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The Lethal Risk of Prescription Medications

April 16, 2024 from Brownstone Institute

The global health landscape is fraught with challenges, yet one of the most critical issues remains largely in the shadows: the alarming rate of deaths associated with psychiatric medications. Peter C. Gøtzsche, a prominent critic of pharmaceutical practices, has rigorously analyzed the data, presenting a compelling case that these drugs are a leading cause of mortality worldwide.

Gøtzsche’s research suggests a grim statistic: “In 2013, I estimated that our prescription drugs are the third leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer, and in 2015, that psychiatric drugs alone are also the third leading cause of death.” This positions psychiatric drugs alongside major diseases as significant threats to public health.

Underestimation and Oversight Issues

The true extent of drug-related deaths is likely underestimated due to the limitations in data collection methods. Most fatalities occur outside of hospital settings, where they are less likely to be recorded accurately. For instance, a foundational 1998 meta-analysis reported an annual death toll of 106,000 in hospitals from adverse drug effects. 

However, more thorough investigations suggest these numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. A more recent review of studies between 2008 and 2011 estimated that the number of drug deaths in US hospitals had risen to over 400,000 annually.

Specific Risks of Psychiatric Medications

The risks associated with psychiatric drugs are particularly concerning. Gøtzsche points out that “for every 100 people treated with a newer neuroleptic for ten weeks, one patient is killed” This high mortality rate underscores the dangers inherent in these treatments, which are often prescribed for long-term use despite their severe side effects. Additionally, the problem of polypharmacy, prevalent in psychiatric treatment, complicates the situation further, as it significantly increases the risk of adverse effects and death.

Biases and Misreporting in Clinical Trials

Clinical trials for psychiatric drugs frequently underreport severe outcomes, including deaths. Gøtzsche reveals a troubling statistic: “Half of all deaths are missing in published trial reports.” 

One Finish study examined 70,718 community members who were recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and stated that annually, neuroleptics result in the deaths of 4-5 individuals per 100, in comparison to untreated patients.

Widespread Use and Regulatory Challenges

The pervasive use of psychiatric drugs reflects broader systemic issues, including regulatory failures. Gøtzsche criticizes the influence of pharmaceutical lobbying on drug regulations, suggesting that it has led to more permissive policies that may not adequately protect patients. He warns that many drug deaths are preventable, “above all because most of the patients who died didn’t need the drug that killed them.”


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