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Stop almost all psychiatric drug use, urges Cochrane expert

Psychotropic drug are responsible for over half a million deaths every year in older patients and offer only minimal benefits, according to a leading Cochrane researcher.

Professor Peter Gøtzsche, who helped found the Cochrane Collaboration and heads up the organisation’s Nordic centre, claims in a debate carried by this week’s BMJ that the majority of prescriptions for psychotropic drugs could simply be stopped with causing any harm.

Using Danish data, he claims that nearly 3,700 deaths a year among those aged 65 and older in Denmark are caused by antipsychotics, benzodiazepines – or similar drugs – and antidepressants, meaning they could be responsible for nearly 540,000 deaths each year across the USA and Europe.

Yet, he argues, the clinical trial evidence for their benefits is flawed and shows only minimal clinical benefits  – while ADHD drugs offer only short-term relief that is off-set by long-term harms.

Professor Gøtzsche writes: ‘Given their lack of benefit, I estimate we could stop almost all psychotropic drugs without causing harm –by dropping all antidepressants, ADHD drugs, and dementia drugs (as the small effects are probably the result of unblinding bias) and using only a fraction of the antipsychotics and benzodiazepines we currently use.’

However, Professor Allan Young, professor of mood disorders at the Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London, counters that concerns about psychiatric drugs are ‘overinflated’ and that they are ‘rigorously examined for efficacy and safety, before and after regulatory approval’.

BMJ 2015; available online 12 May


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