Oncologist Dr. Belinda Yeoh and a patient


Overdoses and misuse of the antipsychotic quetiapine on the rise

May 2018

New research reveals an alarming rise over the past decade of overdoses, misuse and mortality associated with the antipsychotic medicine quetiapine.

The Austin Health led research team analysed calls from Austin Health's Victorian Poisons Information Centre and coroners' and prescription data between 2006 and 2016 relating to quetiapine and found a six-fold rise in calls related to the drug from 126 in 2006 to 751 in 2016.

Fatalities related to quetiapine jumped from 21 in 2006 to 155 in 2016.

Quetiapine is a prescription medicine used for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and acute mania. However, the Manager of Austin Health's Victorian Poisons Information Centre Jeff Robinson says it is being increasingly prescribed for ‘off-label' conditions such as insomnia. It is also being used by ice (methamphetamine) users to ‘come down' after an ice bender.

Mr Robinson, who co-authored the paper published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence says the increasing numbers are worrying.

"To give it some context, in 2015 almost 1 million prescriptions were dispensed for quetiapine across the Australian population of just 24 million people," Mr Robinson says.

"Even when prescriptions for quetiapine began to drop in 2013 the number of deaths and misuse did not reduce which suggests people may be accessing the drug by other means such as doctor-shopping or the black market.''

"Patients who overdose on this medicine often require admission to ICU for several days, at great cost to hospitals and the taxpayer.

"It is important that more research be is undertaken to find out how people are accessing quetiapine. Our study confirmed that quetiapine is a high-risk prescription medicine. It will be an appropriate inclusion in the SafeScript real time prescription monitoring system to be introduced in Victoria later in 2018."

(NOTE: SafeScript is computer software that will provide prescribers and pharmacists with access to their patients' prescription records for high-risk medicines during consultations, enabling safer clinical decisions. Prescription records for medicines that are causing the greatest harm to the community such as opioids, benzodiazepines, zolpidem, zopiclone and quetiapine, will be captured in SafeScript.)

Researchers from Austin Health, the University of Melbourne, Monash University and the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine carried out the research