Debate Rages Over Value of Psyche Meds

Psychotropic drugs are powerful agents that address a variety of mental issues. And although they are lifesavers for some people, antidepressants, antipsychotics and other such meds remain the subject of debate among medical professionals, most recently within the pages of BMJ (British Medical Journal).

Some people want antipsychotic meds to be heavily restricted, explained, while others insist they are safe for most users. In the BMJ article, some researchers claimed that the long-term side effects of many psychiatric drugs do more harm than good, and suggested that many drug trial designed purposefully underestimate their harms and overestimate their benefits.

For example, after reviewing several studies, Professor Peter C. Gotzsche, who helped found the venerable research nonprofit known as the Cochrane Collaboration, estimated that there are 15 times more suicides among people taking antidepressants than reported by the FDA because, he said, the FDA tallies suicides reported only within 24 hours of when patients stop taking these types of meds.

He cited figures from one study showing that nearly 2 in 3 deaths were unaccounted for among people taking antipsychotics. Another study that specifically analyzed users of benzodiazepine (tranquilizers, including Xanax and Valium) could be responsible for nearly 540,000 deaths annually in the U.S. and Europe.

These drugs are especially risky, as Patrick discussed in a recent newsletter, among older people for making them more prone to falls.

Gotzsche said the benefits of these drugs are widely overstated and that randomized trials don’t properly evaluate their effects. He went so far, according to, as to call them “biased,” because they include patients who already take other psychiatric drugs, which could corrupt the results.

Patients who take psychotropics long term, then stop cold turkey, often are given a placebo, or fake drug. Prescribers hope it will ease their transition, but Gotzsche said that instead, many patients experience withdrawal symptoms that drive them to suicide.

Gotzsche said the benefits would need to be “colossal” to justify the use of psychiatric drugs, and that in some cases, such as drugs meant to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), there’s often no benefit, never mind one that’s minimal, much less “colossal.”

“We could stop almost all psychotropic drugs without causing harm – by dropping all antidepressants, ADHD drugs and dementia drugs and using only a fraction of the antipsychotics and benzodiazepines we currently use,” Gotzsche is quoted as saying on

Of course, his position drew significant backlash from other researchers, who claimed that evidence supporting the long-term use of antipsychotic medications was solid.

“More than one-fifth of all health-related disability is caused by mental ill health, studies suggest,” wrote Allan H. Young, professor of mood disorders at the Institute of Psychiatry and Psychology and Neurosciences at Kings College in London.

He said that the poor physical health typically associated with poor mental health raises the risk of mortality and lowers the life expectancy of mental health patients. The opposition researchers said that the increased death rate is only partly due to suicide, and mostly due to co-existing health disorders.

He supported monitoring by regulatory agencies after the drugs reach the consumer market to ensure they not only work as promised, but are safe. He said the success of such oversight was demonstrated by studies that looked at clozapine, a sedative prescribed to treat schizophrenia. They showed that long-term treatment was associated with lower mortality compared with patients who took no antipsychotic drugs.

But, according to, the BMJ editors also noted that Young has served as an advisor for major drug companies that manufacture drugs to treat some mental disorders, including AstraZeneca, which makes Seroquel, Lundbeck, which makes Abilify and Lexapro, and Eli Lilly, which makes Prozac.

Which makes us wonder about his credibility.

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