Should psychiatrists prescribe nonpsychotropic medications?

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In certain scenarios, prescribing a nonpsychotropic medication is the logical choice.



In our experience, most psychiatrists are uncomfortable with prescribing a medication when they feel that doing so would be outside their scope of practice. But there are many situations when prescribing a nonpsychotropic medication would be the correct choice. In this article, we discuss the scope of psychiatric practice, and present 4 case studies that illustrate situations in which psychiatrists should feel comfortable prescribing nonpsychotropic medications.

Defining the scope of practice

What is the scope of a psychiatrist’s practice? Scope of practice usually describes activities that a health care practitioner is allowed to undertake as defined by the terms of his/her license. A license to practice medicine does not include any stipulation restricting practice to a specific medical specialty. However, a local entity may delineate scope of practice within its organization. For instance, local practice standards held by the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority (DWMHA) state “Psychiatrists…shall not exceed their scope of practice as per DWMHA credentialing and privileging. For example, a Psychiatrist…who [has] not been appropriately privileged to deliver services to children shall not treat children, excepting crisis situations.”1

Like physicians in other specialties, psychiatrists are not limited to prescribing only a subset of medications commonly associated with their specialty. But for many psychiatrists, prescribing nonpsychotropic medications is complicated by individual and local factors. On one hand, some psychiatrists do not feel it is their role to prescribe nonpsychotropic medications,2 or even some psychotropic medications that may be more complex to prescribe, such as lithium, clozapine, or monoamine oxidase inhibitors.3-5 However, many feel comfortable prescribing complex combinations of psychotropic medications, or prescribing in a way that does not necessarily make sense (eg, prescribing benztropine as prophylaxis for dystonia when starting an antipsychotic).

Reviewing an average day at one urban psychiatric clinic, these questions seem to come up in half of the patient population, especially in patients with chronic mental illness, multiple medical comorbidities, and limited access to health care. When a young patient walks in without an appointment with an acute dystonic reaction secondary to the initiation of antipsychotics a couple of days ago, there is no hesitation to swiftly and appropriately prescribe an IM anticholinergic medication. But why are psychiatrists often hesitant to prescribe nonpsychotropic medications to treat other adverse effects of medications? Lack of knowledge? Lack of training?

Psychiatrists who practice in hospital systems often have immediate access to consultants, and this availability may encourage them to defer to the consultant for treatment of certain adverse effects. We have seen psychiatrists consult Neurology regarding the prescription of donepezil for mild neurocognitive disorder due to Alzheimer’s disease, or Endocrinology regarding prescription of levothyroxine for lithium-induced hypothyroidism.

However, there are numerous scenarios in which psychiatrists should feel comfortable prescribing nonpsychotropic medications or managing medication adverse effects, regardless of whether they consider it to be within or outside their scope of practice. The following case examples illustrate several such situations.


Ms. W, age 30, has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. She requests a refill of quetiapine, 800 mg/d. This medication has been clearly beneficial in alleviating her psychotic symptoms. However, since her last visit 3 months ago, her face appears more round, and she has gained 9 kg. Further evaluation indicates that she has developed metabolic syndrome and pre-diabetes.

Continue to: Metabolic adverse effects


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