Polypharmacy in psychiatric practice in the Canary Islands

BMC Psychiatry. 2004 Jul 5;4:18. doi: 10.1186/1471-244X-4-18.


Background: Polypharmacy with psychoactive drugs is an increasingly common and debatable contemporary practice in clinical psychiatry based more upon experience than evidence. The objective of this study was to evaluate the prevalence and conditioners of polypharmacy in psychiatric patients.

Method: A cross-sectional survey was carried out using the Canary Islands Health Service Clinical Records Database. A representative sample (n = 2,647) of patients with mental disorders receiving psychotropic medication was studied.

Results: The mean number of psychoactive drugs prescribed was 1.63 +/- 0.93 (range 1-7). The rate of polypharmacy was 41.9%, with 27.8% of patients receiving two drugs, 9.1% receiving three, 3.2% receiving four, and 1.8% of the patients receiving five or more psychotropic drugs. Multiple regression analysis shows that variables sex and diagnosis have a predictive value with regard to the number of psychotropic drug used, being men and schizophrenic patients the most predisposed. Benzodiazepines were the more prevalent drugs in monotherapy, while anticonvulsants and antipsychotics were the more used in combination with other treatment. A questionable very high degree of same-class polypharmacy was evidenced, while multi-class, adjunctive and augmentation polypharmacy seem to be more appropriate.

Conclusions: Almost half of the psychiatric patients are treated with several psychotropics. Polypharmacy is common and seems to be problematic, especially when same class of drugs are prescribed together. Some diagnoses, such as schizophrenia, are associated with an increase risk of Polypharmacy but there is a lack of evidence based indicators that allows for quality evaluation on this practice.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Databases as Topic / statistics & numerical data
  • Drug Prescriptions / statistics & numerical data
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Middle Aged
  • Polypharmacy*
  • Psychotropic Drugs / therapeutic use*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Risk Assessment
  • Spain


  • Psychotropic Drugs