Researchers have found an association between use of beta blockers and reduction in violent crime.
While other studies are now needed, it suggests the drugs may have some use in managing aggression and hostility in individuals with psychiatric conditions, a team of UK and Swedish researchers reported in PLOS Medicine.
They evaluated a cohort of 1.4 million adults in Sweden treated with beta-blockers and compared periods when they were or were not on the drugs.
Over the course of an eight-year period from 2006 to 2013, 9000 individuals were charged with a violent crime but this was significantly less likely to happen when they were taking beta blockers.
Overall, beta-blocker use was associated with a 13% lower risk of being charged with a violent crime by the police, which remained consistent across the analyses, compared with periods when the same individuals were not taking the drugs.
The results also showed an 8% lower risk of hospitalisation due to a psychiatric disorder as well as an 8% increased association of being treated for suicidal behaviour.
Further analysis showed that the associations varied depending on psychiatric diagnosis, past psychiatric problems, as well as the severity and type of the cardiac condition the beta-blockers were being used to treat.
The researchers noted that beta blockers are sometimes prescribed for psychiatric disorders, partly in the belief that they lower anxiety but there is limited evidence on it.
There was also evidence in the analyses that people on beta blockers were less likely to need hospital treatment for anxiety.
Study lead Professor Seena Fazel, professor of forensic psychology at the University of Oxford said: “In a real-world study of 1.4 million persons, beta-blockers were associated with reduced violent criminal charges in individuals with psychiatric disorders.
“Repurposing their use to manage aggression and violence could improve patient outcomes.”
Commenting on the findings, Susana Gaytan Guia, a researcher at the University of Seville said it was a rigorously done study, the results of which should be looked at in more detail by other studies.
‘It prompts us to think about possible therapeutic avenues, proposing, therefore, that the use of beta-blockers to control aggression and violence be explored further. ‘
Previously, GPs have been advised to be aware of the risk of injury to patients prescribed beta blockers. Non-selective beta blockers – such as carvedilol and propranolol – were associated with a 22% increased risk of falls over a two-year period, compared to non-users, a study found.