Use of Seroquel for PTSD Questioned

Seroquel, manufactured by the drug maker AstraZeneca, is second only to the blood-thinner Plavix in the amount of money spent on a prescription drug by VA since 2007.  In 2009, VA spent $125.4 million on Seroquel, whereas it had only spent $14.4 million on the drug in 2001.  Similarly, the DoD’s spending on Seroquel has increased nearly 700 percent since 2001, resulting in $8.6 million spent last year. 

Seroquel is most commonly prescribed to veterans and soldiers suffering from PTSD to ease insomnia; however, it has not been approved by the FDA to treat insomnia or PTSD.  The FDA has approved the medication to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression.  The prescribing of drugs for uses other than those they have been approved for is a practice termed “off-label” prescribing.  Drug manufacturers cannot advertise use of their products in ways not approved by the FDA.  The VA states that Seroquel is only prescribed as the 3rd or 4th option for PTSD patients who are not responsive to other insomnia medications.  There are currently only 2 drugs approved by the FDA for treating PTSD – Paxil and Zoloft – which do not work for all patients. 

Seroquel’s side effects include diabetes, weight gain, uncontrollable muscle spasms, slurred, speech, disorientation, and tremors.  Approximately 26,000 lawsuits have been brought against AstraZeneca because of Seroquel’s side effects.  Recently, the company settled many of these lawsuits by agreeing to a multi-million dollar payment.  Sequerol was the pharmaceutical’s 2nd best seller last year after the ulcer treatment drug Nexium. 

A study by Vanderbilt University, published in the January 2009 New England Journal of Medicine, raised the possibility of a new risk from the drug – heart failure.  Both AstraZeneca and the FDA are reportedly reviewing the study, noting it was of limited scope.  The Associated Press reports that the only published study on the use of Seroquel for insomnia due to PTSD involved only 20 patients, lasted for only 6 weeks, and was funded by AstraZeneca. 

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