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Atypical antipsychotics overprescribed for stresses of modern life


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In the US, atypical antipsychotics such as Seroquel and Abilify are top-selling drugs for "the low-grade unhappiness, anxiety and insomnia that comes with modern life." http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/25/health/a-call-for-caution-in-the-use-of-antipsychotic-drugs.html

 

A Call for Caution on Antipsychotic Drugs

By RICHARD A. FRIEDMAN, M.D. NYTimes September 24, 2012

 

You will never guess what the fifth and sixth best-selling prescription drugs are in the United States, so I’ll just tell you: Abilify and Seroquel, two powerful antipsychotics. In 2011 alone, they and other antipsychotic drugs were prescribed to 3.1 million Americans at a cost of $18.2 billion, a 13 percent increase over the previous year, according to the market research firm IMS Health.

 

Those drugs are used to treat such serious psychiatric disorders as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and severe major depression. But the rates of these disorders have been stable in the adult population for years. So how did these and other antipsychotics get to be so popular?

 

Antipsychotic drugs have been around for a long time, but until recently they were not widely used. Thorazine, the first real antipsychotic, was synthesized in the 1950s; not just sedating, it also targeted the core symptoms of schizophrenia, like hallucinations and delusions. Later, it was discovered that antipsychotic drugs also had powerful mood-stabilizing effects, so they were used to treat bipolar disorder, too.

 

Then, starting in 1993, came the so-called atypical antipsychotic drugs like Risperdal, Zyprexa, Seroquel, Geodon and Abilify. Today there are 10 of these drugs on the market, and they have generally fewer neurological side effects than the first-generation drugs.

 

Originally experts believed the new drugs were more effective than the older antipsychotics against such symptoms of schizophrenia as apathy, social withdrawal and cognitive deficits. But several recent large randomized studies, like the landmark Catie trial, failed to show that the new antipsychotics were any more effective or better tolerated than the older drugs.

 

This news was surprising to many psychiatrists — and obviously very disappointing to the drug companies.

 

It was also soon discovered that the second-generation antipsychotic drugs had serious side effects of their own, namely a risk of increased blood sugar, elevated lipids and cholesterol, and weight gain. They can also cause a potentially irreversible movement disorder called tardive dyskinesia, though the risk is thought to be significantly lower than with the older antipsychotic drugs.

 

Nonetheless, there has been a vast expansion in the use of these second-generation antipsychotic drugs in patients of all ages, particularly young people. Until recently, these drugs were used to treat a few serious psychiatric disorders. But now, unbelievably, these powerful medications are prescribed for conditions as varied as very mild mood disorders, everyday anxiety, insomnia and even mild emotional discomfort.

 

The number of annual prescriptions for atypical antipsychotics rose to 54 million in 2011 from 28 million in 2001, an 93 percent increase, according to IMS Health. One study found that the use of these drugs for indications without federal approval more than doubled from 1995 to 2008.

 

The original target population for these drugs, patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, is actually quite small: The lifetime prevalence of schizophrenia is 1 percent, and that of bipolar disorder is around 1.5 percent. Drug companies have had a powerful economic incentive to explore other psychiatric uses and target populations for the newer antipsychotic drugs.

 

The companies initiated dozens of clinical trials to test these drugs against depression and, more recently, anxiety disorders. Starting in 2003, the makers of several second-generation antipsychotics (also known as atypical neuroleptics) have received F.D.A. approval for the use of these drugs in combination with antidepressants to treat severe depression, which they trumpeted in aggressive direct-to-consumer advertising campaigns.

 

The combined spending on print and digital media advertising for these new antipsychotic drugs increased to $2.4 billion in 2010, up from $1.3 billion in 2007, according to Kantar Media. Between 2007 and 2011, more than 98 percent of all advertising on atypical antipsychotics was spent on just two drugs: Abilify and Seroquel, the current best sellers.

 

There is little in these alluring advertisements to indicate that these are not simple antidepressants but powerful antipsychotics. ....

 

The ad omits critical facts about depression that consumers would surely want to know. If a patient has not gotten better on an antidepressant, for instance, just taking it for a longer time or taking a higher dose could be very effective. There is also very strong evidence that adding a second antidepressant from a different chemical class is an effective and cheaper strategy — without having to resort to antipsychotic medication.

 

A more recent and worrisome trend is the use of atypical antipsychotic drugs — many of which are acutely sedating and calming — to treat various forms of anxiety, like generalized anxiety disorder and even situational anxiety. A study last year found that 21.3 percent of visits to a psychiatrist for treatment of an anxiety disorder in 2007 resulted in a prescription for an antipsychotic, up from 10.6 percent in 1996. This is a disturbing finding in light of the fact that the data for the safety and efficacy of antipsychotic drugs in treating anxiety disorders is weak, to say nothing of the mountain of evidence that generalized anxiety disorder can be effectively treated with safer — and cheaper — drugs like S.S.R.I. antidepressants.

 

There are a small number of controlled clinical trials of antipsychotic drugs in generalized anxiety or social anxiety that have shown either no effect or inconsistent results. As a consequence, there is no F.D.A.-approved use of an atypical antipsychotic for any anxiety disorder.

 

Yet I and many of my colleagues have seen dozens of patients with nothing more than everyday anxiety or insomnia who were given prescriptions for antipsychotic medications. Few of these patients were aware of the potential long-term risks of these drugs.

 

The increasing use of atypical antipsychotics by physicians to treat anxiety suggests that doctors view these medications as safer alternatives to the potentially habit-forming anti-anxiety benzodiazepines like Valium and Klonopin. And since antipsychotics have rapid effects, clinicians may prefer them to first-line treatments like S.S.R.I. antidepressants, which can take several weeks to work.

