New standard for psychotropic medicines

The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Healthcare has introduced a national standard to improve the care of people with a cognitive disability or impairment. The Psychotropic Medicines in Cognitive Disability or Impairment Clinical Care Standard outlines clear actions to ensure the responsible and appropriate use of psychotropic medicines, representing a significant step towards ensuring safer, more effective treatment practices.

Over the past three decades, there has been a 60 per cent increase in psychotropic medicine prescriptions in Australia. While increased awareness around the risk of psychotropic medicines has led to a slight decline in the use of psychotropic medicines, challenges persist.

While psychotropic medicines have an important role in the treatment of mental health conditions, they are also commonly used to manage behaviours experienced by people with cognitive disability or impairment. This is despite the known harms these medicines can have and the lack of evidence that they are effective at managing behaviours.

The standard aim to curb inappropriate use of psychotropic medicines and promote patient safety.

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety and the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability revealed concerning trends in psychotropic medicines misuse and overuse in the aged care and disability sectors.

Conjoint Associate Professor Carolyn Hullick, Chief Medical Officer at the Commission and Emergency Physician in Hunter New England Health NSW emphasises the significance of this Standard, which is a long-overdue recognition of the rights of people with cognitive impairment to safe and effective treatment options.

“From my perspective, I think it’s essential for prescribers and clinicians to be mindful of the way they’re using psychotropic medicines because of their risks and limited benefits for people with behaviours of concern. Psychotropic medicines do have a place, but it is imperative that we use them judiciously and with a clear understanding of their purpose,” she explained.

Professor Julian Trollor, Director of the National Centre of Excellence in Intellectual Disability at the University of New South Wales Sydney, advocates for greater support for prescribing practices for people with intellectual disability.

“When prescribing these medicines, it’s essential to have clear objectives and ways to measure their impact, including by collaborating with behaviour support practitioners to ensure that your prescribing has the intended response,” he explained.


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