At the DD-PIC meeting on November 19, 2013, Dr. Jarret Barnhill provided a thorough overview of the issues related to misuse of psychotropic medications in the intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) population. Click here for his presentation. He presented information describing the complex relationship between challenging behaviors and psychiatric disorders. In addition, he discussed the relationship between psychopharmacological and behavioral interventions. Discussion emphasized that challenging behaviors, which most often are the reason for psychotropic treatment, are heterogeneous conditions with a multitude of causes. A thorough assessment is critical. Symptoms are only a starting point since all behavior occurs within a social context and has communicative intent. In addition, individuals with IDD often have brain abnormalities and/or genetic disorders which affect responses to intervention. This suggests that psychopharmacological treatment should not be provided in isolation.

Dr. Barnhill stressed that while we have learned more about the brain and medications in recent years, there is still much to learn about drug interactions and receptors and mechanisms of the brain. All drugs are poison with some positive side effects; so we must proceed with caution when treating individuals with IDD.