Opiod Crisis: Reckless Overprescribing of Antipsychotics is Killing Veterans

Critics of the VA estimate that more than 400 combat veterans and other military personnel have died suddenly after being overmedicated with PTSD “cocktails.” As with opioid deaths, these fatalities aren’t systematically monitored or studied. The few military and VA inquiries into this issue have largely blamed these mysterious deaths on suicides and natural causes—or, in a few cases, on some inexplicable “drug toxicity.”

Over $1.8 billion was spent by the VA from 2001 through the first half of 2015 on the two most prescribed antipsychotics for PTSD, Risperdal and Seroquel, although they were never proved effective or even approved by the FDA for use with the disorder. Seroquel remains the most heavily prescribed antipsychotic in the VA system, with nearly 800,000 prescriptions annually—more than twice as many as for Abilify, the most prescribed antipsychotic for the rest of America. The agency still writes over 2.1 million prescriptions a year for all antipsychotics, the overwhelming majority for unapproved uses.

The drug remains off-label for PTSD, anxiety, insomnia and depression in youth, but virtually no one in the VA appears to be paying attention. As a psychiatrist at the Huntington VA hospital tells this reporter, “The drug companies pushed these new drugs for everything from alopecia to hemorrhoids to lumbago.”

That push ignored the data. “The evidence for using antipsychotics with PTSD patients isn’t very good, and the potential side effects can be deadly,” says Dr. J. Douglas Bremner, the chief of Emory University Medical School’s Clinical Neuroscience Research Unit. Dr. Bremner is a faculty member in the NS program.

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