Long-acting injectable antipsychotics are among the most effective treatments in psychiatry, yet they continue to be underutilized in patients with schizophrenia and are too often reserved only for those with the most severe symptoms or at a late stage of the disorder.
As a clinician, I see the case for long-acting injectable (LAI) antipsychotics to be used early in the disease continuum, when patients can achieve the most benefit from their impact.
Early intervention and consistent treatment play a critical role in the management of schizophrenia and can impact the potential long-term effects.
More studies are now suggesting LAI antipsychotics as a possible treatment strategy for early-phase or first-episode schizophrenia, during a stage in the disorder when intervention may lead to significant gains in outcome.
Research has shown that patients experience the greatest response to initial antipsychotic treatment in first-episode schizophrenia, with significant loss of response to a second antipsychotic and so on.
Choosing LAI antipsychotics early on may have considerable positive outcomes over the continuum of care.
Adherence to medication
Nonadherence to antipsychotic medication is a common issue among patients with schizophrenia. In fact, it has been estimated that 40% to 50% of patients with schizophrenia do not adhere to their medication regimens. The reasons vary — some feel better and don’t think they need to take the medication any longer, others reject the diagnosis completely — but the risks can be serious, including relapse and poorer outcomes overall.
If left untreated, patients with schizophrenia can show greater loss of cerebral gray matter, and damage to the brain increases with every psychotic episode. Early intervention with LAI antipsychotics may result in fewer relapses and fewer rehospitalizations — thus, less damage to the brain.
For a disorder that typically first appears in late adolescence or early adulthood, the need for effective and convenient treatment options that patients will adhere to on a continuous basis is even more important to achieve greater quality of life. This could mean the possibility of attending school, going to work, socializing and potentially maintaining more positive relationships with friends and family.
Education and awareness
Clinicians must employ all strategies at their disposal to enhance adherence and minimize risk of relapse.
Negative attitudes toward LAI antipsychotics among clinicians and patients has been a common issue, especially with early onset cases, and patients are often not fully informed about LAI antipsychotics by their psychiatric prescribing provider.