Sodium valproate and related preparations have recently undergone regulatory review following concern about effects on the unborn child and doctors' failure to communicate risk. The issues are wider. Valproate is overused in psychiatry based on the false perception that ‘ease’ of use equates to better safety than alternatives. Valproic acid can disrupt fundamental physiological processes, the consequences of which are poorly understood and little discussed in the psychiatric literature. Valproate may be useful in a small number of patients with bipolar disorder but current prescribing patterns are unjustified. Perception needs to change.
D.C.O. is psychiatric commissioner on the Commission on Human Medicines and a member of the European Medicines Agency's Scientific Advisory Group on Psychiatry. He chaired the European Medicines Agency's review of the psychiatric use of valproate in pregnancy and women of childbearing potential.
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