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Clinical & Ethical Concerns

Psychopharmacology 101

For Non-prescribing

Mental Health Professionals -

A Training Resource

By Jim Messina, Ph.D., CCMHC, NCC, DCMHS-T
Tools for Non-Prescribing  Mental Health Professionals
  • MedScape: This free website has a section Drugs & Disease with information on: Drugs, OTCs, & Herbals, Diseases & Conditions, Drug Interaction Checker, and Pill Identifier.

Psychopharmacology Timeline

1921 Acetylcholine discovered by Otto Loewi, first known neurotransmitter

1933 Enteramine (serotonin) (5-HT) discovered in gut by Vittorio Erspamer

1935 Dupont creates insecticide using methylene blue

1937 First double-blind randomized placebo controlled clinical trial

1947-48 5-HT Cleveland Clinic discovered in blood vessels & name changed to “serotonin”

1948  Cade discovers Lithium as treatment for mania

1953 5-HT (serotonin) discovered in CNS

1954 Humphrey-Durham Amendment, established prescription requirement

1954 Martha Vogt discovered NE (Norepinephrine) in brain

1954 Thorazine discovered

1958 Clozapine discovered

1959 Dopamine discovered in CNS

1962 Thalidomide disaster

1963 Carlsson & Lindquist Theory of Schizophrenia

1964 Locus Coeruleus discovered in brain

1965 Biogenic Amine Hypothesis of Depression

1968 First warning of Tardive Dyskinesia

1970 Controlled Substances Act, Drug Schedules established

1982 Olanzapine/Zyprexa® enters market

1985 Tardive Dyskinesia warning letter went out to American Psychiatric Members

(18 Years after 1968)

1986 Prozac®/fluoxetine enters US market

NOTE: The search for the perfect mental health drug continues and the search for

the cause of mental illness continues!

  10 Facts you might want to know

1. Medical errors in the United States are the 3rd Leading cause of death.

Makary, M.A., & Daniel, M. (2016). Medical error – The third leading cause of death

in the US. The BMJ, 353, doi: 10.1136/bmj.i2139.

2. Medication errors, among Medicare beneficiaries, cause an estimated 530 million

Adverse Drug Reactions (ADRs) yearly.

(1) Neal, A. & Hogan, B. (2012). Are your prescriptions killing you? New York: Simon and Schuster.

(2)Field, T.S., Gilman, B.H., Subramanian, S., et al. (2005). The costs associated with
adverse drug events among older adults in the ambulatory setting. Medical Care, 42, 1171-1176.

3. 1 out of every 15 children will experience “medical accidents” during their stay in hospitals

Children’s adverse events. (April 7, 2008). Reported on ABC “Good Morning America.”

4. The extent of faulty provider-patient communication is related to the fact that up to one-third

cannot repeat their diagnosis and up to one-half do not understand important details of treatment.

Taylor, S.E. (2009). Health Psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill.

5, 2% of medications identified in a “brown bag review” as appropriate for elimination

(no longer needed) are re-started. This finding came from a study of polypharmacy

targeted on if anti-psychotic polypharmacy could be reversed. There was a large trial

N=127 over a 12-month period. All these patients were stable on polypharmacy and

2/3rd were successfully moved to monotherapy without “any significant worsening.”

(1) Essock, S.M. et al. (2011). Effectiveness of moving from antipsychotic polypharmacy to monotherapy. American Journal of Psychiatry, 168, 702-708.

(2) Too Much Medication, Consumer Reports, March, 2012.

6. The FDA received 141,829 reports of serious, disabling, or fatal ADR’s in 2010.

This represents an increase of 31% percent since 2009.

