To report on the use of atypical antipsychotics in one health district by examining secondary care prescribing patterns for these medicines in North Staffordshire between 1994 and 2001. With one exception, these drugs were licensed solely for use in schizophrenia during the study period.
A total of 502 patients were initiated on atypical antipsychotics in the study period. Of these, 297 (59.2%) had a diagnosis of schizophrenia (ICD–10 codes F20–29). Off-label prescribing was common, but psychiatrists were least likely to prescribe clozapine off-label (2.2%). Affective (18.4%) and organic disorders (12.4%) were the main disorders treated off-label. Olanzapine had the highest off-label use (44.5%).
The high off-label use of atypical antipsychotics has clinical and economic implications. Although off-label prescribing may be in the patient's best interests, they should be informed and give their consent. Commissioning bodies, such as primary care organisations, are basing their budgets on guidance from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, which can have implications for funding this off-label use.