AstroZeneca’s neuroleptic drug Seroquel according to a recent Associated Press news report, Questions loom over drug given to sleepless vets, is the prime suspect in a growing number of deaths of army veterans diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder related insomnia.
Thousands of soldiers suffering from PTSD have received the same medication over the last nine years, helping to make Seroquel one of the Veteran Affairs Department’s top drug expenditures and the No. 5 best-selling drug in the nation.
Seroquel’s status as a top selling drug hasn’t kept it out of trouble though.
Several soldiers and veterans have died while taking the pills, raising concerns among some military families that the government is not being up front about the drug’s risks. They want Congress to investigate.
A Congressional investigation into the matter would probably be a very good thing. People in mental health treatment are dying on average at an age 20-25 years younger than the rest of the population. This early death has been attributed to the use of the newer atypical neuroleptic drugs developed obstensively to have fewer side effects than the original neuroleptic drugs. Seroquel is an atypical neuroleptic drug.
Seroquel has been approved by the FDA neither for the treatment of PTSD nor for the treatment of insomnia.
Seroquel is approved to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression, but it has not been endorsed by the Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for insomnia. However, psychiatrists are permitted to prescribe approved drugs for other uses in a common practice known as “off-label” prescribing.
Permitted is too mild a word to use in this case. Technically a doctor who prescribes a drug “off-label” can be tried for fraud, and that doctor’s license to practice medicine can be taken away from him or her. All you need is a legal team to pursue the matter.
The deaths of two veterans are covered in this article. On top of Seroquel, the first was also taking an antidepressant, an antianxiety drug, and a pain killer. Officials credited his death with being caused by “a rare drug interaction”. The second was taking 6 types of psychiatric drugs for anxiety and nightmares associated with a tour of duty. The chief medical examiner attributed his death to “multiple drug toxicity”.
Polypharmacy is the practice of using multiple psychiatric drugs in the treatment of psychiatric disorders. Studies have shown this kind of multiple drug treatment to have produced the least promising outcomes of any treatment we know about. Given a variety of psychiatric drugs, reduce the number of drugs a patient is taking, and you automatically increase that patient’s chances of making a complete recovery.
When it comes to this over prescription of Seroquel, the Veteran’s Administration has to be at least in part to blame.
The VA’s spending on Seroquel has increased more than 770 percent since 2001. In that same time frame, the number of patients covered by the VA increased just 34 percent.
Seroquel has been the VA’s second-biggest prescription drug expenditure since 2007, behind the blood-thinner Plavix. The agency spent $125.4 million last fiscal year on Seroquel, up from $14.4 million in 2001.
Spending on Seroquel by the Department of Defense, has increased nearly 700 percent since 2001, to $8.6 million last year, according to purchase records.
There is a great tragedy taking place in this country that has in the main been covered up, essentially buried, and relegated to the back pages of our nation’s news magazines. It is my hope that maybe some of the attention shed on veterans killed by these substances can be used to help raise consciousness about those deaths taking place in the mental health system at large.