Researchers find holes in antipsychotics' off-label uses

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Antipsychotic drugs that are used "off-label" for controlling violent behavior in mentally challenged patients are less effective than placebos and dummy pills, according to a new British study.

The report flies in the face of standard practices in nursing homes and mental health clinics, which regularly prescribe antipsychotics for off-label purposes, experts said.

In the study, 86 people with low IQs or other mental problems were given Risperdal or a generic form of Haldol (both are antipsychotics) or a placebo pill. After one month of study, patients receiving the placebo had calmed down significantly more than either of the groups on the anti-psychotics, researchers said.

The extra attention given to patients caused much of the calming affect, claims Dr. Peter J. Tyrer, a professor of psychiatry at Imperial College London who led the research effort.

"These people tend to get so little company normally. They're neglected, they tend to be pushed into the background, and this extra attention has a much bigger effect on them that it would on a person of a more normal intelligence level," Dr. Tyrer said.

But though the report concluded that the routine prescription of the drugs for aggression "should no longer be regarded as a satisfactory form of care," authors also noted that their report "should not be interpreted as an indication that antipsychotic drugs have no place in the treatment of some aspects of behavior disturbance."