New research has so dramatically discredited antipsychotic treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder that experts predict treatment standards will change quickly, the New York Times reports. The study tested Risperdal, the atypical antipsychotic from Johnson & Johnson, but results probably apply to the entire class of meds, which includes such blockbusters as Eli Lilly's Zyprexa and AstraZeneca's Seroquel.
PTSD has become an epidemic in veterans of recent U.S. wars. For many, the usual antidepressant treatment--Zoloft and Paxil are the only FDA-approved drugs for PTSD--doesn't work. So, doctors have been prescribing antipsychotics off-label, betting that adding one of these drugs will boost antidepressant therapy.
Some Veterans Affairs-affiliated researchers set out to determine whether that approach was valid, and they found that adding Risperdal to antidepressant treatment didn't help any more than adding a placebo did. Patients did show some improvement, but equally in both arms of the study, leading researchers to conclude that the improvement came from "engaging the patient in treatment, and not from the medication," lead author John H. Krystal told the NYT.
Antipsychotic meds come with some significant risks, including rapid weight gain. The study "definitely calls into question the use of antipsychotics" for PTSD, Walter Reed Army Institute's Charles Hoge told the newspaper. If VA doctors rethink their use, that would take a bite out of antipsychotic prescriptions: Some 20% of PTSD sufferers treated by VA get antipsychotics, amounting to more than 87,000 veterans in 2009, WebMD reports.