Teaching about mental illness and the effects of psychiatric medication is nothing new for Clinical Associate Professor Karen Moeller, but once a year, her audience changes from pharmacy students to law enforcement officials.
For the past eight years, Moeller has been a featured speaker at the Topeka Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Training, a week-long training program to help police officers and other public workers better understand people with mental illness. Moeller gives a two-hour presentation on psychotropic medications.
“As a pharmacist, I want law enforcement and members of the community to gain an overall understanding on the effectiveness of psychiatric medications,” Moeller said. “But I also want the audience to understand what the side effects might be and why patients might neglect to take their medications.”
People often stop taking their medications, Moeller said, because of undesirable results such as drowsiness, sedation, sexual dysfunction and nausea. Some patients don’t understand that drugs for depression take four-to-six weeks to begin working. They often become discouraged, thinking that the drug is not working, and they quit taking it. On the other end of the spectrum, some patients quit taking their medication after they have experienced treatment success.
“They sometimes think they don’t need the medication anymore, because they no longer hear voices or are not manic or depressed. This is because the medication is working.” Moeller explained. “There are high rates of relapse when one stops their medication too early. Most medications in psychiatry are life long.”
Additional reasons people might stop taking their medication include disbelief of their illness and the cost of the medications. Medication adherence for patients with mental illness is low, Moeller said.
“Between 70 and 80 percent of patients admitted to a psychiatric hospital are there because they stop taking their medications,” she said. “It’s essential that patients understand the importance of taking their medications to prevent relapse.”
Moeller believes it is equally important for police officers and others who work closely with the public to understand how psychotropic medications affect individuals and how those side effects increase when someone decides to self-medicate with alcohol or other illegal drugs. Her goal is not to teach them about the specifics of the each drug, but rather to be familiar with the side effects and know what to look for.
In addition to Topeka police department recruits, the class included employees of the Shawnee County Sheriff’s Department, the Kansas Department of Corrections, Valeo Behavioral Health Care, Let’s Help and the Riley County Department of Corrections.
Captain Bill Cochran of the Topeka Police Department helps coordinate the training. He said the participating officers put this training to use daily.
“Many calls are dispatched as domestic violence, disturbances, unwanted subject or suspicious persons,” Cochran said. “But once the officer gets to the call, on many occasions, they discover the individuals involved have mental illness or are in a mental health crisis.”
Participants earn a certification upon completion of the 40-hour program.