Antipsychotic Drugs Ineffective in Treating PTSD Symptoms, Study Finds

A new, six-month study found that that antipsychotic medications such as Risperdal, don’t work all that well in resolving symptoms associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a dangerous disorder very commonly seen in combat veterans.

Veterans Affairs (VA) described PTSD as an anxiety disorder linked to a traumatic event in which the sufferer believes his/her life, or the lives of others, are in danger, common in combat situations. Symptoms of PTSD include sleeplessness, nightmares, restlessness, and an acute startle response, to name just some. The effects of PTSD can be debilitating.

Risperdal (risperidone), used in the treatment of PTSD in combat veterans, might not be doing much to reduce severity of the disorder, according to the new, randomized, controlled study, said MSNBC, worked no better than the placebo in mitigating symptoms in long-term PTSD sufferers or those who continued to suffer from symptoms after antidepressant therapy. The medication did not minimize depression and anxiety, said the researchers. The study appears in the current Journal of the American Medical Association.

“PTSD is the most common—and most costly to treat—disorder seen by the VA psychiatry services,” said lead author, Dr. John H. Krystal, professor and chair of the department of psychiatry at Yale University and director of the clinical neuroscience division of the VA’s National Center for PTSD. “It’s a huge problem,” Dr Krystal added, reported MSNBC.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only approved two medications for the treatment of PTSD: Paxil and Zoloft; however, they are not always effective. Specifically, these antidepressants don’t do much to help people who have undergone multiple traumas or who suffer from chronic PTSD, said Krystal, wrote MSNBC. Because of this, physicians have tried medications such as Risperdal (risperidone) to augment antidepressant use.

Risperdal is an antipsychotic medication approved for the treatment of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and irritability linked to autism disorder, said MSNBC. In 2009, some 87,000 PTSD-diagnosed veterans were prescribed an antipsychotic prescription; about 94 percent received a second-generation antipsychotic, such as Risperdal, MSNBC added. “So here we have the situation where one of the most commonly prescribed medications for the treatment of PTSD turns out not to be effective in reducing the overall severity of PTSD or improving other types of outcomes, such as quality of life,” Krystal said. “Which really gives you pause,” Krystal noted, reported MSNBC.

The study looked at 247 veterans diagnosed with military-related PTSD; half received risperidone and half received placebos; those on antidepressants continued those drugs in addition to risperidone, said MSNBC. Patients taking risperidone fared no better than patients taking placebos in reducing the severity of symptoms. Side effects including weight gain, sleepiness, and drowsiness were observed in those taking risperidone.

“We fully expected we would find it to be effective on the basis of preliminary studies that found risperidone effective and because it was so widely prescribed,” Krystal said. “But we found that it was not only not better than placebo at reducing overall symptoms, but also it was not better in reducing anxiety, depression, or in improving quality of life,” MSNBC reported.

Dr. Ian Cook, the Miller professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles said “PTSD can be such a dangerous illness…. People really need to get treatment. It can lead to suicide. It can lead to violence when someone is having a flashback. People need to get care,” according to MSNBC

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