Antidepressants and drugs for dementia and ADHD 'are harmful', leading professor warns

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People should stop taking antidepressants and drugs for dementia and ADHD, as their benefits are exaggerated and they would be healthier in the long-term without them, a leading professor has suggested.

Peter Gotzsche said psychiatric drugs are responsible for the deaths of more than half a million people aged 65 and older each year in the Western world.

Writing in the BMJ, he said: "Their benefits would need to be colossal to justify this, but they are minimal."

Prof Gotzsche said drug trials do not accurately evaluate the effects of many types of medication, as patients are usually taking others at the same time.

He also hit out at an under-reporting of deaths in such trials, highlighting a study by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in which he had estimated there to have been 15 times more suicides among people taking antidepressants than claimed.

He also said his analysis of a trial of dementia patients, which he studied because they would be less likely to be on other drugs, found the death rate to be 1% higher than those who took a placebo.

Prof Gotzsche, who is director of the Nordic Cochrane Centre at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, calculated that three classes of drugs - antipsychotics, benzodiazepines and similar drugs, and antidepressants - were responsible for 3,693 deaths every year in Denmark.

He said when scaled up, this was equal to 539,000 deaths in the United States and European Union combined.

"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," he wrote.

"This would lead to healthier and more long lived populations. Because psychotropic drugs are immensely harmful when used long-term, they should almost exclusively be used in acute situations and always with a firm plan for tapering off, which can be difficult for many patients."

He also suggested widespread withdrawal clinics were needed to help those who have become dependant on such medication.

Opposing Prof Gotzsche's argument, Allan Young - professor of mood disorders at King's College London - and psychiatric patient John Crace said psychiatric drugs are as beneficial as other treatments used for common, complex medical conditions.

"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," they wrote in the BMJ.

They said concerns raised have often been found to be "overinflated", offering the example of lithium - which has recently been found to be less harmful than feared.

The pair also insisted that psychiatric drugs are "rigorously examined for efficacy and safety, before and after regulatory approval".