March 13th, 2012
Antipsychotic drugs grow more popular for patients without mental illness
By Sandra G. Boodman
Adriane Fugh-Berman was stunned by the question: Two graduate students who had no symptoms of mental illness wondered if she thought they should take a powerful schizophrenia drug each had been prescribed to treat insomnia.
“It’s a total outrage,” said Fugh-Berman, a physician who is an associate professor of pharmacology at Georgetown University. “These kids needed some basic sleep [advice], like reducing their intake of caffeine and alcohol, not a highly sedating drug.”
Those Georgetown students exemplify a trend that alarms medical experts, policymakers and patient advocates: the skyrocketing increase in the off-label use of an expensive class of drugs called atypical antipsychotics. Until the past decade these 11 drugs, most approved in the 1990s, had been reserved for the approximately 3 percent of Americans with the most disabling mental illnesses, chiefly schizophrenia and bipolar disorder; more recently a few have been approved to treat severe depression.
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