About 12 percent of drugs doctors prescribe are for uses other than those approved by regulators, a recent study found. So-called off-label prescribing significantly raises the rate of negative side effects, the research showed.

Doctors are free to prescribe medications off-label, and in some cases patients benefit from those prescriptions. Physicians may find that an off-label drug is more effective at treating a problem than medications specifically approved for that use. For example, amitriptyline, approved to treat depression, is often used off-label for migraines.

The study, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine in November, suggests doctors should take greater care in choosing when to use off-label drugs and to more closely monitor patients receiving them, said Chester Good, a physician with the Department of Veterans Affairs, VA Pittsburgh, who co-wrote an editorial accompanying the study.

“I’m not saying that physicians shouldn’t be using drugs off-label, it happens all the time,” Dr. Good said. “But we need to be more circumspect when we do so. Indications should either be supported by some evidence or recommended in guidelines.”

Click for more from The Wall Street Journal.

More on this...