 

Of course, physicians frequently use medications off label, and there is sometimes solid empirical evidence to support this practice. But presently there is little evidence that atypical antipsychotic drugs are effective outside of a small number of serious psychiatric disorders, namely schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and treatment-resistant depression.

 

Let’s be clear: The new atypical antipsychotic drugs are effective and safe. But even if these drugs prove effective for a variety of new psychiatric illnesses, there is still good reason for caution. Because they have potentially serious adverse effects, atypical antipsychotic drugs should be used when currently available treatments — with typically fewer side effects and lower costs — have failed.

 

Atypical antipsychotics can be lifesaving for people who have schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or severe depression. But patients should think twice — and then some — before using these drugs to deal with the low-grade unhappiness, anxiety and insomnia that comes with modern life.

 

Dr. Richard A. Friedman is a professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College in Manhattan.

This is not medical advice. Discuss any decisions about your medical care with a knowledgeable medical practitioner.

"It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has surpassed our humanity." -- Albert Einstein

All postings © copyrighted.

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I've seen people started on Seroquel for insomnia.

 

And we think bleeding people with leeches was a bad idea in medical history. Someday in the future people will look back on these times with the same disbelief that we now look back on witch-burning. (I hope.)

 

Those pharmaceutical companies sure have a lot to answer for.

Started on Prozac and Xanax in 1992 for PTSD after an assault. One drug led to more, the usual story. Got sicker and sicker, but believed I needed the drugs for my "underlying disease". Long story...lost everything. Life savings, home, physical and mental health, relationships, friendships, ability to work, everything. Amitryptiline, Prozac, bupropion, buspirone, flurazepam, diazepam, alprazolam, Paxil, citalopram, lamotrigine, gabapentin...probably more I've forgotten. 

Started multidrug taper in Feb 2010.  Doing a very slow microtaper, down to low doses now and feeling SO much better, getting my old personality and my brain back! Able to work full time, have a full social life, and cope with stress better than ever. Not perfect, but much better. After 23 lost years. Big Pharma has a lot to answer for. And "medicine for profit" is just not a great idea.

 

Feb 15 2010:  300 mg Neurontin  200 Lamictal   10 Celexa      0.65 Xanax   and 5 mg Ambien 

Feb 10 2014:   62 Lamictal    1.1 Celexa         0.135 Xanax    1.8 Valium

Feb 10 2015:   50 Lamictal      0.875 Celexa    0.11 Xanax      1.5 Valium

Feb 15 2016:   47.5 Lamictal   0.75 Celexa      0.0875 Xanax    1.42 Valium    

2/12/20             12                       0.045               0.007                   1 

May 2021            7                       0.01                  0.0037                1

Feb 2022            6                      0!!!                     0.00167               0.98                2.5 mg Ambien

 

I'm not a doctor. Any advice I give is just my civilian opinion.

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I took an atypical in a high dose, then after a break I took one in a low dose (adjunct depression treatment), then after falling to pieces after attempting to rapidly d/c my medications, I went back on a 'schizo' dose. So I have a first hand opinion.

 

I may be stating the obvious but I'd never recommend the atypicals for use at all -- though some applications bother me far less than others, like a 90 year old dying in a nursing home gets a different risk allowance than a healthly 17 year old does.

 

I do get why the drugs might be used for insomnia, they definitely are sedating. However, this did my insomnia no net good because the hangover effect was so pronounced that I needed 12 hours to recover from taking it.

 

For depression, they make no sense, broadly. I suspect I'm pretty typical in that I became more lethargic, exhausted, mopey, slothlike and unproductive.

 

The worst side effect (on going) with the atypicals was the sexual side effects. When I look back I realize the really bad sexual dysfunction didn't start until high dose Zyprexa came on the scene.

"Well my ship's been split to splinters and it's sinking fast
I'm drowning in the poison, got no future, got no past
But my heart is not weary, it's light and it's free
I've got nothing but affection for all those who sailed with me.

Everybody's moving, if they ain't already there
Everybody's got to move somewhere
Stick with me baby, stick with me anyhow
Things should start to get interesting right about now."

- Zimmerman

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And we think bleeding people with leeches was a bad idea in medical history. Someday in the future people will look back on these times with the same disbelief that we now look back on witch-burning. (I hope.)

 

Yes, I think you're correct. It will be looked back on in the way we today look at the lobotomies of the 50s.

"Well my ship's been split to splinters and it's sinking fast
I'm drowning in the poison, got no future, got no past
But my heart is not weary, it's light and it's free
I've got nothing but affection for all those who sailed with me.

Everybody's moving, if they ain't already there
Everybody's got to move somewhere
Stick with me baby, stick with me anyhow
Things should start to get interesting right about now."

- Zimmerman

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""For depression, they make no sense, broadly. I suspect I'm pretty typical in that I became more lethargic, exhausted, mopey, slothlike and unproductive. ""

 

I get the impression from reading various blogs that if someone ends up in a psych hospital due to suicidal ideation that an AP is routinely given as part of a psych med cocktail. I guess the philosophy is drug the person big time so they forget about their pain.

 

CS

Drug cocktail 1995 - 2010
Started taper of Adderall, Wellbutrin XL, Remeron, and Doxepin in 2006
Finished taper on June 10, 2010

Temazepam on a PRN basis approximately twice a month - 2014 to 2016

Beginning in 2017 - Consumption increased to about two times per week

April 2017 - Increased to taking it full time for insomnia

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