2009 Year Reported in 2010 31%

2010 Year Reported in 2011 ↑11% Over Previous Year

2011 Year Reported in 2012 ↑16% Over Previous Year

2012 Year Reported in 2013 ↑16% Over Previous Year

2014 Year Reported in 2013 ↑12.7% (Net increase of 4.1% from 2012)

2015 Year Reported in 2014 ↑32.9%

From 2005 – 2015 ↑500%

Institute for Safe Medication Practices

7. If an individual is taking seven or more medications, there is 99.9% risk of interaction.

(1) Interview with Merla Arnold. (September, 2008). The Tablet, Newsletter of Division 55
of the American Psychological Association, 9(3), 8-10.
(2) Hilts, P.J. (2004). Protecting America’s Health. Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of
North Carolina Press.

8. Assuming no substitute has been discovered and approved, the Health Research Group

recommends waiting 7 years before taking a new drug.

9. Americans spend more on medicines than do all the people of any country in the world.:

Petersen. M. (2008). Our daily meds. New York: Sarah Crichton Books.

10. The story of Thalidomide

In 1954 Thalidomide was used in the Chemie Grünenthal Haven for labor-camp.

The scientists and doctors prescribed thalidomide as non-toxic OTC antidote

to morning sickness and sleeplessness. This resulted in thousands of babies

born with deformities.

Finally after a long legal battle in 2009 a voluntary endowment of €50 million was

given to German Thalidomide Foundation to compensate these families

whose children were impaired.

But is thalidomide used today?

Yes it is. It is now known as Thalomid® and is used for HIV Wasting; Multiple Myeloma

& Hansen’s Disease (Leprosy).

Science behind this fact: In 1954 Thalidomide was used to address morning sickness and

sleeplessness of pregnant womren, but children were born with birth defects. At that time

Germany field tests of meds for USA .An important fact of pharmacology was discovered that

One side of a drug does what we want it to do and the other side did not. In the case of

Thalidomide, the Stereoisomer Left side resulted in Birth Defects and the Right Side had

Therapeutic Effect. Thus the role out of Thalomid.

Basic Rules of Thumb in Psychopharmacology

Rule 1: Mechanism of Action (MOA) - All drugs do something

Rule 2: All drugs have side effects

Rule 3: Antidepressants will not make you happy.

Rule 4: If one pill works, two equal side effects & drug errors!

Rule 5 Drugs interact with each other!

Rule 6 No drug causes only a single specific effect.

Rule 7 Drugs do not create any unique effects. They modulate, mimic, or block!

Rule 8 Medications will not resolve discomfort without correct diagnosis!

Rule 9 Sometimes “no diagnosis” is the “correct” diagnosis.

Note: Over the counter (OTC) Drugs NOT exempt from these rules!

Monitoring Effects and Side Effects

Because of the nature of our interactions, therapists have a much better opportunity

to observe and discuss the effects of medications than do physicians and

psychiatrists (Symptoms are more apparent)

Common concerns can be addressed and clients informed:

-Describing how long it takes a specific medication to work
-Preparing and supporting clients for delay in effects of SSRIs, SNRIs, and tricyclics
-Identifying and explaining side effects
-Help client recognize side effects.E.g.“spacey” feelings interpreted as
“losing my mind” when taking SSRIs or increased anxiety due to withdrawal
between dosages
-  Identifying and explaining side effects
-  Describing various effects and explaining why medications lead to certain effects
-  Helping clients to weigh relative costs and benefits
-  Distinguishing between temporary or lasting side effects E.g. temporary initial
increase in anxiety associated with SSRIs, SNRIs, tricyclics & clients can ask
doctor about dosage and can start gradually
-  Helping clients prepare for conversations with their doctors
-  Identify questions and concerns to address, perhaps prepare list
-  Help clients recognize potential problems with medications E.g.:Benzodiazepines
can cause problems with increased anxiety/panic between dosages that can be
mistaken as a worsening of symptoms
-  Long term use of medications can lead to problems such as rebound anxiety,
insomnia and memory difficulties for benzodiazepines, or “poop out” for
-  Noncompliance with medications should be addressed
-  Clients who are not taking medications as a result of side effects or concerns
-  Clients who are taking more medication or taking meds more frequently than
prescribed in order to cope with anxiety
-  Recognize clients’ attitudes toward the medication
-  Clients “waiting for the medicine” to do the work and not committed to therapy
-  Clients attributing changes to the medication and not developing self efficacy,
especiallywith benzodiazepines, it is easy to rely on the sedative effects and not
use exposure strategies
-  Help clients recognize danger of changing medications without medical assistance
-  Discontinuing medications without medical supervision can be potentially
dangerous, especially for benzodiazepines (Seizures)

