MonthAugust 2021

Reading of the Week: Is ECT Really Safe? The New Lancet Psychiatry Paper; Also, Antrim on His ECT (New Yorker)

From the Editor

Is it safe?

The first treatment of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) was administered in 1938. Yet decades later, people still debate the safety of this treatment; a study found that one in five patients reported fear of death as a major concern. (And, yes, so many of our patients have seen that movie.)

In our first selection, we consider a new and important paper on this topic, just published in The Lancet Psychiatry. Dr. Tyler S. Kaster (of the University of Toronto) and his co-authors attempt to answer the safety question by comparing those who received ECT with those who didn’t in the context of depression and inpatient care. “In this population-based study of more than 5000 admissions involving electroconvulsive therapy for inpatients with depression, the rate of serious medical events within 30 days was very low among those exposed to electroconvulsive therapy and a closely matched unexposed group (0.5 events per person-year vs 0.33 events per person-year), with those who received electroconvulsive therapy having a numerically lower risk of medical complications.” We look at the big study, with an eye on clinical implications.

ect-1945ECT machine (cira 1950)

In the other selection, we look at a new essay from The New Yorker. Writer Donald Antrim – an accomplished novelist and a MacArthur fellow – discusses his depression, his suicidal thoughts, and his decision to opt for ECT. He notes that after treatment: “I felt something that seemed brand new in my life, a sense of calm, even happiness.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: Which Antipsychotics are Patients Less Likely to Discontinue? The New AJP Paper; Also, Dr. Lawrence on Mental Health (Guardian)

From the Editor

Is new really better?

With several new antipsychotic medications on the market, this question is very relevant clinically. For the patient in your office, should you opt for a new antipsychotic or something older?

In the first selection, Dr. Mark Weiser (of the Stanley Medical Research Institute) and his co-authors draw on a large database – and the experience of tens of thousands of people – to compare antipsychotics. “Among veterans with schizophrenia, those who initiated antipsychotic treatment with clozapine, long-acting injectable second-generation medications, and antipsychotic polypharmacy experienced longer episodes of continuous therapy and lower rates of treatment discontinuation.” We consider this paper, and the clinical implications.

new-2Is new better – or just eye catching?

In the other selection, Dr. Rebecca Lawrence, a practicing psychiatrist, writes for The Guardian. In her essay, she distinguishes between mental health and mental illness, noting that they are not the same thing, and worrying that we are increasingly as a society focused on the former at the expense of the latter. She thinks about her work as a physician: “As a doctor, I can talk with someone and give them pills, but I can’t easily get them any help with losing weight or trying to exercise. I can tell them it would be good for them, but I don’t necessarily have any practical ways to help.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: Does Opioid Agonist Treatment Save Lives? Also, the Problem with Decriminalization of Illicit Drugs (CJP)

From the Editor

Methadone was invented in the 1930s. The first legal injection site opened its doors nearly two decades ago. Yet our challenges with opioids seem to have only worsened with time. Consider, for example, that in a new, two-year study, the authors found that opioid-related deaths rose almost 600% between 2015 and 2017 in Canada.

What can we do? This week, we consider two selections.

In the first, Thomas Santo Jr (of the University of New South Wales) and his co-authors do a systematic review and meta-analysis for opioid agonist treatment for those with opioid dependence. They write in JAMA Psychiatry: “Our findings suggest a potential public health benefit of OAT, which was associated with a greater than 50% lower risk of all-cause mortality, drug-related deaths, and suicide and was associated with significantly lower rates of mortality for other causes.” We consider the big paper and its implications.

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And in the other selection, Benedikt Fischer (of the University of Toronto) and his co-authors weigh the recent interest in decriminalizing illicit drug use. In a new Canadian Journal of Psychiatry commentary, they note their hesitation, writing: “while ‘decriminalization’ proposals for illicit drug use are popular and largely well-intended, their overall merits require cautious analysis and scrutiny.”

DG

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