Changes over a decade in psychotropic prescribing for people with intellectual disabilities: prospective cohort study

Angela Henderson, Paula Mcskimming, Deborah Kinnear, Colin McCowan, Alasdair McIntosh, Linda Allan, Sally Ann Cooper

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Objective: To investigate psychotropic prescribing in the intellectual disabilities population over 10 years, and associated mental ill health diagnoses. DESIGN: Comparison of cross-sectional data in 2002-2004 (T1) and 2014 (T2). Longitudinal cohort study with detailed health assessments at T1 and record linkage to T2 prescribing data. SETTING: General community. PARTICIPANTS: 1190 adults with intellectual disabilities in T1 compared with 3906 adults with intellectual disabilities in T2. 545/1190 adults with intellectual disabilities in T1 were alive and their records linked to T2 prescribing data.

Main Outcome Measures: Encashed regular and as-required psychotropic prescriptions.

Results: 50.7% (603/1190) of adults in T1 and 48.2% (1881/3906) in T2 were prescribed at least one psychotropic; antipsychotics: 24.5% (292/1190) in T1 and 16.7% (653/3906) in T2; antidepressants: 11.2% (133/1190) in T1 and 19.1% (746/3906) in T2. 21.2% (62/292) prescribed antipsychotics in T1 had psychosis or bipolar disorder, 33.2% (97/292) had no mental ill health or problem behaviours, 20.6% (60/292) had problem behaviours but no psychosis or bipolar disorder. Psychotropics increased from 47.0% (256/545) in T1 to 57.8% (315/545) in T2 (p<0.001): antipsychotics did not change (OR 1.18; 95% CI 0.87 to 1.60; p=0.280), there was an increase for antidepressants (OR 2.80; 95% CI 1.96 to 4.00; p<0.001), hypnotics/anxiolytics (OR 2.19; 95% CI 1.34 to 3.61; p=0.002), and antiepileptics (OR 1.40; 95% CI 1.06 to 1.84; p=0.017). Antipsychotic prescribing increased for people with problem behaviours in T1 (OR 6.45; 95% CI 4.41 to 9.45; p<0.001), more so than for people with other mental ill health in T1 (OR 4.11; 95% CI 2.76 to 6.11; p<0.001).

Conclusions: Despite concerns about antipsychotic prescribing and guidelines recommending their withdrawal, it appears that while fewer antipsychotic prescriptions were initiated by T2 than in T1, people were not withdrawn from them once commenced. People with problem behaviours had increased prescribing. There was also a striking increase in antidepressant prescriptions. Adults with intellectual disabilities need frequent and careful medication reviews.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere036862
Number of pages9
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number9
Early online date10 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished - 10 Sept 2020


  • Adult psychiatry
  • Clinical pharmacology
  • Depression & mood disorders
  • Mental health
  • Psychiatry
  • Schizophrenia & psychotic disorders


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