Are Antipsychotics Really Worth It?

Schizophrenia medication treatments have many side effects but they also have many rewards

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) There is no cure for schizophrenia, and though drug treatments can be helpful the side effects can turn people away from them too. Recent statistical analysis shows antipsychotic treatments to be more helpful than placebos. 

Researchers look at thousands of cases of schizophrenia and their outcomes to judge whether antipsychotics are worth the price both physiologically and financially.

It may depend on the case, but overall the numbers are in favor of medication.

"See a doctor immediately if any psychotic symptoms occur."

Dr. Stefan Leucht MD., from Technische University in Munich, Germany, lead a team to look at the long-term use of antipsychotics for the treatment of schizophrenia.

In order to determine exactly how effective antipsychotics are in the treatment of schizophrenia Dr. Leucht’s team had to look at a considerable amount of data concerning the effectiveness of antipsychotic drugs on schizophrenics.

They were looking at the outcomes of patients who presented with schizophrenia, received treatment and stabilized. Each patient was then assessed 7-12 months after stabilization.

6,493 patients from 65 drug and treatment trials made up the final test pool. Some of the patients were treated with antipsychotics after stabilization and others with placebos. Twenty-seven percent of patients given antipsychotic drugs experienced relapse, but 64 percent of patients given a placebo relapsed.

Side effects of antipsychotics vs. placebo were weight gain, movement disorders and sedation.

The researchers state that nearly 80 percent of patients with schizophrenia relapse within 5 years. The flip side is that 20 percent do not have more than one psychotic episode in their lifetimes. A 2010 US study estimated $18.5 billion was being spent worldwide on antipsychotics and an even greater amount on hospitalizations.

Only 10 percent of patients treated with antipsychotics found their way back into a hospital bed, but 26 percent of the placebo patients had to return to the hospital.

Study authors concluded, “Maintenance treatment with antipsychotic drugs benefits patients with schizophrenia. The advantages of these drugs must be weighed against their side-effects. Future studies should focus on outcomes of social participation and clarify the long-term morbidity and mortality of these drugs.”

This study was published in the Lancet, May 2012. Funding for the research was provided by grants from the German Ministry of Education and Research and the European Research Council.

Authors state there were no conflicts of interest and have disclosed affiliations: “SL has received honoraria as a consultant or a member of advisory boards from Alkermes, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Janssen, Johnson and Johnson, Medavante, Roche; he has received lecture honoraria from AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, EssexPharma, Janssen, Johnson and Johnson, Lundbeck Institute, Pfizer, and Sanofi-Aventis; and is primary investigator of a trial for which Eli Lilly has provided medication.

SH has received honoraria from Janssen-Cilag, Sanofi-Aventis, and Johnson and Johnson; and has accepted travel or hospitality payment from Janssen-Cilag, Sanofi-Aventis, Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, AstraZeneca, Lundbeck, Novartis, and Eli Lilly. WK has received honoraria for board memberships, consulting, and lectures from Janssen and Eli Lilly; honoraria for development of educational materials from Janssen; grant support from Janssen and AstraZeneca; and travel and accommodation expenses from AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, and Janssen.”

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 8, 2012
Last Updated:
May 8, 2012