Increasing off-label use of antipsychotic medications in the United States, 1995-2008

G. C. Alexander, S. A. Gallagher, A. Mascola, R. M. Moloney, R. S. Stafford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

299 Scopus citations


Objective: To evaluate patterns of antipsychotic use. Design, setting, and measurements: We used nationally representative data from the IMS Health National Disease and Therapeutic Index to describe outpatient antipsychotic use. The primary outcome was the volume of visits where antipsychotics were used for specific indications (treatment visits). We also quantified use without U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval (off-label use) and off-label use with compendium data suggesting an uncertain evidence base. Results: Antipsychotic use increased from 6.2 million (M) treatment visits (95% CI, 5.4-7.0) in 1995 to 16.7M visits (15.5-18.2) in 2006, then declined to 14.3M visits (13.0-15.6) by 2008. A shift occurred from typical agents in 1995 (84% of all antipsychotic visits) to atypical agents by 2008 (93%). As they declined, typical medications shifted toward use in schizophrenia (30% in 1995 to 48% 2008). In contrast, use of atypical agents expanded for bipolar affective disorder (10 to 34%), remained stable for depression (12 to 14%), and declined for schizophrenia (56 to 23%). Overall, antipsychotic use for indications without FDA approval increased from 4.4M visits in 1995 to 9.0M in 2008. The estimated cost associated with off-label use in 2008 was US$6.0 billion. Conclusions: Atypical use has grown far beyond substitution for the now infrequently used typical agents. Antipsychotics are increasingly used for conditions where FDA approval and associated clinical evidence is less certain. Despite the value of innovation, the benefits of widening atypical antipsychotic use should be weighed against their cost, regulatory status, and incomplete nature of available evidence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)177-184
Number of pages8
JournalPharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Antipsychotics
  • Atypical antipsychotics
  • Treatment trends

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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