STANFORD, Calif. Many prescriptions for the top-selling class of drugs, known as atypical antipsychotic medications, lack strong evidence that the drugs will actually help, a study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine and University of Chicago has found. Yet, drugs in this class may cause such serious effects as weight gain, diabetes and heart disease, and cost Americans billions of dollars.
"Because these drugs have safety issues, physicians should prescribe them only when they are sure patients will get substantial benefits," said Randall Stafford, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who is senior author of the study to be published online Jan. 7 in Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety. "These are commonly used and very expensive drugs."
Prescriptions for these drugs have risen steadily since they first came on the U.S. market in 1989, largely replacing the first generation of antipsychotics, which were mainly used to treat schizophrenia. The U.S. government's original stamp of approval for the new drugs was for treating schizophrenia, but they're used more today for other conditions, including other psychoses, autism, bipolar disorder, delirium, dementia, depression and personality disorders. And while some of these uses have recently been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, many have not.
For example, the FDA has approved quetiapine (brand name, Seroquel), the antipsychotic with the biggest U.S. sales, for treating schizophrenia and some aspects of bipolar disorder and depression, but the drug is also often used for anxiety and dementia, among other conditions.
These new drugs accounted for more than $10 billion in retail pharmacy U.S. prescription drug costs in 2008, representing the largest expenditure for any single drug class nearly 5 percent of all drug spending, surpassing even blockbusters like statin cholesterol medica
|Contact: Rosanne Spector|
Stanford University Medical Center