Bipolar Treatment Abilify Questioned For Long-Term Use

The bipolar treatment drug Abilify is used frequently in the long-term care of patients, but its use is based largely on a single questionable clinical trial and could potentially be keeping doctors from prescribing more established drugs, a new review suggests.

Abilify (aripiprazole), originally used to treat patients with schizophrenia and acute episodes of mania, was approved by the FDA to treat bipolar patients in 2005. Since then it has become one of the most popular treatments for bipolar maintenance therapy.

However, according to Alexander C. Tsai of Harvard University, a lead author on the study, there is not enough research to support the drug’s widespread use.

"We failed to find sufficient data to support its use,” Tsai said, as quoted by CNN Health. "It may actually be working for some people, but it's certainly worth talking to your doctor about how it's working for you."

Tsai and colleagues only found one randomized-controlled clinical trial which studied the use of Abilify, and it had several limitations: it was short (only 26 weeks) and only one-fifth of the patients completed the 48-hour follow-up phase. The study population was also limited to bipolar patients whose moods had already stabilized.

"Frankly, I think it's an embarrassment to the profession that [Abilify] has been accepted so uncritically for this indication,” CNN Health quoted Tsai as saying.

According to Gregory E. Simon, M.D., a psychiatrist at Group Health Research Institute in Seattle, lithium is a much more well-supported treatment for bipolar disorder. 

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