Institute on Disability


Psychotropic medications use and side effects of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities



Many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) are treated with psychotropic medications, and polypharmacy is common. Although few studies address psychotropic side effects in the population, people with IDD have been found more likely to experience side effects than others who do not have IDD. Because many individuals with IDD may not report side effects reliably, there is risk that side effects may be missed.


Psychotropic use and side effects of 71 adults with IDD admitted for a 30‐day crisis stay to a Systemic, Therapeutic, Assessment, Resources, and Treatment (START) Resource Center were reviewed. START is a specialised behavioural health outreach, training and crisis programme for individuals with IDD. During crisis stays, centre nurses administer the Matson Evaluation of Drug Side Effects screen, a psychometrically established psychotropic medication side effects screen developed for use with people with IDD. Data reviewed were de‐identified data used to inform day‐to‐day practices and assess outcomes for individuals START served.


The average age was 28 years, and 56% of the sample was male. All individuals were taking at least one psychotropic, while 79% were taking three or more. The average number of psychotropics used was 3.94. Antipsychotics were the most commonly prescribed medications taken by 85% of the sample; 49% of whom were not reported to have psychosis. Although the overall number of psychotropics did not correlate with Matson Evaluation of Drug Side Effects scores, the average scale scores for all participants was high in contrast to prior studies of people with IDD not taking psychotropics, with central nervous system side effects being the most commonly reported.


In the present study, data for individuals experiencing a crisis were reviewed and indicated high rates of psychotropic polypharmacy and side effects rates higher than previously reported for people with IDD not taking psychotropics. Prospective study in larger samples is needed to determine if missed or under‐appreciated psychotropic side effects may play a role in behavioural health challenges of some people with IDD.

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Journal Title

Journal of Intellectual Disability Research



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© 2020 MENCAP and International Association of the Scientific Study of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and John Wiley & Sons Ltd