Are Psych Drugs Killing 500,000 Seniors?

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Are Psych Drugs Killing 500,000 Seniors?

Does the long term use of psychiatric drugs cause more harm than good? 

Yes, says Professor Peter C. Gotzche.  And, he contends, the harm done by psych drugs causes a shocking 500,000 deaths in adults aged 65 and older every year in the Western World.

Professor Gotzche is a professor at the Nordic Cochrane Centre in Denmark, part of the prestigious Cochrane Collaboration.  He presented his argument in the 52nd Maudsley Debate at King's College London.[i]  The Maudsley Debates take place three times a year at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) of King's College.

How could this information go unnoticed? 

Professor Gotzche blames biased drug trials.  Almost all randomized trials include patients already taking another psychiatric drug.  They are taken off their medication, and after a short "wash-out" period, are randomized to a placebo or the test drug.  But the patients going "cold turkey" are dealing with withdrawal symptoms.  As a group they make the new drug look good in comparison. 

In addition, Professor Gotzche blames under-reporting of deaths in drug company trials.  As an example, he cites studies showing 14 suicides per 9,956 patients (a .14% rate) taking fluoxetine (Prozac) or paroxetine (Paxil).  But because the FDA only included adverse events occurring up to 24 hours after patients stop taking the drug, they report only 5 suicides in 52,960 patients or just .0009%.

Based on statistics like those and other studies, Professor Gotzche estimates there are 15 times more suicides among people taking antidepressants than are reported by the FDA.

He also looked at Danish prescription statistics to determine the number of deaths in people 65 and older from antipsychotics, benzodiazepines, and antidepressants.  He conservatively estimated that the death rate from antipsychotic drugs in that group is 1%.  For benzodiazepines he estimated the death rate at 1% and for antidepressants 2%.  Based on those death rates he estimated that approximately 539,000 people over 65 die from these drugs in the U.S. and European Union combined.  

Compared to the minimal benefits of these drugs, Professor Gotzche calls for stopping almost all psychotropic drugs.  He advocates stopping ALL antidepressants, ADHD drugs, and dementia drugs.  He also calls for using only a fraction of the antipsychotics and benzodiazepines currently in use.

And because psychotropic drugs are so harmful when used long term, he advocates restricting them to acute situations and only with a plan in place for tapering them off.

Older adults are particularly vulnerable to benzodiazepines and other psychotropic drugs.  They have a more difficult time eliminating them from their bloodstreams.  The drugs can accumulate in the body and increase the risk of overdose. 

Common side effects of these drugs include:

  • Dizziness
  • Unsteady gait, falling, hip fractures
  • Impaired thinking, and memory loss
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue

It's even estimated that psych meds put 49 million Americans at risk for cancer

If you are given a prescription for one of these drugs check the Beers Criteria.  A panel of 11 experts in geriatric care and pharmacology reviewed 2,000 studies on different drugs.  They published a list of 53 medications that may be inappropriate for older adults.  Their guidelines are called the Beers Criteria.  Click here to check your drugs against the Beers Criteria.

Even if a drug is on the list it may be essential for some patients, so talk to your doctor.

For a complete overview of mental health and natural alternatives to psych drugs visit Green Med Info's Guide to Mental Health.

[i] 52nd Maudsley Debate: "Does long term use of psychiatric drugs cause more harm than good?" BMJ 2015;350:h2435 doi: 10.1136/bmj.h2435 (Published 12 May 2015)

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