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Bull Am Acad Psychiatry Law. 1986;14(2):105-22.

Medication noncompliance in schizophrenia: codification and update.


Risk of relapse and recidivism makes the failure to take antipsychotic medication as prescribed a significant issue in forensic psychiatry. This question may arise in such contexts as the setting of bail, plea bargaining, the insanity defense, and sentencing. We have reviewed the literature on medication noncompliance in schizophrenia and present here the results, organized by topics relevant for the work of forensic mental health experts. Reported rates of noncompliance vary widely, reflecting major differences in the populations studied and the methods used as well as the complexities involved in defining noncompliant behavior. A noncompliance rate of 50 percent has been attributed globally to chronic patients, both medical and psychiatric. The tendency of significant factors to interact precludes a simple typology of noncompliance. However, environmental security and supportiveness correlate positively with adherence; whereas anxiety, paranoia, grandiosity, depression, and side effects correlate negatively. Clinicians' assessments of whether medication is being taken have proven to be unreliable. Although monitoring by chemical measurement, particularly a radioreceptor assay for urine samples, can be useful, depot injection ensures that prescribed medication is being taken. Less invasive means of promoting compliance are described; psychodynamic and ethical issues to be considered in the monitoring and promotion of compliance over extended time periods are presented. We also probe the link between medication noncompliance and behavioral relapse. The time between default and relapse is most often measured in weeks. Whether due to medication withdrawal or not, the relapse pattern of each individual tends to repeat, allowing its recognition before recidivism occurs. Restarting medication at this stage, especially with a dosage increase, is usually effective. In sum, the forensic mental health expert can now readily use a large and diverse literature to assist with a variety of significant issues.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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