Don’t wait to give patients with first-episode psychosis long-acting injectable formulations of second-generation antipsychotics, according to Henry A. Nasrallah, MD.
Many clinicians wait to use long-acting injectables (LAIs) until the patient has experienced multiple relapses, but using them after the first discharge may help prevent future relapse, Dr. Nasrallah, professor of psychiatry, neurology, and neuroscience at the University of Cincinnati, said at the virtual Psychopharmacology Update presented by Current Psychiatry and Global Academy for Medical Education.
LAIs and clozapine are “vastly underutilized” after the first discharge, he noted. “I really encourage everybody to use them without hesitation as early as possible.”
In patients with first-episode psychosis, “the most important thing, in my opinion, is to start establishing a therapeutic alliance with the patient from day one,” Dr. Nasrallah said. “It’s always important in psychiatry, but it’s particularly important for first-episode psychosis.”
These patients respond to low doses of antipsychotics and should not be given first-generation antipsychotics because of a risk for acute extrapyramidal symptoms, tardive dyskinesia, and neurotoxicity.
“I usually select an antipsychotic that is extended release and also available as a long-acting injectable formulation,” Dr. Nasrallah said, noting that it helps when he gives a patient a long-acting injectable right after discharge. During hospitalization, Dr. Nasrallah said, he educates the patient and their family about psychosis, treatment, how psychosis affects the brain, and adherence to treatment.
“The primary goal, of course, is to achieve remission and very importantly, to prevent a second episode,” he said. “This is the golden opportunity for us psychiatrists to prevent the patient from relapsing again and again. That is the reason for disability and for brain damage, because every psychotic episode destroys brain tissue. That is why I am very eager to not only achieve a remission in the first episode but also to position the patient to be protected after discharge by giving them long-acting injectable.”
After a clinician performs a full workup to rule out substance use or a general medical condition inducing first-episode psychosis, Dr. Nasrallah recommends paliperidone extended-release (ER), given to patients in the morning because of its tolerability and the availability of an LAI version of the drug.“If the patient is very sick and agitated, I might go to 6 mg a day, which is actually a very good dose for first-episode patients, and it’s still quite well tolerated.”
Oral or injectable lorazepam taken as needed may be given to a patient with first-episode psychosis with agitation. For patients who manifest akathisia, twice or thrice daily propranolol at dose of 10-20 mg can be used off label, he said. Dr. Nasrallah also recommended twice-daily omega 3 at a dose of 1,000 mg or N-acetylcysteine at a dose of 600 mg per day as supplements.
“They’re not approved by the [Food and Drug Administration] for first-episode psychosis, but there are numerous publications in the literature by academic psychiatrists showing that they are quite beneficial, and they reduce the two destructive processes during psychosis, which are neuroinflammation and oxidative stress, or free radicals,” he said. “Those two supplements can help in the acute phase of the illness.”
Another option for clinicians is to begin a patient with first-episode psychosis on oral aripiprazole at a dose of 5 mg per day for 2 days, increasing the dose to 7.5 mg per day for 2 days, then increasing to 10 mg per day. “It is not extended-release, so you have to start with low doses to protect the patient from side effects,” Dr. Nasrallah explained. “Some patients may need 15 or 20 [mg], but most first-episode patients may do well on 10 [mg] without risking side effects.”