Psychiatric drugs do more harm than good, says expert

Peter Gøtzsche argues that most prescriptions could be stopped without causing harm, but other experts strongly disagree

Psychiatric drugs do more harm than good and the use of most antidepressants and dementia drugs could be virtually stopped without causing harm, an expert on clinical trials argues in a leading medical journal.

The views expressed in a British Medical Journal debate by Peter Gøtzsche, professor and director of the Nordic Cochrane Centre in Denmark, are strongly opposed by many experts in mental health. However, others say the debate around the use of psychiatric drugs is important and acknowledge that there has been overuse of antipsychotics to quieten aggressive patients with dementia.

Gøtzsche says more than half a million people over the age of 65 die as a result of the use of psychiatric drugs every year in the western world. “Their benefits would need to be colossal to justify this, but they are minimal,” he writes.

He claims that trials carried out with funding from drug companies into the efficacy of psychiatric drugs have almost all been biased, because the patients involved have usually been on other medication first. They stop their drugs and often experience a withdrawal phase prior to starting the trial drug, which then appears to have a big benefit. He also claims that deaths from suicide in clinical trials are under-reported.