The article below is a typical example of the inappropriate dispensing of medications simply for the easy relief of symptoms. The latter may not even be a significant problem and it would be more appropriate for the physician to deal with these matters by assessing the patient more extensively prior to resorting to prescribing. A few minutes of discussion can most often avoid the “instant gratification” provided by writing a prescription.
According to current trends, cannabis may soon be over prescribed and in many situations, unnecessarily so, yet the downside of that approach is less hazardous than the many toxic chemicals so casually dispensed.
Before you swallow beware! Instant gratification in the form of a pill is seldom a permanent solution and in some cases may be a deadly one.
Antipsychotics, not anti-insomnia
National Post (Latest Edition)16 Jun 2017
Recently, after morning rounds seeing patients admitted to his hospital through emergency, Dr. David Juurlink tweeted: “Can the next doctor wanting to prescribe Seroquel for sleep, just not?”
Of the roughly 20 patients he had seen that morning, four had been prescribed Seroquel, an antipsychotic, for insomnia.
Seroquel and its generics aren’t approved as sleeping pills. Quetiapine, the active ingredient, has been officially approved in Canada for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression only.
Yet drug-safety experts are growing increasingly alarmed by the drug’s use as a doctor-prescribed nightcap for insomnia, with a 10- fold increase in quetiapine prescriptions for sleep problems in Canada between 2005 and 2012 alone.
Quetiapine is sedating. Like over- the- counter sleep aids, it makes people drowsy. But it also comes with a multitude of potential side effects, according to experts.
These side effects include an odd sensation of tension and restlessness (akathisia), Parkinson’s- like tremors and movement abnormalities, weight-gain, high blood sugar, new or worsening diabetes and, in rare cases, heart arrhythmia that can cause sudden cardiac death. A recent Health Canada review linked quetiapine and other so- called “atypical” antipsychotics to an increased risk of sleep apnea — breaks in breathing during sleep.
Juurlink, a clinical toxicologist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, said quetiapine can also cause a particularly nasty complication known as neuroleptic malignant syndrome, a rare but potentially life- threatening reaction to antipsychotics or major tranquillizers. “Over the last decade, I have seen several patients who have had quetiapine as part of, or one of the contributing causes to NMS,” said Juurlink, whose frustrated tweet to doctors last week was a repeat of one he has sent before.
“I’ve certainly seen people who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease that I’m confident were from quetiapine,” he added. “It’s getting to the point now where, when I admit a patient with Parkinson’s, I reflexively look at their other medications to see, ‘are they on quetiapine?’ ”
According to drug market research firm IMS Brogan, of the 33 million prescriptions for tranquillizers dispensed by Canadian retail drugstores in 2016, one quarter — 8.3 million — were for quetiapine.
Doctors say the drug is being prescribed in low- dose formulations to people with no underlying psychiatric conditions, the majority for sleep. University of B.C. researchers found that 58 per cent of B.C. quetiapine prescriptions in 2010 were for the 25 mg tablet. The dose range for the approved disorders is 150 to 800 mg per day.
“It’s popping up as a patient’s typical medication for insomnia all the time,” says Kamloops emergency physician Dr. Ian Mitchell. “It’s not well supported by any science for use in sleep, it has significant side effects and yet it’s massively prescribed.”
“Seroquel is not benign,” Dr. David Gardner, a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at Dalhousie University said in an email. “It may be more dangerous than our standard sleeping pills, but without research we cannot know or quantify its risks.”
It’s not clear how antipsychotics have become such a big thing for sleep. But observers point to aggressive marketing and industryfunded “opinion leaders” who’ve described quetiapine as a “mild, not harmful” drug that seems to help with sleep.
Some users swear by it. “Seroquel helps me for sleep when nothing else will,” according to one online reviewer. “The only bad thing is 30 ( minutes) to one hour after taking it, I’m starving!!” Others describe feeling spacey and foggy the next morning.
Juurlink said quetiapine might shorten sleep latency — the time it takes to fully fall asleep — by a few minutes. It can also make people less aware of their “nocturnal awakenings” than they might otherwise have been. It’s a potent antihistamine, like diphenhydramine, the active ingredient in Benadryl and other “nighttime” cold remedies.
“But what’s really driving this is a societal expectation that we should all get eight hours of sleep a night, a pill is a way to go about it, and the willingness of some providers to accede to requests for sleeping pills,” Juurlink said.
While quetiapine has proven safe and effective for approved conditions, and most of the side effects have been reported during highdose treatment, side effects such as tardive dyskinesia — abnormal movements of the face and jaw — have been reported with low-dose regimens as well, according to the UBC Therapeutics Initiative.
Abuse of quetiapine is also a growing problem, with people inhaling or injecting crushed or dissolved tablets.
Mitchell says it’s hard to explain the “inherent hypocrisy” of the massive prescribing of an antipsychotic for insomnia, while medical leaders are warning doctors to be wary of prescribing marijuana for sleep.
“I’m not asking people to smoke a joint in a nursing home for sleep, that’s not what this is about,” he said. “But there may be some alternatives to some of the damaging medications that are out there, or ways to replace them with cannabis.”