882,000 Annual U.S. Deaths Linked to Pharmaceuticals

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A silent epidemic is ravaging America, causing more deaths than guns, car crashes and suicides combined - and the culprit may be hiding in your medicine cabinet

A new analysis by Dr. Peter Gøtzsche, co-founder of the Cochrane Collaboration, estimates that prescription drugs are now the leading cause of death in the United States, surpassing heart disease and cancer.1 According to Gøtzsche, psychiatric drugs alone are the third leading killer.2

The death toll from prescription medications has been steadily rising in recent decades. In 2006, the FDA received reports of 37,309 drug deaths. By 2016, that figure had more than tripled to 123,927.2 Gøtzsche argues that even this massive number underestimates the true scope of the problem, as most people who die from adverse drug effects do so outside of hospitals, and their deaths are often not attributed to the drugs.2

Focusing on psychiatric drugs in particular, Gøtzsche analyzed data from placebo-controlled clinical trials and large epidemiological studies. For antipsychotic drugs in the elderly, he estimates a 2% annual death rate.3 For benzodiazepines and "Z-drugs" used for insomnia, the death rate is also around 2% per year based on the available evidence.4,5 And for SSRI antidepressants, Gøtzsche calculates a 2% yearly mortality risk in older adults, based on the average of two large cohort studies.6,7

Applying these mortality rates to the number of Americans over age 65 taking these psychiatric drugs, Gøtzsche estimates they cause 390,000 deaths annually in this age group alone.2 When combined with an estimated 315,000 deaths from adverse drug events in hospitals,8 70,000 deaths from prescription opioid overdoses,9 and 107,000 deaths from NSAIDs causing heart attacks and bleeding ulcers,10 the total comes to 882,000 U.S. deaths caused by prescription medications each year.2

"The tragedy is that we could easily get our drug pandemic under control," writes Gøtzsche, "but when our politicians act, they usually make matters worse. They have been so heavily lobbied by the drug industry that drug regulation has become much more permissive than it was in the past."2

Gøtzsche maintains that most of these drug-induced deaths are preventable, largely because in many cases the patients did not actually require the drugs that ended up killing them. He cites evidence that widely prescribed psychiatric drugs and painkillers are often ineffective or barely more effective than placebo.2

Disturbingly, leading psychiatrists seem unaware of the dangers of the drugs they prescribe. Harvard psychiatrist Dr. Roy Perlis recently argued that antidepressants should be available over-the-counter, calling them "safe and effective,"11 despite evidence they double the risk of suicide in adults.12,13

Gøtzsche's analysis recalls the themes raised by Sayer Ji in a 2012 article titled "Has Drug-Driven Medicine Become a Form of Human Sacrifice?"14 Ji argues modern medicine has devolved into "a form of mass control and a highly organized means of defrauding the public of both its wealth and health."14

"If such a hugely lethal pandemic had been caused by a microorganism, we would have done everything we could to get it under control," Gøtzsche writes. "Most tragically, leading psychiatrists all over the world do not realise how ineffective and dangerous their drugs are."2

His findings underscore the urgent need to reevaluate the widespread long-term use of psychiatric drugs and painkillers. More rigorous epidemiological research will be needed to confirm the startling mortality figures Gøtzsche has calculated. But if his estimates are even remotely accurate, it would point to a public health emergency of staggering proportions, driven by the overprescription of dangerous pharmaceutical products.


1. Gøtzsche, Peter. "Prescription Drugs Are the Leading Cause of Death." Brownstone Institute, April 16, 2024. https://brownstone.org/articles/prescription-drugs-are-the-leading-cause-of-death/

2. Ibid.  

3. FDA package insert for Risperdal (risperidone). Accessed April 15, 2024. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2009/020272s056,020588s044,021346s033,021444s03lbl.pdf

4. Weich, Scott et al. "Effect of anxiolytic and hypnotic drug prescriptions on mortality hazards: retrospective cohort study." BMJ 348 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g1996

5. Kripke, Daniel F et al. "Hypnotics' association with mortality or cancer: a matched cohort study." BMJ Open 2.1 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2012-000850  

6. Coupland, Carol et al. "Antidepressant use and risk of adverse outcomes in older people: population based cohort study." BMJ 343 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d4551

7. Smoller, Jordan W et al. "Antidepressant use and risk of incident cardiovascular morbidity and mortality among postmenopausal women in the Women's Health Initiative study." Archives of internal medicine 169.22 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1001/archinternmed.2009.436

8. James, John T. "A new, evidence-based estimate of patient harms associated with hospital care." Journal of patient safety 9.3 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1097/PTS.0b013e3182948a69

9. "Drug Overdose Deaths." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, August 22, 2023. https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/deaths/index.html

10. Bally, Michèle et al. "Risk of acute myocardial infarction with NSAIDs in real world use: bayesian meta-analysis of individual patient data." BMJ 357 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j1909

11. Perlis, Roy. "The time has come for over-the-counter antidepressants." Stat News, April 8, 2024. https://www.statnews.com/2024/04/08/over-the-counter-antidepressants/

12. Hengartner, MP and M Plöderl. "Newer-Generation Antidepressants and Suicide Risk in Randomized Controlled Trials: a Re-Analysis of the FDA Database." Psychother Psychosom 88 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1159/000501215

13. Hengartner, MP and M Plöderl. "Reply to the Letter to the Editor: "Newer-Generation Antidepressants and Suicide Risk: Thoughts on Hengartner and Plöderl's ReAnalysis." Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics 88.6 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1159/000504118

14. Ji, Sayer. "Has Drug-Driven Medicine Become a Form of Human Sacrifice?" GreenMedInfo, July 16, 2022. https://greenmedinfo.com/blog/has-drug-driven-medicine-become-form-human-sacrifice

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