35% of people with learning disabilities in Australian city prescribed psychotropic medications

medicine in blisterpack

It is estimated that in UK, up to 200,000 people with learning disabilities are given anti-psychotic drugs, which can have powerful side effects, like risk of weight gain, impotence and strain to the cardiovascular system, and with little evidence of their efficacy in treating challenging behaviour.

There are equal concerns about the use of anti-convulsant agents, especially in light of the findings of a recent systematic review that found significant levels of misdiagnosis as misinterpretation of behavioural, physiological or other events as seizure activity.

The authors of this Australian cross sectional study set out to look at prescribing patterns from 2000 to 2002 for people learning disabilities living in Brisbane. What they did was extract data from a health screening tool and gathered demographic and medical information from telephone interviews and medical records. They gathered data for 117 participants.

What they found was:

  • 35% were prescribed psychotropic medications, most commonly antipsychotics
  • 26% were prescribed anticonvulsants.
  • 29% used complementary medications (vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fish oil, and herbal products)

They adjusted for confounding variables and found psychotropic medication use was significantly associated with having a psychiatric illness (adjusted odds ratio = 4.6, 95% CI [1.0, 20.6]) and challenging behaviours (4.4, [1.1, 17.3]).

They conclude that for the population studied, psychotropic medications continue to be the most predominant agents prescribed.

Medication use among Australian adults with intellectual disability in primary healthcare settings: A cross-sectional study, Doan t et al., in Journal of intellectual and Developmental Disability, 38, 2 , 177-181

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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