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Study: Newer Antipsychotic Drugs Are Overused

Researchers Say Many Doctors Prescribe Drugs Despite Lack of Evidence of Effectiveness
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How Drugs Developed for Schizophrenia Became Used as Antidepressants continued...

Over time, the way doctors prescribed those drugs changed, too, with doctors becoming more likely to prescribe these powerful medications for conditions in which they had not been rigorously studied or FDA approved, such as anxiety, depression, attention deficit disorder, and for aggression and agitation in dementia patients.

In adults, for example, the use of any antipsychotic medication -- old or new -- remained relatively stable from 1995 to 2001. But from 2001 to 2006 use of the medications doubled, the study showed, indicating that doctors were becoming quicker to turn to these powerful drugs.

In children, the use of the drugs skyrocketed, increasing 800% from 1995 to 2005.

“Time and time again what we see is medications that are prematurely adopted in populations that have little or nothing to gain, and this study is yet another example of how both doctors and patients may overenthusiastically or prematurely adopt medicines beyond the evidence base,” Alexander says.

Atypical Antipsychotics Become a Target of Lawsuits

In many cases, government regulators felt that pharmaceutical companies promoting these drugs broke the law by encouraging doctors to prescribe them “off-label.” Off-label drugs are those prescribed by doctors for purposes not approved by the FDA.

According to a report released in December 2010 by the consumer watchdog Public Citizen, some of the largest drug company settlements with the federal government in the last two decades were for the unlawful promotion of atypical antipsychotic drugs.

In 2010, for example, the drug company AstraZeneca paid $520 million to settle allegations by the federal government that it engaged in unlawful promotion of its drug Seroquel, which is the top-selling atypical antipsychotic.

AstraZeneca Responds

AstraZeneca offered the following written response to the findings of the new study:

“AstraZeneca believes that Seroquel is a safe and effective medication when used as recommended in the prescribing information and offers clinicians, patients and their loved ones an important treatment option.

Doctors need a range of options as they seek an appropriate treatment for individual patients, because they recognize a one-size-fits-all approach to treating all people with mental illnesses like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia is not possible.Doctors consider the needs of individual patients and the array of treatments that are available, including prescription medicines. Doctors are trained to carefully make these choices.

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