While rates of antipsychotic prescriptions continue to drop, research shows that patients who abandon their medication are more likely to be re-admitted into a hospital setting. A Lancet study conducted at Oxford University in the UK has revealed the likelihood of a psychiatric patient committing a violent crime is significantly lower when they are prescribed antipsychotic medication.

“Patients with psychiatric disorders are at risk of perpetrating violent acts, as well as being victims,” lead author from Oxford University's Department of Psychiatry, Dr. Seena Fazel, said in a statement. “Until now, we have not known whether antipsychotics and mood stabilizers reduce risks of violence. By comparing the same people when they are on medication compared to when they are not, our study provides evidence of potentially substantial reductions in risk of violence, and suggests that violence is to a large extent preventable in patients with psychiatric disorders.”

Fazel and his colleagues, including researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, gathered data from Swedish national health registries that tracked over 80,000 people diagnosed with psychiatric disorder that were prescribed antipsychotic or mood stabilizing drugs from 2006 to 2009. Antipsychotic drugs such as clozapine or risperidone and mood stabilizing medication such as lithium or carbamazepine are used to treat common mental health condition including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and certain personality disorders.

At the end of the three-year study, 3,261 patients tracked by the health registries had been convicted of a violent crime. Compared to when they were not using any prescribed medication, patients who did utilize antipsychotic or mood stabilizing drugs were 45 percent less likely to commit a violent crime. A drop in violent criminal behavior among patients who used mood stabilizing drugs was only marked in men with bipolar disorder.

“This well executed study provides a basis for future clinical studies aiming to establish how antipsychotics and mood stabilizers can be used to reduce aggressive behavior,” Professor Sheilagh Hodgins of the Université de Montréal in Canada and Karolinska Institutet said in an accompanying article. “The study illustrates again that de-identified data from national registers that were established for administrative reasons can be used by epidemiologists to identify potential strategies to reduce health-related social problems.”

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, around 26.2 million American over the age of 18, one in four adults, suffer from a mental health condition every year. Although many psychiatric patients suffer from one diagnosed mental disorder, upward of 45 percent can meet the criteria for two or more disorders. The two most common psychiatric disorders, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, affect an estimated 3.7 percent of the U.S. adult population.

Source: Långström N, Zetterqvist J, Larsson H, Lichtenstein P, Fazel S. Antipsychotics, mood stabilisers, and risk of violent crime. The Lancet. 2014.