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Pharmacological Treatment in Forensic Psychiatry-A Systematic Review

Journal article
Authors K. Howner
Peter Andiné
G. Engberg
E. H. Ekstrom
E. Lindstrom
M. Nilsson
Susanna Radovic
M. Hultcrantz
Published in Frontiers in Psychiatry
Volume 10
Pages 12
ISSN 1664-0640
Publication year 2020
Published at Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology
Centre for Ethics, Law, and Mental Health
Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science
Pages 12
Language en
Keywords forensic psychiatric care, mentally disordered offenders, pharmacological treatment, systematic review, antipsychotics, clozapine, schizophrenia, violence, care, Psychiatry
Subject categories Psychiatry


Background: Pharmacological treatment is of great importance in forensic psychiatry, and the vast majority of patients are treated with antipsychotic agents. There are several systematic differences between general and forensic psychiatric patients, e.g. severe violent behavior, the amount of comorbidity, such as personality disorders and/or substance abuse. Based on that, it is reasonable to suspect that effects of pharmacological treatments also may differ. The objective of this systematic review was to investigate the effects of pharmacological interventions for patients within forensic psychiatry. Methods: The systematic review protocol was pre-registered in PROSPERO (CRD42017075308). Six databases were used for literature search on January 11, 2018. Controlled trials from forensic psychiatric care reporting on the effects of antipsychotic agents, mood stabilizers, benzodiazepines, antidepressants, as well as pharmacological agents used for the treatment of addiction or ADHD, were included. Two authors independently reviewed the studies, evaluated risk of bias and assessed certainty of evidence using Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE). Results: The literature search resulted in 1783 records (titles and abstracts) out of which 10 studies were included. Most of the studies included were retrospective and non-randomized. Five of them focused on treatment with clozapine and the remaining five on other antipsychotics or mood stabilizers. Five studies with a high risk of bias indicated positive effects of clozapine on time from treatment start to discharge, crime-free time, time from discharge to readmission, improved clinical functioning, and reduction in aggressive behavior. Psychotic symptoms after treatment were more pronounced in the clozapine group. Mainly due to the high risk of bias the reliability of the evidence for all outcomes was assessed as very low. Conclusion: This systematic review highlights the shortage of knowledge on the effectiveness of pharmacological treatment within forensic psychiatry. Due to very few studies being available in this setting, as well as limitations in their execution and reporting, it is challenging to overview the outcomes of pharmacological interventions in this context. The frequent use of antipsychotics, sometimes in combination with other pharmacological agents, in this complex and heterogeneous patient group, calls for high-quality studies performed in this specific setting.

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