Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

[Biomedical Journal Article] Debate: Is the long term use of psychiatric drugs harmful?

From the 15 May BMJ article

We could stop almost all psychotropic drug use without deleterious effect, says Peter C Gøtzsche, questioning trial designs that underplay harms and overplay benefits. Allan H Young and John Crace disagree, arguing that evidence supports long term use

Yes—Peter C Gøtzsche

Psychiatric drugs are responsible for the deaths of more than half a million people aged 65 and older each year in the Western world, as I show below.1 Their benefits would need to be colossal to justify this, but they are minimal.1 23 4 5 6

Overstated benefits and understated deaths

The randomised trials that have been conducted do not properly evaluate the drugs’ effects. Almost all of them are biased because they included patients already taking another psychiatric drug.178910 Patients, who after a short wash-out period are randomised to placebo, go “cold turkey” and often experience withdrawal symptoms. This design exaggerates the benefits of treatment and increases the harms in the placebo group, and it has driven patients taking placebo to suicide in trials in schizophrenia.8

Under-reporting of deaths in industry funded trials is another major flaw.Based on some of the randomised trials that were included in a meta-analysis of 100 000 patients by the US Food and Drug Administration, I have estimated that there are likely to have been 15 times more suicides among people taking antidepressants than reported by the FDA—for example, there were 14 suicides in 9956 patients in trials with fluoxetine and paroxetine, whereas the FDA had only five suicides in 52 960 patients, partly because the FDA only included events up to 24 hours after patients stopped taking the drug.1


No—Allan H Young, John Crace

Psychiatric conditions are common, complex, costly, and often long term illnesses. More than a fifth of all health related disability is caused by mental ill health, studies suggest, and people with poor mental health often have poor physical health and poorer (long term) outcomes in both aspects of health.26

Raised standardised mortality rates and reduced life expectancy have been reported in people with psychiatric disorders such as psychosis and mood and personality disorders.27 These increased death rates are only partly because of suicide and mostly attributable to coexisting physical health disorders. There is thus a clear need for psychiatric disorders to be treated to attempt to reduce the long term harm associated with them. The key question is whether psychiatric drugs do more harm than good.

All therapeutic interventions may potentially do both good and harm, and thorough evaluation of the relative benefits and harms of a treatment should be done for psychiatric drugs no less than for any others.28 These evaluations of benefits and harms are based on group data, which have to be applied to judgments for individual patients and can therefore be advisory only; the individual’s subjective experience is crucially important to consider.

What about harms?

Worldwide, regulatory agencies are responsible for ensuring that drugs work and are acceptably safe. Postmarketing surveillance continues after drugs are licensed. This can further refine, or confirm or deny, the safety of a drug in the general population, which unlike study populations includes people with varied medical conditions. Several approaches are used to monitor the safety of licensed drugs, including spontaneous reporting databases, prescription event monitoring, electronic health records, patient registries, and record linkage between health databases.30 These safeguards work to ensure drugs available do more good than harm.30

Nevertheless, many concerns have been expressed about psychiatric drugs, and for some critics the onus often seems to be on the drug needing to prove innocence from causing harm rather than a balanced approach to evaluating the available evidence.

Overinflated concerns

Whether concerns are genuine or an expression of prejudice is not clear, but over time many concerns have been found to be overinflated. A few examples may be illustrative.

May 19, 2015 Posted by | Psychiatry | , , | Leave a comment

Overmedicating Foster Kids: The Cost of Skimping on Care

Overmedicating Foster Kids: The Cost of Skimping on Care

Overdrugged foster kids is the price we pay for taking care of at-risk children on the cheap

Excerpt from the Time Ideas article of December 2, 2011

The statistics that came out of this week’s GAO report on psychotropic drug use among American foster children were bone-chilling: In 2008, children in Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oregon and Texas who’d been removed from their parents and placed in the care of state child welfare agencies were being prescribed psychiatric drugs at rates 2.7 to 4.5 times as high as non-foster care children on Medicaid. Thousands of children were taking medications at doses that exceeded FDA-approved maximum levels. Hundreds of foster children were taking more than five medications at once and some were taking up to ten drugs simultaneously. Even some infants were being prescribed psychiatric medications.

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December 2, 2011 Posted by | Consumer Health | , , | Leave a comment

Current psychiatric drugs are only marginally effective

From a article by Steve Balt, MD

The scientific journal Nature ran an editorial recently with a rather ominous headline: “Psychopharmacology in Crisis.” What exactly is this “crisis” they speak of?  Is it the fact that our current psychiatric drugs are only marginally effective for many patients?  Is it the fact that they can often cause side effects that some patients complain are worse than the original disease?  No, the “crisis” is that the future of psychopharmacology is in jeopardy, as pharmaceutical companies, university labs, and government funding agencies devote fewer resources to research and development in psychopharmacology.  Whether this represents a true crisis, however, is entirely in the eye of the beholder.

In 2010, the pharmaceutical powerhouses Glaxo SmithKline (GSK) and AstraZeneca closed down R&D units for a variety of CNS disorders, a story that received much attention.  They suspended their research programs because of the high cost of bringing psychiatric drugs to market, the potential for lawsuits related to adverse events, and the heavy regulatory burdens faced by drug companies in the US and Europe.  In response, organizations like the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) and the Institute of Medicine in the US have convened summits to determine how to address this problem.

The “problem,” of course, for pharmaceutical companies is the potential absence of a predictable revenue stream.  Over the last several years, big pharma has found it to be more profitable not to develop novel drugs, but new niches for existing agents—a decision driven by MBAs instead of MDs and PhDs.  As Steve Hyman, NIMH director, told Science magazine last June,  “It’s hardly a rich pipeline.  It suggests a sad dearth of ideas and … lots of attempts at patent extensions and new indications for old drugs.”

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July 25, 2011 Posted by | Consumer Health, Public Health | , , , | Leave a comment



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