Monitor Clients Attitudes About Medications - They Matter

-  Attitudes and beliefs about medications are as important as side effects in
determining whether a client stays in treatment
-  Attribution of change to medications can negatively influence outcome and reduce
changes in self efficacy
-  Clients with panic disorder who attributed their improvement to medication had
60% relapse rates vs 0% for those with internal attributions


Shellfish: Glucosamine &  Cod Liver Oil

Peanuts: Laxatives; Sustanon® ;Prometrium®; Earex® Ear Drops;

Derma-Smoothe®– for psoriasis; Combivent®/ipratropium, Albuterol,

Beta-2 Agonist Inhalers

Gluten: Pre-gelatinized starch – look for “starch” in list of ingredients; Filler

in IV drops; Coating on meds so pills won’t stick together in bottle; Pristiq®;

Lorazepam (manufactures by Geneva);  Paroxetine (manufactured by Apotex)


BLACK BOX WARNINGS Some examples due to complaints to the FDA
-  Antidepressants - Suicidality
-  Stimulants - Drug Dependence
-  Atypical Antipsychotics (SDAs) - Increased mortality in elderly; Dementia
related psychosis; Suicidality (Quetiapine plus above)
-  Carbamazepine: (The 4 “A’s”) Agranulocytosis: Acute condition involving a
severe/dangerous; leukopenia (lowered white blood cell count); Aplastic Anemia;
Appropriate Use
Valporate: Hepatotoxicity & Pancreatitis
Lamotrigine (Lamictal®):  Rash
Naltrexone (ReVia®, Vivitrol®): Hepatotoxicity
Nefazondone(Serzone®): Hepatic Failure; Suicidality

For more information: Index to Drug-Specific Information


FDA Pregnancy and Lactation Labeling

Changes to Drug Labels and Categories made by the FDA

Categories Old & Revised

Five (A, B, C, D & X) categories to indicate the potential of a systemically

absorbed drug for causing birth defects

Key differentiation among categories rest upon the degree (reliability) of

documentation and the risk vs. benefit ratio

Old drug LABELS must REMOVE pregnancy letter rating by 2020

Drugs approved after June 30, 2015, new format

Drugs approved before June 30, 2015, will only remove pregnancy

“letter” category for Medicated Americans

One out of every EIGHT pregnant women in the United States takes SSRIs to

treat depression and mood disorders--Scientific American Mind, March/April

2010, 21, 8.:and Croen, L.A., et al. (2011). Antidepressant use during pregnancy

and childhood autism spectrum disorder. Archives of General Psychiatry, 68, 1101-1112.

Category “A”

Adequate studies in pregnant women have not demonstrated a risk to the fetus in

the first trimester of pregnancy, and there is no evidence of risk in later trimesters.

Example: Synthroid® (levothyroxine)

Category “B”

Animal studies have not demonstrated a risk to the fetus, but there are no

adequate studies in pregnant women, or animal studies have shown an adverse

effect, but adequate studies in pregnant women have not demonstrated a risk

to the fetus during the first trimester of pregnancy, and there is no evidence of r

isk in later trimesters

Example: Tylenol®, Ambien®, Benadryl®, Ibuprofen Tylenol®/acetaminophen 

Zeyan, L., et al. (2014). Acetaminophen use during pregnancy, behavioral problems,

and hyperkinetic disorders. JAMA Pediatrics, 168, 313-320.

Category “C”

Animal studies have shown an adverse effect on the fetus, but there are no

adequate studies in humans; the benefits from the use of the drug in pregnant

women may be acceptable despite its potential risks, or there are no animal

reproduction studies and no adequate studies in humans.

