The pharmaceutical companies and the media once billed atypical
antipsychotic drugs, such as Zyprexa, as “wonder drugs”. But that was before
side effects such as the association of Zyprexa and pancreatitits, diabetes,
heart attacks, comas, and severe weight gain were disclosed to the public.
These drugs were described as being much "safer and more effective" in
treating schizophrenia than any previous drug. For many years, the
stories of remarkable recoveries seemed to confirm early excitement. The
atypical drugs seemed to have few of the side effects commonly seen with
high doses of older medications for psychosis.
The drugs appeared so successful that doctors began prescribing them for
conditions other than schizophrenia -- including manic depression,
Alzheimer's disease, personality disorders, non-psychotic depression,
and for conduct disorders and severe aggression in children. Sales of
the drugs soared. Doctors wrote more than 15 million prescriptions for
Zyprexa and another atypical drug Risperdal in 2002. National sales of
atypical antipsychotic drugs reached $6.4 billion in 2002, making them
the 4th highest-selling class of drugs, behind cholesterol-lowering
drugs, ulcer drugs, and antidepressants.
The first generation of antipsychotic drugs had terrible side effects --
like dry mouth, stiffness, and trembling -- that people often just
stopped using them. Many patients consider the atypical drugs more
However, fast forward a decade or more and studies now imply that
atypical drugs are no longer the “wonder drugs” once perceived. Their
success is modest at best when treated for very specific symptoms and
vary from drug to drug. Also, researchers increasingly suspect that
atypical drugs may cause serious side effects -- notably diabetes that
in some cases lead to death. There has also been a close association between
Zyprexa and pancreatitis.