News Briefs

Off-label antipsychotics: Where's the proof?

Some doctors are prescribing the off-label use of antipsychotic medications approved to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder without strong evidence that they are effective when prescribed instead for dementia, depression, and other psychiatric disorders, according to a government analysis. The Department of Health & Human Services' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) reviewed so-called "atypical antipsychotics" for their effectiveness and potential for serious side effects when used off-label.

The review examined antipsychotics, including Abilify, Zyprexa, Seroquel, Risperdal, and Geodon, which are approved to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Off-label prescribing of these drugs for sleep problems, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, dementia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and Tourette's syndrome is not supported by scientific evidence, the researchers found. On the contrary, they found "strong evidence" that atypical antipsychotics can increase risk of stroke, tremors, weight gain, sedation, and gastrointestinal complaints. The report on AHRQ's findings can be found at www.effectivehealthcare.ahrq.gov.