September 14, 2015

Doctors Prescribing Drugs to Calm Challenging Behaviour: New Study Confirms

The New Scientist reports that doctors are resorting to powerful psychotropic drugs, such as antipsychotics and antidepressants, to calm patients with intellectual disabilities – even if they don’t have a history of mental illness. A new study puts figures on a practice that has long been suspected.

Rory Sheehan of University College London and his colleagues collected data from 571 doctors’ surgeries in the UK over five years. They identified 33,016 patients with intellectual disability, defined as having an IQ of 70 or below, plus a range of difficulties coping with the routines of daily life. Of these people, 63 per cent had been prescribed some kind of psychotropic drug by the end of the study, even though just 34 per cent of the whole group had been diagnosed with a mental illness. 

The study found that 9135 people had been given antipsychotic drugs, despite 71 per cent of them not having a record of the kind of severe mental illness, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, for which these drugs are usually prescribed. Those with a record of “challenging behaviour” were more than twice as likely as those without to receive the medication.