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Research funded by the Ramsay Hospital Research Foundation highlights risks of prescribing multiple medications for veterans with PTSD

May 25, 2022

A study, funded by the Ramsay Hospital Research Foundation, has highlighted that veterans with PTSD who are treated with multiple medications at once – known as polypharmacy – are at significant risk of adverse health events, including drowsiness and confusion, respiratory depression, and postural instability, which can lead to falls, fractures, hospital admission, illness, and even death.

The new research, carried out by Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation (GMRF), based at Greenslopes Private Hospital in Brisbane, aims to raise awareness of the potential for drug-related health implications among veterans and contribute to greater education around improving the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) through medication.

Lead researcher Dr Rebecca Mellor investigated the prevalence of psychotropic polypharmacy in veterans with PTSD who were admitted to a mental health facility, to identify and highlight the potential risks associated with the use of multiple medications to treat veterans with PTSD and other diagnoses.

Psychotropic polypharmacy is the simultaneous use of two or more psychotropic medicines, which are defined as any drug capable of affecting the mind, emotions, and behaviour. 

“Psychotropic medications are prescribed for the treatment of PTSD symptoms; however, we’ve illustrated how psychotropic polypharmacy increases the risk of adverse drug events and drug-drug interactions, which can contribute to falls, hospital admissions, morbidity, and mortality,” said Dr Mellor.

“This highlights the importance of increasing awareness of polypharmacy – especially psychotropic polypharmacy – and potentially inappropriate drug combinations, and the need for improved medication review by prescribers.”

Researchers reviewed the medical records of 219 veterans with PTSD who were admitted to a mental health facility over a one-year period, with the findings providing evidence of the extent of the issue of psychotropic polypharmacy in the veteran population with psychological and physical co-diagnoses

The study found that, in addition to PTSD, 90% of patients had a diagnosis of at least one other psychiatric condition, and 97% had at least one non-psychiatric medical condition. There was a high prevalence of psychotropic polypharmacy (80%), as well as polypharmacy in general (77%) and sedative polypharmacy (75%).

This study forms the basis for a longer-term research plan at GMRF, with prescribing guidelines, awareness programs, and educational resources to be developed to support prescribers through the pharmacological management of PTSD and co-morbidities, particularly in veterans. Dr Khoo is also advising on this project.

“This research is an early step in the process of improving pharmacotherapeutic treatment of PTSD and reducing unnecessary overprescribing; we’re hoping to address and change a factor that contributes to morbidity and mortality in PTSD sufferers,” said Dr Mellor.

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