My blogging friend, Deanna, brought my attention to a really great article that was published just a few days ago in the New York Times online edition. Published on September 24, 2012, the article, "A Call For Caution On Antipsychotic Drugs," is written by Richard A. Friedman, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College in Manhattan.
Some may read the article's title, and think, "Well, I don't struggle with psychosis, so this article doesn't apply to me." However, even though the newer antipsychotic drugs (commonly referred to as "atypical antipsychotic" medications) are generally used for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and severe depression, they are today, in increasing fashion, being prescribed for many different types of mental illness. According to Dr. Friedman, in some cases this may be appropriate, but in others it is not. In addition, though these drugs can be very helpful for many people, they still carry the risk of significant side effects, and patients should be aware of them. Unfortunately, they often are not.
In particular, there were two things that Dr. Friedman mentioned that really struck me. First, he referred to some recent scientific studies that debunked the previously assumed theory that the newer "atypical antipsychotics" were better and had less side effects than the older traditional antipsychotics. This was news to me, as I have always heard that these atypical antipsychotics were great improvements over the older drugs. I wonder if many doctors are still working under the assumption that these newer antipsychotics are safer and more effective, and perhaps that is why they are prescribing them more liberally?
The second surprise of the article was Dr. Friedman's reference to the fact that apparently, many doctors are using antipsychotics to treat anxiety disorders. The doctor is concerned about this because he states that ". . . the data for the safety and efficacy of antipsychotic drugs in treating anxiety disorders is weak . . ." (para 15).
This article contained a lot of new information for me on these medications, and I thought it was worthwhile to pass this on. This does confirm for me that as a patient, it is always important to do my research (through reputable sources) on any treatment I receive. Some patients may choose to follow through on a treatment plan that includes some risk. That is their decision and should be respected. However, I think it's critical that the patient is at least properly informed of all of the risks, so that he or she can make the best choice possible.
Just a reminder: I am not a doctor/psychologist/psychiatrist, nor am I trained in any way. I do want to state however, that if you read this article and you are concerned about any medications you are currently taking, I think it would be wise to talk to your doctor first before making any changes involving your medications. These drugs are powerful, and should always be used, started, or stopped under the guidance of a properly trained psychiatrist.