Examples: Prozac®, Celexa®, Thorazine®, Haldol®, Risperdal®, Bactrim®,

Sonata®, Cipro®, et al.

Category “D”

There is evidence of human fetal risk, but the potential benefits from the use of

the drug in pregnant women may be acceptable despite its potential risks.

Examples: Lithium, Phenytoin (Dilantin®), doxycycline, tetracyclines, daytime

benzodiazepines, amitriptyline, aspirin (in 3rd trimester), et al.

Category “X”

Studies in animals or humans demonstrate fetal abnormalities, or adverse reaction

reports indicate evidence of fetal risk.

The risk of use in a pregnant woman clearly outweighs any possible benefit.

Examples: Accutane ®, methotrexate, estrogens, Coumadin®, “statin products”

(Lipitor ®, Prava- chol®, Mevacor®, Lescol®, Zocor ®, Crestor ®), Evista®

(raloxifene), Halcion ® (triazolam), Restoril® (temazepam)

-  New section 8.1 will include a risk summary, clinical considerations, data,
and information previously included in the “Labor and Delivery” subsection
-  New section 8.2 will include information about drug use when breastfeeding,
including the amount of drug in the breast milk and the potential effects on the
breastfeeding infant
-  New section 8.3 will include information about need for pregnancy testing,
contraception recommendations, and infertility as it relates to the drug

Labeling changes effective June 30, 2015.

Drugs manufactured after this date will use the new labeling method, while

drugs approved on or after June 30, 2015 will be phased in gradually. Only

affects prescription drugs; OTC drugs will not be affected. Risk Summary

subheadings are always required, while any others can be omitted if not applicable


Genetic Polymorphisms

Frequency of CYP 2D6 Genetic Polymorphism (ethnicity missing allele on a gene)

Example 1: Niccolo Paganini (1782-1840)  “The Devil’s Violinist” -  Could extend

little finger 45 degrees due to  Ehers-Danlos Syndrome,

decreased collagen = increased flexibility

Example 2: Usain Bolt, Jamaican Sprinter  ACTN 3 - 70% of US athletes & 

75% of all Jamaicans have Muscle contractions which affects fast twitch

muscles. Due to 2D6 Genetic Polymorphisms resulting from 2D6 Poor

Metabolizers in Caucasians 3%-10%, Asians .5%-2.4%, Hispanic 4.5%,

US Blacks 1.9% - 6.0%. 2D6 Rapid Metabolizers (Gene Duplication)

in Saudi Arabians 10.4%, Ethiopians 16.0%, Spaniards 3.5%.

50% of all people >60 years old don’t produce enough 2D6 to metabolize

drugs properly


The Aging Population

Pharmacological relationship between the Newly Bred & Nearly Dead

Elder Changes Need for Concern

Decrease Monoamines

Decrease Dopamine

Decrease Norepinephrine

Decrease Serotonin

Increase in Enzymes

Increase MAO & COMT

Decrease in liver’s ability to metabolize and kidney’s ability to clear

More side effects

Beers Criteria for Potentially Inappropriate Medication Use in Older Adults: “Beers List”

iGeriatrics (Beers Criteria App)

Dementia Treatment

Early “Not Your Usual” Signs of Dementia: Missing Sarcasm, Frequent Falling,

Disregard for the law, Staring, Eating objects,Losing knowledge of objects (e.g., Hair

conditioner: “I don’t know what that is.”), Losing empathy,,Ignoring Embarrassment,

Compulsive ritualistic behavior, Money Troubles & Difficulty Speaking

Acetylcholine (ACh)

Memory & Cognition

The Parasympathetic System

Muscarinic/Cholinergic System

“Rest, Digest, Take Out the Trash”

Agonist ADRs = “SLUDG” Salivation Lacrimation Urination Defecation GI Distress

Donepezil (Aricept ®)

FDA approved for Alzheimer Disease

Mechanism of Action: Cholinesterase inhibitor, Stop if no benefit in 3 to 6 months 

Taper over 4 weeks to avoid discontinuation syndrome  1 in 12 Significant Side Effects

(“SLUD”), Others: Galantamine (Razadyne® ) DO NOT use with renal, hepatic, cardiac

impairment, Rivastigmine (Exelon®) - AChE in Brain & BuChE in Glial Cells (glial

cells are more nourished)

Dementia Treatment

To date, no one has been healed from Alzheimer Disease.

