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Psych Drugs App for Smartphones
It is estimated that police spend 10 percent of their time in situations involving people with mental illness. Many police agencies are implementing Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) programs that help police personnel understand and recognize the symptoms specific to anxiety, mood and psychotic disorders.
Through simulated scenarios, officers are able to develop the patience and sensitivity required to better evaluate the situation and avoid a violent outcome. Because individuals with mental health disorders are often on medication, knowledge of the various psychotropic drugs used to treat the symptoms is crucial.
Psych Drugs is a free downloadable software application compatible with iPhone, iPad and Android phones, where police personnel can quickly access drug information at the scene to determine the best and safest approach. Psych Drugs provides useful information about a wide range of psychotropic medications, from anti-anxiety meds to antipsychotics and mood stabilizers.
BlackBerry offers a similar application with its Handbook of Psychiatric Drugs, but it is not free. The Blackberry apps is also a quick and comprehensive resource that follows a standard format for ease of use. Sections are organized by drug class and provide information about pharmacology, indications, side effects and drug interactions.
With the Psych Drugs app, users have the option of entering a medication into the search box or scrolling alphabetically through a list of medications from A to Z. Favorites can be saved with the touch of a button. Information on each drug description includes the following: Generic Name, Brand Name, Class, Indications, Dosage Forms, Maximum daily dose for adults and children, and Half-life.
Five of the most commonly used psychotropic medications are Risperdal, Cymbalta, Xanax, Lamictal and Invega. Risperdal (Generic: Risperidone) and Invega (Generic: Paliperidone) are anti-psychotic drugs used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Schizophrenic symptoms include distorted thoughts and hallucinations, while individuals with bi-polar disorder experience extreme mood swings.
Lamictal (Generic: Lamotrigene) is an anticonvulsant drug that prevents and controls seizures, but has also been approved to treat bipolar disorder. Cymbalta (Generic: Duloxetine) is a reuptake inhibitor that treats depression and anxiety by restoring the balance of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. Xanax (Generic: Alprazolam) is part of a class of drugs called benzodiazepines used in the treatment of anxiety and panic disorders.
Since the actions and behavior of mentally ill individuals are often unpredictable, but not necessarily violent, police personnel are encouraged to use a non-aggressive, empathetic approach. What follows are five possible scenarios where knowledge of mental health issues and access to related drug information via the Psych Drugs app could help police effectively de-escalate a potentially dangerous situation.
Scenario 1: Police are called to a scene where a homeless man is wielding a knife. After the officers calm him down and retrieve the knife, they learn that, like many transients, he battles schizophrenia. When asked if he was taking anything to control his condition, the man confessed that he stopped taking his medication (Risperdal) several weeks ago. Since then he has been unable to control his feelings of hostility and paranoia.
Scenario 2: Police arrive at the scene of a traffic accident in which the driver appears to be drunk, but his blood-alcohol level is below the legal limit.
He admits that the two beers he had made him feel unusually tired, causing him to fall asleep at the wheel. Suspecting a possible drug interaction, the officers ask the man if he is taking any medications. He admits that he was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was prescribed Lamictal to control his mood swings. Had he read the drug precautions, he would have known that mixing alcohol and Lamictal can cause blurred vision and extreme drowsiness.
Scenario 3: A call is made to 911 to report a young man who is talking to himself in the middle of the street, disrupting traffic. The arriving officers are approached by the man’s sister who is distraught and does not understand why her brother is having an “episode.”
Since being diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and placed on medication, he has been doing much better. An Invega search in the app reveals that the drug is effective in controlling delusions and hallucinations, leading the officers to believe that the young man has stopped taking his medication.
Scenario 4: Shoppers at a local mall notice a middle-aged woman acting confused and agitated. Police called to the scene quickly determine that the woman is having a full-blown panic attack. She confirms that she takes Xanax to control her anxiety, and has in fact been taking her meds. Suspecting that that her behavior might be a direct result of the drug itself, they run a drug check and find irritability, confusion and memory problems among the possible side effects.
Scenario 5: A teenage girl attending an unchaperoned house party is behaving erratically, but everyone assumes she has too much to drink. At some point, she locks herself in the bathroom, threatening to hurt herself. Panicking, her friend calls the police. Eventually the officers learn that she suffers from depression and recently started taking Cymbalta. A quick meds inquiry showed that patients taking Cymbalta frequently experience suicidal thoughts during the first few weeks of treatment and need to be closely monitored.
Susan Geoghegan is a freelance writer living in Naples, Fla. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in Law and Order, Oct 2011
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