Secondary Logo

Institutional members access full text with Ovid®

Prevalence of multiple antipsychotic use and associated adverse effects in Australians with mental illness

Westaway, Kerrie PhD, MHSc (Hon), BHSc, RN; Sluggett, Janet K. PhD, Grad Dip Clin Epi, B Pharm; Alderman, Christopher B Pharm, PhD, FSHP, CGP, BCPP; Procter, Nicholas PhD, MBA, Grad Dip Adult Ed, BA, RN; Roughead, Elizabeth PhD, M.App.SC, B. Pharm, Grad Dip Health Promotion

doi: 10.1097/XEB.0000000000000082

Aim: This article analyzes the prevalence of use of concurrent multiple antipsychotics and high dosage treatment in people with mental illness, to assess the burden of antipsychotic drug-related side-effects associated with multiple use, and to identify strategies shown to reduce antipsychotic polypharmacy.

Methods: Literature reviewed was sourced from MEDLINE, Embase, CINAHL, InformIT, PsycINFO, International Pharmaceutical Abstracts, Cochrane Library database and Joanna Briggs Institute databases to identify Australian studies published between January 2000 and February 2015. Studies that reported prevalence of multiple antipsychotic use or addressed the issue of antipsychotic drug-related side-effects were included. Systematic reviews, randomized controlled trials, and observational pre–post studies of Australian and international interventions aiming to reduce multiple antipsychotic use in mental health settings were also identified.

Results: Nineteen studies reporting prevalence of multiple antipsychotic use were identified. The proportion of patients taking more than one antipsychotic ranged from 5 to 61%. Of the studies assessing dosages used, between one-third and one-half of all patients taking multiple antipsychotics received doses higher than recommended. Data from one national study reported that people taking multiple antipsychotics were more likely to experience at least one side-effect in comparison to consumers taking a single antipsychotic (90 verses 80%).

International evidence of direct trials of conversion from treatment regimens involving multiple antipsychotics to those based on monotherapy show that between 50 and 75% of people with serious mental illness could be successfully converted to single-agent treatment, with up to 25% obtaining an improvement in health and the remaining 50% staying well managed.

Conclusion: Use of multiple antipsychotics is common among Australian people with mental illness, despite guidelines recommending that only one antipsychotic should be used in most cases. People taking more than one antipsychotic at a time are more likely to experience side-effects, and to receive higher than recommended antipsychotic doses. Direct trials that aimed to reduce multiple antipsychotic use suggest it is possible to effectively reduce therapy in the majority of people without worsening outcomes. Simple educational programmes targeting health professionals have not been found to be effective; however, complex multifaceted programmes and quality improvement programmes have demonstrated effect.

1Quality Use of Medicines and Pharmacy Research Centre, Sansom Institute for Health Research

2Pharmacy Practice, Quality Use of Medicines and Pharmacy Research Centre, University of South Australia

3Mental Health Nursing, University of South Australia, City East Campus, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Correspondence: Kerrie Westaway, PhD, MHSc (Hon), BHSc, RN, Quality Use of Medicines and Pharmacy Research Centre, Sansom Institute for Health Research, University of South Australia, GPO Box 2471, Adelaide, SA 5001, Australia. Tel: +61 8 8302 22469; fax: +61 8 8302 1209; e-mail:

International Journal of Evidence-Based Healthcare © 2016 The Joanna Briggs Institute
You currently do not have access to this article

To access this article:

Note: If your society membership provides full-access, you may need to login on your society website