That person is still out there. . .

Ethical Concerns

Ethics can be summarized as one simple principle. . . . Ethical Reciprocity

“Would you want to be treated this way?”

“ I would or would not like to be treated this way.”

Proactive Ethical Mental Health Professionals’ Goals

-  Clients are Well educated on psychopharmacological risks
-  Clients are then better able to make a well-informed judgment concerning their
treatment choices.
-  The clients Mental and Physical Health is protected and healed “It is an art of
no little importance to administer medicines properly, but it is an art of much
greater and more difficult acquisition to know when to suspend or altogether to
omit them.”

In a continuing education program on the Ethics in Psychopharmacology, the

participants were asked to get involved in the following Role Play and then vote

on an option they would choose if the there the executive in the role play.

Role Play: You’re an executive, director of a pharmaceutical company.

Decision: Drug X brings in $20 million a year – significant to the company’s

bottom line.

Problem: It causes the deaths of 20 people a year.

Legal: Regulators ask you to take the drug off market. There are less expensive


Bottom Line: That’s $1 million for each person who dies

What to do?

  • Immediately recall the drug.
  • Promote it aggressively
  • Or something in-between

What Happened?

79% of participants chose to continue drug promotion and to try and stop

the FDA from removing it from pharmacies

Real Example: in 1969 “Panalba” (anti-inflammatory) cost $1 a pill and Upjohn

used its money and power in DC to stop FDA from removing this dangerous drug.

Upjohn fought for years before it stopped selling the drug.

Justification given in these cases is: Risk Benefit Ratio knowing it has negative

side affects but still wanting to help clients


Social Psychology’s Attribution Theory

It attributes an internal reason for a problem that a person has. Judging a person’s

behavior on something inside of self. So proceed and give a pill, convinced the pill

will work, but it was a wrong diagnosis and wrong prescription:

  • Diagnosis assigns cause of distress to individual rather than situational factors
  • “Patient failed to respond.”



Autonomy - Right of clients to make decisions for themselves.

Beneficence - Demands prescribers achieve the best possible outcome through


Confidentiality - Privacy of clients’ medical condition and health information.

Nonmaleficence - First, do no harm! “Primum non nocere.”

Fidelity - Provide what’s promised to another.

Justice - Give Justice unto Others: Allocate products and services to clients fairly,

regardless of race, gender, religion, or other factors.

Veracity/Honesty- Be honest and always tell the clients the truth.

Common Ethical Challenges - Four Unique to Psychomaracolgy

1. High-Risk Psychopharmacology

2. Long-Term Psychopharmacology

3. “Clinical Innovation”

4. Enhancement Psychopharmacology (Hsin, 2014)


High-Risk Psychopharmacology

High Risk Conditions & Risk Extenders

Long-Term Psychopharmacology can be a risk for:

  1. Creative Non-Adherence
  2. Long-Acting Medications
  3. Polypharmacy

Clinical Innovation, which can be a risk due to:

  1. Off-Label Use of Medications
  2. Role of Placebo
  3. Enhancement Psychopharmacology

Elective Psychopharmacology which can be a risk due to:

  1. Marketing of Mental Illness
  2. Iatrogenic Intoxication

Drug Associated with High-Risk Psychopharmacology

(Not a complete list)

1. Tricyclic Antidepressants

2. Benzodiazepines/hypnotics

3. Antipsychotics

4. Sedating Antihistamines – Benadryl due to side affects

5. Anticholinergics -

    a) Paroxetine (Paxil®)

    b) Chlorpromazine (Thorazine®)

    c) Clozapine (Clozaril®)

    d) Hydroxyzine (Vistaril®)

6. NSAID + (Anti-Fungals, Warfarin, Heart Meds)

High Risk Conditions

The practice of psychopharmacology involving situations where patients are at high risk

of adverse events or creation or new diseases as a result of treatments.


