Press Releases

New Atypical Antipsychotic Drugs Recommended As First-line Medications For People With Serious Brain Disorders

New Drugs Safer And Provide Unrivaled Benefits, Experts Reveal In NAMI Decade Of The Brain

Dec 31 1997

Arlington, VA - Thanks to a new generation of atypical antipsychotic drug therapies, millions of Americans suffering from severe brain disorders can lead more independent lives today without the devastating physical side effects of older medications, reports the fall issue of The Decade of the Brain, a quarterly science-based publication of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI). Six breakthrough atypical antipsychotic drugs are profiled, including clozapine (Clozaril), risperidone (Risperdal), olanzapine (Zyprexa), quetiapine (Seroquel), sertindole (Serlect), and ziprasidone (Zeldox).

In this latest issue, experts specializing in the areas of psychiatry, neurology, pharmacology and radiology outline what is known to date on the new antipsychotics, giving readers an accurate and objective clinical picture of what can be expected from therapy. In his introductory article, guest writer Jeffrey Lieberman, M.D., asserts that while these drugs are not a cure, they could effectively limit the symptoms of psychiatric illnesses and their constraints on individuals. Lieberman also contends that these medications would help first-episode patients, and that those who have not responded to conventional treatment escape many of the devastating effects of a serious brain disorder and improve their long-term outcome. An additional benefit of atypical antipsychotics is increased patient compliance due to a decrease in potential side effects and severity of subsequent episodes.

"The introduction of atypical antipsychotics as first-line medications represents an unrivaled turning point for the more than five million Americans suffering from the most debilitating brain disorders," said NAMI Executive Director Laurie Flynn. "The new drugs offer these individuals renewed hope and exciting new possibilities for full and productive lives. Unfortunately, however, far too many people with chronic mental illnesses are denied access to these life-changing remedies." NAMI opposes limiting the availability of advanced medications for individuals with severe brain disorders and believes anyone with serious mental illness should be entitled to an individual treatment plan responsive to that person's changing needs.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA), the nation's largest professional psychiatric society, advocates a similar philosophy. Earlier this year, in fact, the APA issued treatment guidelines for schizophrenia stating that new atypical antipsychotics plus some older medicines are all reasonable first-line medications for patients in acute phases of the disease. "Just like other debilitating physical illnesses, early diagnosis and prompt medical intervention are the keys to successfully treating severe brain disorders," said Flynn. The treatment success rate for schizophrenia is 60 percent, 65 percent for major depression, and 80 percent for bipolar disorder. Comparatively, the success rate for heart disease is roughly 50 percent.

When they were discovered more than 40 years ago, conventional antipsychotic drugs were as revolutionary as insulin for diabetes or antibiotics for infectious disease. While these older drugs have had a profound impact on the treatment of serious brain disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, their neurological side effects are oftentimes debilitating and painful. More than half of the patients taking these older drugs experience a number of side effects ranging from uncontrollable muscle movements such as tremors and spasms to total rigidity and difficulty in swallowing. NAMI is the nation's largest grassroots organization solely dedicated to improving the lives of persons with severe mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness), major depression, and anxiety disorders.

NAMI has more than 165,000 individual members and 1,140 state and local affiliates in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Canada. NAMI's efforts focus on support to persons with serious brain disorders and to their families; advocacy for non-discriminatory and equitable federal and state policies; research into the causes, symptoms and treatments for brain disorders; and education to eliminate the pervasive stigma toward severe mental illness.