In 2016, Swapnil Gupta, MD, and John Daniel Cahill, MD, PhD, challenged the field of psychiatry to reexamine our prescribing patterns. They warned against our use of polypharmacy when not attached to improvement in functioning for our patients.1 They were concerned about the lack of evidence for those treatment regimens and for our diagnostic criteria. In their inspiring article, they described how psychiatrists might proceed in the process of “deprescribing” – which they define as a process of pharmacologic regimen optimization through reducing or ending medications for which “benefits no longer outweigh risks.”1
In my practice, I routinely confront medication regimens that I have never encountered in the literature. The evidence for two psychotropics is limited but certainly available, in particular adjunct treatment of antidepressants2 and mood stabilizers.3 The evidence supporting the use of more than two psychotropics, however, is quite sparse. Yet, patients often enter my office on more than five psychotropics. I am also confronted with poorly defined diagnostic labels – which present more as means to justify polypharmacy than a thorough review of the patient’s current state.
and recommend a series of steps aimed at attempting the deprescription of psychotropics. Those steps include timeliness, knowledge of the patient’s current regimen, discussion about the risk of prescriptions, discussion about deprescribing, choosing the right medications to stop, a plan for describing, and monitoring. In the case presented below, I used some of those steps in an effort to provide the best care for the patient. Key details of the case have been changed, including the name, to protect the patient’s confidentiality.
Overview of the case
Rosalie Bertin is a 54-year-old female who has been treated for depression by a variety of primary care physicians for the better part of the last 30 years. She had tried an array of antidepressants, including sertraline, citalopram, duloxetine, and mirtazapine, over that time. Each seemed to provide some benefit when reviewing the notes, but there is no mention of why she was continued on those medications despite the absence of continuing symptoms. Occasionally, Rosalie would present to her clinician tearful and endorsing sadness, though the record did not comment on reports of energy, concentration, sleep, appetite, and interest.
In 2014, Rosalie’s husband passed away from lung cancer. His death was fairly quick, and initially, Rosalie did not mention any significant emotional complaints. However, when visiting her primary care physician 4 months later, she was noted to experience auditory hallucinations. “Sometimes I hear my husband when I am alone in my home,” she said. Rosalie was referred to a psychiatrist with a diagnosis of “psychosis not otherwise specified.”
When discussing her condition with the psychiatrist, Rosalie mentioned experiencing low mood, and having diminished interest in engaging in activities. “I miss Marc when I go places; I used to do everything with him.” She reported hearing him often but only when at her home. He would say things like, “I miss you,” or ask her about her day. She was diagnosed with “major depressive disorder with psychotic features.” Risperidone was added to the escitalopram, buspirone, and gabapentin that had been started by her primary care physician.
After several months of psychotropic management, the dose of risperidone was titrated to 8 mg per day. Her mood symptoms were unchanged, but she now was complaining of poor concentration and memory. The psychiatrist performed a Mini-Mental State Examination (). It was noted that taking the MMSE engendered significant anxiety for the patient. Rosalie received a score suggesting mild cognitive impairment. She was started on donepezil for the memory complaint, quetiapine for the continued voices, and recommended for disability.
Once on short-term disability, the patient relocated to live closer to her mother in San Diego and subsequently contacted me about continuing psychiatric care.