U.K. activists assail antipsychotic "abuse"

Patient advocates in Britain are fighting back against overuse of antipsychotic drugs in the elderly, citing new research showing just how widespread that use is. They're calling on the U.K. government to publish its review of antipsychotic use, which has been overdue since May.

Three-quarters of hospital nurses have seen dementia patients prescribed antipsychotics--which are known to double death risk and triple the risk of stroke specifically in these patients--according to a study by the U.K. Alzheimer's Society. Other research showed pervasive antipsychotic use in British long-term care patients as well. In light of these findings, ten advocacy groups have written The Daily Telegraph, hoping to expose what they call "scandalous abuse of vulnerable citizens."

"The massive over prescription of antipsychotics to people with dementia is an abuse of human rights, causing serious side effects and increasing risk of death," Alzheimer's Society chief Neil Hunt told the newspaper. "The Government must take action to ensure that these drugs are only ever used as a last resort." Some 100,000 dementia patients in long-term care are getting the meds, the advocates' letter states, leading to the deaths of 23,000 per year.

Antipsychotic use in elderly patients has become controversial in the U.K. and the U.S. Despite research showing serious risks to their use in dementia patients--and label warnings of that risk--the drugs are still widely prescribed in some nursing homes. And drugmakers, such as Eli Lilly, have been sued for allegedly marketing antipsychotics for off-label use in dementia patients.

- see the Telegraph story