Evidence-Based Reviews

Abuse of psychiatric medications: Not just stimulants and benzodiazepines

Author and Disclosure Information



Quetiapine. In contrast to some reports of olanzapine M/A in which the line between M/A and “self-medication” was blurred, quetiapine has become a more convincing example of clear recreational antipsychotic M/A. Since the first report of oral and intranasal quetiapine M/A in the Los Angeles County Jail published in 2004,55 subsequent cases have detailed other novel methods of recreational self-administration60-68 (Table 355,60-68), and additional reports have been published in non-English language journals.69,70 Collectively, these case reports have detailed that quetiapine is:

  • misused for primary subjective effects as well as to mitigate the unpleasant effects of other drugs60,67
  • referred to as “quell,”“Q,” “Susie-Q,” “squirrel,” and “baby heroin”55,71,72
  • often obtained by malingering psychiatric symptoms55,61,63,65
  • diverted/sold with “street value” both within and outside of psychiatric facilities and correctional settings.55,60-62,67,68,73
Routes of administration of quetiapine misuse/abuse

These anecdotal accounts of quetiapine M/A have since been corroborated on a larger scale based on several retrospective studies. Although early reports of quetiapine M/A occurring in correctional settings have resulted in formulary removal,71,74 quetiapine M/A is by no means limited to forensic populations and is especially common among those with comorbid SUDs. A survey of 74 patients enrolled in a Canadian methadone program reported that nearly 60% had misused quetiapine at some point.75 Among an Australian sample of 868 individuals with active IV drug abuse, 31% reported having misused quetiapine.76 Finally, within a small sample of patients with SUDs admitted to a detoxification unit in New York City, 17% reported M/A of SGAs.77 In this study, SGAs were often taken in conjunction with other drugs of abuse in order to “recover” from or “enhance” the effects of other drugs or to “experiment.” Quetiapine was by far the most frequently abused SGA, reported in 96% of the sample; the most frequently reported SGA/drug combinations were quetiapine/alcohol/opioids, quetiapine/cocaine, and quetiapine/opioids.

Looking more broadly at poison center data, reports to the US National Poison Data System (NPDS) from 2005 to 2011 included 3,116 cases of quetiapine abuse (37.5%, defined as intentional recreational use in order to obtain a “high”) or misuse (62.5%, defined as improper use or dosing for non-recreational purposes).78 A more recent analysis of NPDS reports from 2003 to 2013 found 2,118 cases of quetiapine abuse, representing 61% of all cases of reported SGA abuse.79 An analysis of the European Medicines Agency Adverse Drug Database yielded 18,112 reports of quetia­pine misuse, abuse, dependence, and withdrawal for quetiapine (from 2005 to 2016) compared with 4,178 for olanzapine (from 2004 to 2016).80 These reports identified 368 fatalities associated with quetiapine.

The rate of quetiapine M/A appears to be increasing sharply. Reports of quetiapine M/A to poison centers in Australia increased nearly 7-fold from 2006 to 2016.81 Based on reports to the Drug Abuse Warning System, US emergency department visits for M/A of quetiapine increased from 19,195 in 2005 to 32,024 in 2011 (an average of 27,114 visits/year), with 75% of cases involving quetiapine taken in combination with other prescription drugs, alcohol, or illicit drugs.82 Consistent with poison center data, M/A was reported for other antipsychotics, but none nearly as frequently as for quetiapine.

Adverse events associated with quetiapine misuse/abuse

With increasingly frequent quetiapine M/A, clinicians should be vigilant in monitoring for medical morbidity related to quetiapine and cumulative toxicity with other drugs. The most frequent adverse events associated with quetiapine M/A reported to US Poison Control Centers are presented in Table 4.78,79

Continue to: Unlike bupropion...

Next Article: