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Psychiatric drugs causing heart disease

As reported in a US News and World Report article, Antipsychotic drugs raise heart risk, experts warn, the number 1 cause of death among people in mental health treatment is heart disease. This heart disease is usually a result of metabolic changes brought on by the over-prescription of psychiatric drugs.

The authors of an editorial in the Feb. 19 issue of The Lancet noted that patients with severe mental illness live an average of 16 years less than people in the general population. Heart disease, not suicide, is the major cause of death in these patients and antipsychotic drugs are a factor.

These heart conditions are linked to the excessive weight gain that is often seen in patients who take the newer atypical neuroleptic psychiatric drugs developed to have fewer irritating effects than the older neuroleptic drugs.

A study published recently in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that patients who took an antipsychotic drug gained 11 to 13 pounds within six to eight weeks after they starting taking the drug.

The authors of the study on which the article is based seem to be missing the real point of the matter. Alternatives to conventional mental health treatments that use these psychiatric drugs, often to excess, need to be developed and explored if the physical health of people in mental health treatment is to improve at all.

They concluded: “Antipsychotic drugs are a clear risk to cardiometabolic health. This risk is, all too often, a necessary one. But the trade-off between mental and physical well-being is one that no patient should be forced to make. The mind-body dichotomy is both outdated and dangerous. The price of good mental health must not be a lifetime of physical illness.”

Calling the risk a necessary one the authors are downplaying the possibility of resorting to other methods of treatments besides drugs. This is unfortunate. When choice is respected, and when alternatives to conventional drug treatments are made readily available, mental health treatment has a chance to become something besides the death sentence that it currently, according to the statistics, is.

Prescription Drugs Killing Veterans of Military Service

A recent article in the New York Times dealt with the subject of polypharmacy among military and ex-military men and women. The headline says it all, For Some Troops, Powerful Drug Cocktails Have Deadly Results. An army report detailed the increase in suicide that accompanied this development.

“Prescription drug use is on the rise,” the report said, noting that medications were involved in one-third of the record 162 suicides by active-duty soldiers in 2009. An additional 101 soldiers died accidentally from the toxic mixing of prescription drugs from 2006 to 2009.

A number of soldiers killed themselves by their own hand, often considered a side effect of certain psychiatric drugs, while other soldiers over dosed on combinations of prescription drugs.

The actual number of accidental deaths from drug combinations I suspect is likely to be much higher than that attributed to drugs. Were the cause listed as “unknown”, for instance, the cause of death would not have been attributed to the drugs that could have caused it.

“I’m not a doctor, but there is something inside that tells me the fewer of these things we prescribe, the better off we’ll be,” Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the vice chief of staff of the Army who has led efforts on suicide, said in an interview.

When people in the mental health/illness system are dying on average 16 years earlier than the general population, 25 years earlier according to a 2006 study, you know you’ve got a problem. It is my hope that the alarm and the concern that has been generated by these “accidental” deaths among military and ex-military men and women might spread to some of those early deaths in the civilian population.

The problem has grown so severe in the army that the army has issued a new policy on the use of multiple medications.

“The sedation is not necessarily two plus two is four,” said Cmdr. Rosemary Malone, a Navy forensic psychiatrist. “It could be synergistic. So two plus two could be five.”

Our military and ex-military are not the only victims of polypharmacy, but in the service at least the matter is receiving some much needed attention. Sadly this attention comes too late to help those of our fighting men and women who have already died as a result of deadly combinations of prescription drugs.