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Study Reveals Many Expensive, Antipsychotic Drugs Prescribed for "Off Label Use"

Physicians are prescribing the latest medications, such as Seroquel, Abilify, Zyprexa and Risperdal, to help patients suffering from bipolar disorder or personality disorders like schizophrenia.

However, according to a new analysis by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), physicians are prescribing these drugs for conditions which the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has not approved or intended for treatment.

"Off Label Use"

Also known as "off label use," some doctors are prescribing these antipsychotic medications to patients also experiencing depression, dementia, agitation, anxiety, and obsessive behaviors.

Doctors are prescribing these drugs, some indicate, for off-label use because there are no FDA approved treatments for their patient's condition, or the patient has not responded to drugs that have been approved.

Research indicates that in 2008 more than $19 billion was spent on this class of drugs, comprising 5 percent of all drug spending. In 2004 it was revealed that 25 percent of all nursing home residents in the U.S. had taken these drugs.

Harmful or Helpful?

However, no hard evidence exists to show that these drugs are doing anything to help patients with ailments not included in the FDA's approved use of the particular drug. Instead, evidence reveals that these patients are experiencing side effects such as fatigue, cardiovascular problems, gastrointestinal and urinary problems, and weight gain.

In particular, studies have shown an increased risk of death for seniors with dementia who take off-label antipsychotic medications, with a reported 35 deaths per 1,000 elderly people who take these drugs and an increased risk of stroke for elderly patients taking Risperidone (Risperdal).

The off-use controversy has resulted in thousands of lawsuits. Many major manufacturers have been accused of questionable marketing techniques or of falsifying test results are currently under investigation.

Antipsychotic drugs are the most popular and costly class of drugs available today. In 2008 alone, approximately $6 billion was spent on antipsychotic drugs for off-label use.