• Pregnancy

• Medically Ill Patients

Risk Extenders: Psychotropic medications may extend risk beyond the usual risk

considerations.- Example: Medication forms lethal means for a suicidal/impulsive patient

and increases the probability of self-harm/racing thoughts and could also be

Addictive/Dependence Creators.


Creative Non-Adherence - Intelligent Non-Adherence

73% of non-adherence is intentional rather than accidental

The client may be modifying or supplementing [or manipulating] a prescribed treatment

regimen by reduceing dosage to make medication last longer, or doubles pill to make it

work faster; or swaps pills for other pills; or gives medications to friends; or mixes meds

with enzymatic inhibitors/inducers or takes supplements.


Long-Acting Psychopharmacology

Long-Acting medications - Injectable antipsychotic depot formulations are use to

facilitate behavioral adherence. They are considered superior over in the  oral vs.

injectable, argument and yes findings have yielded differing conclusions. Benefits

of long-acting vs. oral antipsychotic therapy is still debatable becasue safety and

tolerability may or may not be similar and patients may under value future risks

(symptom relapse, recurrent hospitalization). Finally there is a concern of the client's right to

volunteer to take a drug verses feeling like they are being coerced to take them.



Multiple Drugs/Single Patient

The simultaneous use of numerous, multiple drugs to treat a single ailment or condition.

or the simultaneous use of multiple drugs by a single patient, for one or more conditions

must be based on the following considerations

  • Correct Diagnosis & Correct Drug
  • Diagnostic Inflation
  • Increased Medical Risk
  • Increased Drug Interactions
  • Cascade of Side Effects
  • Cascade of medications to treat those side effects

High-Risk Psychopharmacology

Often involves more than one of the followiing conditions:

  • High Risk Conditions
  • Usual Risk Extenders
  • Long-Term Psychopharmacology
  • Creative Non-Adherence
  • Long-Acting Medications
  • Polypharmacy
  • Clinical Innovation
  • Off-Label Use of Medications
  • Role of Placebo
  • Enhancement Psychopharmacology
  • Elective Psychopharmacology
  • Marketing of Mental Illness
  • Iatrogenic Intoxication

Facts you need to know Concerning Off-Label Prescribing “Clinical Innovation”

-  3 out of every 5 antipsychotic drugs are prescribed for an unapproved,

or “off-label”use and is considered Off-Label Prescribing “Clinical Innovation”

-  3 out of every 5 antipsychotic drugs are prescribed for an unapproved, or “off-label” use.

Off-Label Bipolar Disorder Medications

Not FDA Approved for Bipolar:

Alprazolam, amoxapine, aripiprazole, asenapine, bupropion, carbamazepine,

chlorpromazine, clonazepam (adjunct), cyamemazine, doxepin, fluoxetine, flupenthixol,

fluphenazine, gabapentin, haloperidol, iloperidone, lamotrigine, levetiracetam,

lithium, lorazepam, loxapine (adjunct), lurasidone, molindone, olanzapine,

olanzapine-fluoxetine combo, oxcarbazepine, paliperidone, perphenazine,

pipothiazine, quetiapine, risperidone, sertindole, thiothixene, topiramate (adjunct),

trifluoperazine, valproate (divalproex), ziprasidone, zonisamide, zotepine, zuclopenthixol


Role of Placebos Placebos, Nocebos, & Active Placebos

Placebo: Latin.“I will please” originally used to refer to both pleasant and harmful effects

of treatment and 45% of prescribers admit using placebos

Nocebos: Nocebos when a placebo goes bad  Latin. “I will harm”  Term emerged in

the 1980s and means untoward effects of an inert treatment.


