Are antipsychotic medications a new way to get a better night’s rest? Why are more and more elderly unnecessarily being given the medications? And, why are children as young as 18 months taking the dangerous pills?
A new wave of antipsychotic medication called atypical antipsychotics — the most popular are Seroquel, Zyprexa and Abilify — are being prescribed by psychiatrists and primary-care doctors to treat a wide array of conditions for which they have not been approved, including anxiety, attention-deficit disorder, sleep difficulties, behavioral problems in toddlers and dementia.
These new drugs account for more than 90 percent of the market and have eclipsed the older generation of antipsychotics. Two recent reports have found that youths in foster care, some less than a year old, are taking more psychotropic drugs than other children, including those with the severest forms of mental illness.
Side effects for these medications include major, rapid weight gain — 40 pounds is not uncommon — Type 2 diabetes, breast development in boys, irreversible facial tics and, among the elderly, an increased risk of death.
And, since 2005, antipsychotics have carried a black-box warning, the strongest possible, cautioning against their use in elderly patients with dementia, because the drugs increase the risk of death. In 2008 the Food and Drug Administration reiterated its earlier warning, noting that “antipsychotics are not indicated for the treatment of dementia-related psychosis.” But experts say such use remains widespread.