Background: Polypharmacy (the concurrent use of more than one psychoactive drug) and other combination interventions are increasingly common for treatment of severe psychiatric problems only partly responsive to monotherapy. This practice and research on it raise scientific, clinical, and ethical issues such as additive side effects, interactions, threshold for adding second drug, appropriate target measures, and (for studies) timing of randomization. One challenging area for treatment is severe child aggression. Commonly-used medications, often in combination, include psychostimulants, antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, and alpha-2 agonists, which vary considerably in terms of perceived safety and efficacy.Results: In designing our NIMH-funded trial of polypharmacy, we focused attention on the added benefit of a second drug (risperidone) to the effect of the first (stimulant). We selected these two drugs because their associated adverse events might neutralize each other (e.g., sleep delay and appetite decrease from stimulant versus sedation and appetite increase from antipsychotic). Moreover, there was considerable evidence of efficacy for each drug individually for the management of ADHD and child aggression. The study sample comprised children (ages 6-12 years) with both diagnosed ADHD and disruptive behavior disorder (oppositional-defiant or conduct disorder) accompanied by severe physical aggression. In a staged sequence, the medication with the least problematic adverse effects (stimulant) was openly titrated in 3 weeks to optimal effect. Participants whose behavioral symptoms were not normalized received additional double-blind medication, either risperidone or placebo, by random assignment. Thus children whose behavioral symptoms were normalized with stimulant medication were not exposed to an antipsychotic. All families participated in an empirically-supported parent training program for disruptive behavior, so that the actual comparison was stimulant+parent training versus stimulant+antipsychotic+parent training.Conclusions: We hope that the resolutions of the challenges presented here will be useful to other investigators and facilitate much-needed research on child psychiatric polypharmacy.Trial Registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00796302.
- Disruptive behavior disorder
- Drug trial
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
- Psychiatry and Mental health