Nocebo Case Study

26 year old male presented at ER

“Help me, I took all of my pills”

Collapsed and dropped empty pill bottle

Conscious but drowsy and lethargic

Pale, diaphoretic (diarrhea), tremulous

BP 80/40, heart rate 110, rapid respirations

IV inserted, blood drawn, infusion of normal saline

All lab tests within normal limits

Received 2 L of normal saline, BP rose, dropped when infusion was slowed

Over 4 hours, given 6 L of fluid.

Lethargy continues, BP 100/62, heart rate 106

Flash back two months. . . .

Two months prior. . .

Broke up with girlfriend and heard of clinical trials for depression drug, so he enrolled. . .

Needed extra $$$

Previous history of depression. Took amitriptyline but d/c due to side effects

Denied taking any other medications

Taking “new” experimental drug for depression. Pill bottle confirmed clinical trials

Bottle did not indicate whether he was taking an antidepressant or placebo

Meanwhile, back at the hospital

Flash forward 2 months. . .

Physician from clinical trials arrived

Acknowledged patient given placebo

Patient surprised

He cried, tearful relief

Within 15 minutes. . .

BP was 126/80

Heart Rate 80

Admitted to in-patient unit Evaluation Results

  • Highly suggestible
  • Easily influenced by others

MMPI, Version II

  • Hypochondriasis
  • Depression
  • Conversion hysteria

Diagnosis: F32.9 Unspecified Depressive Disorder

Treated with psychotherapy & sertraline


Pure vs. Impure Placebos

Pure Placebo

“Sugar Pills”

Saline Injections

Impure Placebos

Off-label uses of medications; antibiotics to treat a virus

Lab Tests/Physical Exams for assurances

Inactive Medical Devices

Surgeries (e.g., small incision in knee with no work done)

Pill Size vs. Capsules

Pill Color

Pill Cost

CEBOCAP® Available in Blue, Green, & Red

Active Placebo

A drug given in small doses to create side effects.

Example: Atropine

Question: Is it ethical to give a participant who has no physical problems,

to now give them side effects in the name of drug science?


Elective/Enhancement Psychopharmacology

Prescribing psychotropic medication for enhancement or cosmetic effects to

enhance client’s functioning with no disabling diagnosis


  • Sports - Steroid use
  • Antidepressant for non-clinically depressed
  • Academic Doping- ADHD drugs to improve performance on an exam
  • Weight Loss - Med for its reduced eating or weight loss side effect


Marketing of Mental Illness

Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) Advertising only allowed in New Zealand (1981) and United States (regulations promulgated in 1969) and Only OTC Drugs in Brazil (2008) -

Medicalization of Normal

“Birthdays as Disease”

“Disease Creep” - Promotion of drugs for conditions that pose no serious threat



In our attempt to help, are we accidentally poisoning our patients?

Result of:

  • Basing practice on hypotheses & theories
  • “Clinical innovation”
  • Violating any one, combination, or all six of the ethical principles
  • “Un-intentional Un-informed Consent”


  • Capacity to Consent
  • Voluntary Expression of Consent
  • Documentation of Consent
  • Knowledge of Significant & Accurate Information Regarding Treatment


Potential Ethical Problem & Problem Solution: Informed Consent

A Three-Step Proactive Approach

The U.S. Pharmacopeia’s Safe Medication Use Expert Committee Majority of

medication errors [and concomitant un-ethical results] are the result of:

• Communication Problems

• Knowledge Deficits

• Inadequate Monitoring

• Remedy: Patient Education to Improve Informed Consent


Three-Step Proactive Approach for Non-prescribing Mental Health Professionals

Step 1: Complete a Drug History Questionnaire

Step 2: Appraise Patient Level of Knowledge via Drug Education

  • Risk Evaluate
  • Communication Skills
  • Drug Knowledge & Self-Monitoring
  • Creative Non-Adherence

