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Anti-psychotic medications are only approved by the FDA to treat psychotic symptoms; however, it has become commonplace for health care professionals to use anti-psychotic medications to calm aggressive behavior through off-label use. There has never been any conclusive evidence to show this to be effective method, but a new study may shine a little more light on the issue. An article in the most recent issue of the Lancet suggests that the administration of anti-psychotic medications may actually increase aggressive behavior.

British researchers, led by Dr. Peter Tyrer, set up a trial with 86 non-psychotic patients from 10 different clinics. These patients were first evaluated for aggressiveness and then enrolled in a group given one of three treatments: the typical antipsychotic haloperidol, the atypical antipsychotic risperidone, and a placebo. The patients were observed for four weeks to evaluate levels of aggression. The risperidone group showed a 58% drop in aggression, and the haloperidol group showed a 65% reduction. This is an incredible benefit, one large enough that caretakers noticed and appreciated the drop in disturbances. However, this drop is also incredibly misleading.

The placebo group showed a 79% reduction in aggression. The placebo pill, made from sugar, actually showed better results that either of the medications. This is alarming news to me as millions of elderly and mentally disabled people are being over medicated for no reason. Prescription anti-psychotics can also be accompanied by dangerous side effects that could be detrimental to a patient’s well being.

I understand that those who work in nursing homes and other facilities that commonly use medications to calm aggressive behavior are making the best effort to control a dangerous situation, but maybe it is time to consider a change in this area. If drugs are less effective than a sugar pill and are far more dangerous to a patient’s health there is no reason to continue use of these medications to treat these types of conditions. Maybe it is also time for doctors to become a little more cautious when prescribing medications for off-label uses.

For more information on this subject, please refer to the section on Drugs, Medical Devices and Implants.

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