frankieleon / CC BY 2.0

Large numbers of people with learning disabilities and no record of severe mental illness are being prescribed strong psychotropic drugs, possibly as a means of subduing and controlling uncooperative patients, research shows.

Researchers at the University College London (UCL) found that of 9,135 people who have intellectual disabilities and are treated with antipsychotic drugs, 71 percent — about 6,503 people — did not have a record of severe mental illness.

The authors said that if people without mental illness are being given powerful psychotropic drugs typically prescribed for those with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, it is probably to control their behavior.

“I think there’s been concern for a long time that psychotropic medications are being overused in people with intellectual disabilities,” said Rory Sheehan, an academic clinical fellow at UCL and lead author of the paper.

The Guardian reports:

A study published online by The British Medical Journal found that the number of people registered with GP practices with an intellectual or learning disability, who are being treated with psychotropic drugs far exceeds those with mental illness. …

[Sheehan] and his fellow authors were concerned, he said, because it is quite difficult to justify the use of strong drugs such as antipsychotics, which can have problematic side effects, except in specific circumstances or as a last resort. “You wouldn’t want to give these medications without quite strong justification,” he said. …

Older people, those with a record of challenging behaviour, autism, dementia epilepsy and mental illness, were significantly more likely to be prescribed antipsychotics. Charities that support older people campaign against the use of antipsychotics to keep those with dementia quiescent, a practice some care homes are known to adopt.

Concerns over antipsychotic drugs may be behind the steady fall in their prescription to people with intellectual disabilities over the last 15 years, which the study also revealed. The researchers, however, found they were not the only drugs that may be inappropriately prescribed. Drugs to treat anxiety were frequently prescribed, as were antidepressants.

Read more here.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

Wait, before you go…

If you're reading this, you probably already know that non-profit, independent journalism is under threat worldwide. Independent news sites are overshadowed by larger heavily funded mainstream media that inundate us with hype and noise that barely scratch the surface. We believe that our readers deserve to know the full story. Truthdig writers bravely dig beneath the headlines to give you thought-provoking, investigative reporting and analysis that tells you what’s really happening and who’s rolling up their sleeves to do something about it.

Like you, we believe a well-informed public that doesn’t have blind faith in the status quo can help change the world. Your contribution of as little as $5 monthly or $35 annually will make you a groundbreaking member and lays the foundation of our work.

Support Truthdig