the effectiveness of those drugs that were being used for conditions not approved by the FDA, known as "Off Label" use.

Using Drugdex, an index of drug efficacy ratings, the researchers found that prescriptions for antipsychotics increased by 10.5 million between 1995 and 2008 (from 6.2 million to 16.7 million). Shockingly, by 2008 less than half of those prescriptions had compelling evidence to show their effectiveness.

It is likely that that growing number of prescriptions for antipsychotics is the success of marketing strategies and cultural inclinations, says Randal Stafford, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center and senior author of the study. At times, says Stafford, physicians tend to prescribe the most novel treatments even when they lack evidence. He recommends that physicians put more thought into the types of prescriptions they are writing for their patients. He adds that more research and feedback might help physicians make more informed decisions.