When the so-called “atypical antipsychotic” drugs hit the market 15 years ago, psychiatrists and PCPs began prescribing them like crazy for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
They were motivated the poor side-effect profile of previously available drugs, and encouraged by relentless and occasionally unscrupulous marketing campaigns promulgated by drug makers and paid clinical spokespeople.
Last year, the drugs generated $14.6 billion in US sales alone, according to IMS Health.
Unfortunately, the newer drugs proved to be, at best, marginally more effective than their older, cheaper brethren, and have a nasty tendency to promote weight gain and diabetes, particularly in children—for whom they are rarely indicated, according to the FDA.
Now, Christolph Correll and colleagues at Feinstein Institute for Medical Research have quantified the weight gain problem, and it’s a lot.
According to their report in JAMA, atypical antipsychotic drugs caused youths between the ages of 4-19 years old to gain up to 19 pounds on average in just 11 weeks.
“The weight gain is much larger than we thought,” Correll told the Wall Street Journal. “It’s massive, and it’s the medication” that caused it, he added.
Correll’s study involved 272 youths who were seen at semi-urban, tertiary care, academic inpatient and outpatient clinics. It included the 4 top-sellers in the space: Zyprexa (Lilly), Abilify (BMS), Risperdal (J&J) and Seroquel (AZ). Participants had not taken the drugs previously.
Of the 4, Zyprexa caused the most weight gain—nearly 19 pounds—a 15% increase over baseline. The corpulence was associated with significant increases in glucose and cholesterol levels.
The other drugs caused weight gains between 10-13 pounds on average, and had variable effects on glucose and cholesterol.
The scientists encouraged physicians to be extremely careful when prescribing these drugs to youths and to check their patients’ weight and blood tests every 3 months.
The FDA will soon decide whether to approve these drugs for use in youths. Any bets how that turns out?