Objective: This study aimed to determine the prevalence of prescribing antipsychotics to adults without schizophrenia or bipolar disorder and to identify factors associated with such off-label use.
Methods: Patients with at least one prescription for an antipsychotic medication from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) during fiscal year (FY) 2007 were identified in national VA administrative databases. Rates of off-label antipsychotic use were determined along with average doses. Multivariate logistic regression models identified sociodemographic and clinical characteristics associated with off-label use.
Results: Of the 279,778 individuals in FY 2007 who received an antipsychotic medication, 168,442 (60.2%) had no record of a diagnosis for which these drugs are approved. The most common mental illness diagnoses among patients given prescriptions for antipsychotics off label were posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD, 41.8%), minor depression (39.5%), major depression (23.4%), and anxiety disorder (20.0%). Among VA patients with mental illness other than schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, the proportion who received prescriptions for antipsychotic medications ranged from a low of 9.1% among patients with adjustment reaction; to about 20% for those with depression, dementia, or PTSD; and to a high of 40.7% among patients with other psychoses. Doses were low, with over half of patients who received off-label quetiapine, risperidone, or first-generation antipsychotics receiving doses below those recommended for schizophrenia. In logistic regression models, patients diagnosed as having other psychosis or dementia had the highest odds of receiving an antipsychotic medication off label.
Conclusions: Off-label use of antipsychotic medications was common. Given that these drugs are expensive, have potentially severe side effects, and have limited evidence supporting their effectiveness for off-label usage, they should be used with greater caution.