Patients with schizophrenia who were given smaller doses of antipsychotic drugs along with individual talk therapy and family support fared far better than patients who got the usual drug-focused care, a new landmark study has found.
More than two million people in the United States are diagnosed with schizophrenia. Treatment typically involves high doses of antipsychotic drugs, such as Risperdal, in order to quell hallucinations and delusions. But the side effects can be brutal.
Antipsychotic drugs can cause weight gain, diabetes, and debilitating movement disorders. Risperdal, one of the few schizophrenia treatments approved for children and adolescents, has also been linked to gynecomastia, a condition that causes boys and young men to grow female breasts that can become tender and lactate.
The new study, published in The American Journal of Psychiatry and funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, is monumental because it comes just as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued new guidelines strongly endorsing the combined-therapy approach to mentally ill patients, and as much of the country debates the role of mental health in mass shootings.
The study found that patients fared better the sooner they entered the combined therapy, such as shortly after their first so-called episode of psychosis. Currently, the average time between a first episode and receiving medical care (if it is sought) is about 18 months.
Side effects from antipsychotic drugs are a deterrent for many who are prescribed the drugs, driving many patients to discontinue taking them about a year and a half after starting them. But lowering the dosage significantly lowers the risk of side effects, and the extent of those side effects, which can greatly improve quality of life.
“As for medications, I have had every side effect out there, from chills and shakes to lockjaw and lactation,” said a participant in the trial, Maggie, 20, who asked that her last name be omitted. She did well in the trial and is now attending nursing school.
Source: NY Times