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Tijdschrift voor Psychiatrie 55 (2013) 4, 233 - 245

New research

Off-label prescriptions in acute psychiatry: a practice-based evaluation

R. Hoff, A.W. Braam

background In acute psychiatry the prescribed medication is frequently off-label.
aim To investigate the indications for off-label prescriptions described in the literature and to evaluate the use of off-label medication in the emergency service of Altrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands.
method We performed a systematic search of the PubMed database and we evaluated all the records of patients examined by the emergency service during two assessment periods (April 2009 and November 2010).
results The literature makes no mention of the prescribing of off-label medication in acute psychiatry. In general psychiatry, however, off-label medication is reported mainly for atypical antipsychotics. In the emergency service 41% of the medication prescribed during first contacts with patients was off-label. These prescriptions were most often for antipsychotics (54%) and benzodiazepines (38%) . The most important indications were aggression, agitation and sleep problems. If the term ‘off-label’ is interpreted in a broader sense with respect to antipsychotics for psychosis and hypomania, then 33% of the prescriptions appeared to be off-label. If benzodiazepines prescribed for aggression/agitation were not taken into account, then the proportion of off-label prescriptions decreased to 21%.
conclusion We consider it advisable that the reason for prescribing off-label medication should be clearly documented. New medical guidelines could help by summarising current views on the use of off-label medication.

keywords acute psychiatry, off-label, emergency service, medication