Questions Linger Over Long-Term Use of Psychiatric Drugs

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The pages of a recent issue of the journal BMJ include a vigorous debate between mental health experts over the utility in the long-term of drugs for psychiatric conditions. One Danish doctor argued that the benefits of such medications have been exaggerated while the risks minimized, while a prominent British psychiatry professor contended that psychiatric drugs are just as safe and effective as those used for other medical conditions.

Peter Gotzsche, MD, director of the Nordic Cochrane Center, an independent health care research group in Copenhagen, Denmark, argued that the benefits of psychiatric drugs are “minimal” and should only be used in acute circumstance. He also claimed that the randomized, controlled trials have been biased and deaths due to psychiatric drugs have been underreported.   

According to his calculations, antipsychotics, benzodiazepines and related drugs, as well as antidepressants, have led to 539,000 deaths combined in the U.S. and European Union. He estimated that the rate of suicides among those taking antidepressants is as much as 15 times higher than what the FDA has reported.

However, Allan H. Young, PhD, a mood disorders professor at King’s College London, and John Crace, a psychiatric patient, contended that Gotzsche is wrong. They said that psychiatric drugs have been extensively studied for safety and effectiveness, and trials have demonstrated they have done more good than harm.

They added that the medications are needed to decrease the long-term harms of mental illness, which is the fifth leading cause of disability worldwide.

Questions Linger Over Long-Term Use of Psychiatric Drugs
Questions Linger Over Long-Term Use of Psychiatric Drugs

In a new article in the journal BMJ, an expert argues that the benefits of psychiatric drugs have been exaggerated and the negatives downplayed due to poor trial design, while another expert and psychiatric patient defend the use of these drugs.

Every year in the West, more than half a million people over age 65 die from the use of psychiatric drugs and the benefits would need to be “colossal” to justify these “immensely harmful” treatments, said Peter Gøtzsche, MD, professor and director of the Nordic Cochrane Centre, Denmark.

But Dr. Allan H. Young, a professor of mood disorders at King's College London, and John Crace, a psychiatric patient, contend with Gøtzsche's stance, arguing that research supports the use of psychiatric drugs. They believe that these drugs are just as beneficial and effective as the drugs used to treat other common, complex conditions.

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