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Antipsychotics raise mortality risk in dementia patients

By Lilian Anekwe

GPs face fresh pressure over their prescribing of antipsychotics after a new study found the drugs substantially raise the long-term risk of mortality in patients with Alzheimer's disease.

Patients prescribed thioridazine, chlorpromazine, haloperidol, triflouoperazine or respiridone were only 46% likely to survive two years compared with 71% in the placebo group

And the study of 165 patients, published in January's Lancet Neurology, found survival after 36 months fell to 30%, compared to 59% in the placebo group.

Antipsychotics are widely used as the first-line drug to treat the neuropsychiatric symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, and it is estimated that up to 60% of UK nursing home residents are prescribed antipsychotics.

But the Department of Health has already vowed to clamp down on GPs prescribing antipsychotics inappropriately.

Study leader Professor Clive Ballard, professor of dementia research at King's College London, concluded there was still a ‘limited place' for atypical antipsychotics in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease-related dementia

But he added: ‘The substantial increase in long-term mortality emphasises the urgent need to put an end to unnecessary and prolonged prescribing.'

Care services minister Phil Hope, who is expected to publish a DH-commissioned review into antipsychotic prescribing in the coming weeks, said: ‘There is undoubtedly strong evidence which suggests that these drugs are being over used.

‘The inappropriate administration of medication is entirely unacceptable and the Government's detailed review on the use of anti-psychotic drugs is examining all the evidence available, and is looking at what can be done to better manage behavioural disorders in dementia, avoiding the use of drugs.'

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