By Aaron Watanabe
In a recent NY Times article, Richard Friedman, M.D., and a psychiatry professor at Weill Cornell Medical College discusses the risks of using the popular Abilify and Seroquel antipsychotic drugs. These, and other second generation antipsychotic drugs, were originally prescribed for the treatment of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Dr. Friedman points out that in recent years the use of these drugs has increased dramatically and are now being prescribed “off-label” for treatment of conditions outside of their original intent; conditions such as anxiety, insomnia, and depression.
These drugs have been used to treat dementia patients and caregivers alike. Antipsychotics have been shown to be effective controlling symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia such as hallucinations and behavioral disorders. Drug companies have also received FDA approval to use these drugs for the treatment of depression and anxiety disorders in combination with antidepressants.
This is strong medicine and people using these drugs should be very aware of the risks as well as the benefits. While these antipsychotics can be used to treat depression and anxiety, they are not antidepressants. Sometimes they are prescribed first because they have a more rapid effect than other antidepressants. There are other ways to treat depression and anxiety using different medications that may be cheaper, safer, have greater long-term effectiveness, and/or fewer side effects.
Using these second generation antipsychotics has fewer neurological side effects than the first generation, but there are still long-term risks. Some of these risks can be “increased blood sugar, elevated lipids and cholesterol, and weight gain.” Dr. Friedman also mentions, “a potentially irreversible movement disorder called tardive dyskinesia, though the risk is thought to be significantly lower than with the older antipsychotic drugs.”
Dr. Friedman is clear that the second generation antipsychotics are effective and safe when used properly and have increased the quality of life of those suffering from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or severe depression. But because of their serious side effects urges that extreme caution be used when taking these drugs.
Always consult your physician or talk with the Glenner Care staff if you have any questions about any of your medications.