Donald F. Klein of Columbia University remembers handing out the first pills for schizophrenia in 1955, when the only treatment was electroshock therapy. One patient, an institutionalized war veteran who had not spoken in decades, swallowed the medication and a few days later suddenly asked, “When am I getting out of this place?”
According to a new study, this early class of drugs may work just as well at reducing hallucinations and delusions as modern pills that cost up to 10 times more. In the early 1990s the new medications, such as Zyprexa and Seroquel, took over, promising greater effectiveness and less debilitating side effects, including tremors. The federal government sponsored the $43-million study as a check against the results of previous tests that had been sponsored by drug companies and as a way to evaluate Medicaid’s payout for high-priced schizophrenia medication, one of the program’s biggest expenses.