Step 3: Educate As Indicated

GOAL: Client Self-Efficacy

Area I – Risk Evaluative

  1. Age
  2. Ethnicity
  3. Weight (#’s, ↑ or ↓)
  4. Renal or Liver Disease
  5. Caffeine
  6. Allergies: Shellfish & Peanuts
  7. Hypo/Hyperthyroid Screen
  8. Smoker/Alcohol
  9. Neuroleptics & SDAs (AIMS)
  10. Insulin/Warfarin
  11. Lithium/Valproate/Carbamazepine
  12. Drug Interaction Scan
  13. Level of Patient/Therapist Exchange

Area II – Knowledge & Monitoring

  1. Do you know your diagnosis and treatment plan?
  2. Do you know the dose(s) of your drug(s)? (shape, size, color, smell, taste)
  3. Do you know what side effects to report immediately?
  4. What do you do if you miss a dose?
  5. Where do you get your medication info?
  6. Does anyone help you with your meds?
  7. Use any OTC or household remedies?

Area III – Communication
  1. Why are you taking these meds?
  2. How do you take your meds?
  3. Do they work for you?
  4. When was the last time you discussed your meds with your provider and have your meds changed?
  5. Do you feel comfortable discussing your medications and treatment with your providers
  6. (Females) Are you pregnant or planning a pregnancy? or (Males) Desire child/additional?

Area IV – Creative Non-Adherence

  1. Have you stopped taking any drugs on your own (self-imposed “drug holiday”)?
  2. Are you doing anything to make meds last longer/go further (splitting, doubling, grapefruit juice, borrowing/trading drugs)?
  3. Are you afraid of any of your meds?
  4. Any meds you’re taking now caused problems before?
  5. Anything about your sex life you’d like to change?
  6. Do you believe you’re in control of your treatment plan?



Name: _____________________________Date: _____________________

Interviewer’s Name: ______________________Next Review Date_______________

AREA I – Risk Evaluative


Weight (#’s, + or -)_________________

Renal or Liver Disease (Circle)

↑Caffeine ≥ 250 mg_________________

Hypo/Hyperthyroid Screen (y/n) _______

↑Smoker (y/n) _____↑Alcohol (y/n) _____

↑Smokeless Tobacco_________

Following Drugs Prescribed: (circle yes/no)

yes no: Neuroleptics/SDAs (AIMS)

yes no: Insulin/warfarin

yes no: Lithium/↓valproate/↑carbamazepine

yes no: Street Drugs: ______________

Interaction Scan (+ OTC) via Medscape or WebMD:

Level of Patient/Therapist Exchange_____

(1 Easy - 3 Moderate - 5 Difficult)

AREA II – Knowledge & Monitoring

Do you know your diagnosis and treatment plan?

Do you know the dose of your drug?

Shape, size, color, smell, & taste?

Do you know what side effects to report immediately?

What do you do if you miss a dose?

Where do you get your medication info?

Does anyone help you with your meds?

Use any OTC or household remedies?



AREA III – Communication

Why are you taking these meds?

How do you take your meds?

Do they work for you?

When was the last time you discussed your meds with your provider and have your meds changed?

Do you feel comfortable discussing your medications and treatment with your providers?

For Females Only: Pregnant or planning a


For Males Only: Desire child/additional?

AREA IV – Creative Non-Adherence

Stopped taking any drugs on your own (drug holiday)?

Are you doing anything to make meds last longer/go further (splitting, doubling, grapefruit juice, borrowing, trading)?

Are you afraid of any of your meds?

Any meds you’re taking now that’s caused problems before?

Anything about your sex life you’d like

to change?

Do you believe you’re in control of your treatment plan?

[Legend: ↑↓Potential CYP Induce/Inhibit]. Advisory: Use in conjunction with thorough

drug history; for patient education purposes only. Attach note for actions/corrections taken.

©Perry W. Buffington, Ph.D.,

Why do people engage in unethical behavior?

Answer: Unethical Amnesia

Following any unethical behavior, memories of these actions become obfuscated because of the distress and discomfort one’s misdeeds cause.

When the brain “forgets” bad behavior to preserve positive self-image


“To feel better, I forget how I hurt the patient.”