Media statement on the inappropriate use of psychotropic drugs

3 September 2015

The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) and the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities (FPLD) comment on the inappropriate use of psychotropic drugs in people with a learning disability.

A study by a team of researchers at University College London (UCL), published in the British Medical Journal, has found that “the proportion of people with intellectual disability in the UK who have been treated with psychotropic drugs far exceeds the proportion with recorded mental illness”. This has led researchers to suggest “that, in some cases, these drugs are being used to manage other presentations, such as challenging behaviour, rather than for mental illness.”

The study analysed data from 571 UK general practices and identified 33,016 people with a record of intellectual disability “of the 11,915 with a record of challenging behaviour, 5,562 (47%) had received antipsychotic drugs, whereas only 1,561 (13%) had a record of severe mental illness”.

Commenting, Jenny Edwards CEO of the MHF and the FPLD said:

"We are deeply concerned by the volume of people identified by this research with challenging behaviour being prescribed psychotropic drugs despite not being diagnosed as having a serious mental health problem.

"It has long been recognised that psychotropic drugs and anti-psychotics have been overused in people with learning disabilities. Both the Mental Health Foundation and the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities join the widespread calls to review the prescribing of psychotropic drugs and to improve therapeutic interventions available for people with learning disabilities."

Christine Burke, Senior Development Manager for the FPLD said:

"The Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities welcomes this research for giving us an improved evidence base to challenge bad practice. Our work is based on the prevention of inequalities, such as our Feeling Down report, which called for improved recognition and diagnosis of mental illness and our work with mainstream mental health services to improve access.

"We support the call by the UCL research team for an improved evidence base for the use of psychotropic drugs and its impact on the overall health of people with learning disabilities. We also call for the urgent development of therapeutic strategies that would reduce the high use of psychotropic drugs."