While many advances have been made in treating schizophrenia, much of the
improvement has been rendered virtually meaningless in actual practice
because of the persistently large percentage of patients who fail to take
their medication, a researcher says.
An estimated 74 percent of outpatients with schizophrenia stop taking
neuroleptic or antipsychotic drugs within two years of leaving a hospital or
program, Peter Weiden told the American Medical Association's (AMA) 13th
Annual Science Reporters Conference in Seattle in November, 1994. Weiden,
director of the schizophrenia program at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital and
assistant clinical professor at Columbia University, said the 74 percent
estimate is likely low because it does not take into account persons with
schizophrenia who refuse treatment or drift from one place to another.
Noncompliance is different in people suffering from schizophrenia than in
those with other chronic problems (such as diabetes) who "eventually figure
out they need medicine", Weiden said. It has been shown that persons with
schizophrenia have the type of brain disorder that makes it difficult for
them to learn from experience. "One of the symptoms of their illness is they
don't know they're sick," according to Weiden.
Noncompliance accounts for at least 40 percent of all episodes of
schizophrenia relapse and subsequent rehospitalization, Weiden says, and the
relapses suffered by persons off their medication are often more severe and
difficult to treat. Resources devoted to developing new drugs should be
coupled with research on why patients stop taking their medication. "The
difference between being on treatment and off treatment increases as drugs
get better," Weiden told his audience. Research into the noncompliance
problem is "virtually nonexistent", he said.
For more information, contact the AMA's Science News Department at

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