Psychotropic Polypharmacy Is on the Rise

The number of adults being prescribed a combination of psychiatric medications is growing, according to recent evidence, and it may not be for the best. Johns Hopkins researchers analyzed trends in psychotropic polypharmacy (the use of more than one psychiatric medication) by looking at drugs prescribed during 13,079 psychiatrist visits.

From 1996–1997 to 2005–2006, the percentage of visits at which two or more drugs were prescribed increased from 43 to 60 percent, and the percentage of visits at which three or more medications were prescribed increased from 17 to 33 percent. The most common combinations were antidepressants and sedative-hypnotics (23 percent), followed by antidepressants and antipsychotics (13 percent), and two types of antidepressants (13 percent).

While the efficacy of some combinations is supported by research, many have been untested. And while combining drugs may be beneficial for some, growing evidence suggests they can have negative side effects, such as weight gain and high cholesterol levels.

If your doctor prescribes more than one psychotropic drug for you, ask if this is best and for a careful explanation of each drug's role. If you're concerned about your treatment, consider getting a second opinion.

Source: Archives of General Psychiatry, Volume 67, page 26, January 2010

Publication Review By: Karen L. Swartz, M.D.

Published: 20 Aug 2013

Last Modified: 14 Nov 2013