British Medical Journal Study: Your Psych Meds Can Kill You
    By Richard Taite | April 15th 2014 07:12 AM | 9 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments

    Sleep aids are a more than $2 billion per year industry. Forecasts predict that global prescriptions for anti-anxiety medicines will reach $5.9 billion per year by 2017.

    But are these drugs safe?

    Studies show how easy it is to get hooked and a new study just published in the British Medical Journal shows that anti-anxiety and sleep drugs can kill you.

    Using data from the prescription records of primary care doctors, the study compared 34,727 patients prescribed anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) or hypnotic (sleep) drugs to 69,418 people not prescribed these drugs. Over 90 percent of the prescribed drugs were benzodiazepines or Z-drugs, which you might know by brand names like Xanax, Valium, Lunesta, Ambien and many more.

    The study found that over the average 7.6-year follow-up period, for every 100 people followed there were about 4 more deaths in the prescription drug group than in the control group.

    As you can imagine, the big challenge in this study was pulling out the influence of all the other things that might matter. For example, was the prescription drug group more likely to have other challenges that increased their chance of death? Researchers did their best, controlling for factors like “sex, age at study entry, sleep disorders, anxiety disorders, other psychiatric disorders, medical morbidity, and prescriptions for non-study drugs.” They also controlled for socioeconomic status, alcohol and smoking.

    The results remained: The 4-per-100 death increase doubled the chance of death in the prescription drug group compared to controls. And the more prescription drugs a person took during the study, the greater their chance of death increased – the more drugs, the more morbidity.

    The thing is, this study is just one in a long line of research showing the dangers of psychotropic medicines prescribed for anxiety, sleep, depression and a host of other mental health challenges. For example, even though you’re told not to drive, people prescribed these medicines have more than six times the risk of hospitalization due to traffic accident in the two weeks after the prescription is first filled. And, “Even at modest doses...treatment with benzodiazepines appears to increase the risk of hip fracture,” writes an article in the American Journal of Psychiatry. The list of unintended risks of psychotropic medications goes on to include seizure, birth defects, heart rate variability, suicide, and even cancer.

    Not to mention addiction. Absolutely every day at my center, we treat addictions to prescription anti-anxiety and sleep medications. In addition to the health consequences of these drugs, if left untreated, dependence has the potential to rob people of relationships, careers and their sense of self. Addiction is a heartbreaking consequence of these drugs and is largely overlooked by the medical model that is designed to treat symptoms instead of diseases – have a fever? Take a Tylenol. Have trouble sleeping? Take an Ambien.

    The fact is that at best psychotropic medications mask the symptoms of an underlying illness. Then when a person stops taking these dangerous drugs to steer clear of the health or mental health consequences, the symptoms often return.

    Instead, this most recent article in the British Medical Journal and the hundreds of others add weight to a scale that is already tipped far in favor of a better way: psychotherapeutic techniques that heal the root causes of anxiety or sleep issues and not drugs that mask their symptoms are the best way to treat addiction and mental health challenges.

    In the great an ongoing debate of prescriptions versus holistic therapies, this study adds yet more support to the essential truth of drug-free treatment.


    Richard Taite is founder and CEO of Cliffside Malibu, offering evidence-based, individualized addiction treatment based on the Stages of Change model. He is also coauthor with Constance Scharff of the book Ending Addiction for Good.

    Image: Flickr via Bill Brooks, cc license


    I hate to break it to you but a quick search on even Wikipedia will show that taking benzodiazepines should be short term. The fact that there's a study to prove that pumping your body full of narcotics can give you side effects that are already clearly state on the warning labels, books, and Internet seems a bit ludicrous to me. In my opinion the article should have focused more on how ready doctors are to prescribe these medications to patients that clearly do not need them. Patients aka customers are demanding these feel good drugs and they abuse them because they feel great. The problem is that the brain gets used to these chemicals to function and when you come off of them you have withdrawals and become disfuntional. I agree with holistic therapy for all and with medicating those who truly are in pain, subjected to severe injuries and or illnesses.

    If you can not sleep because you have to much anxiety from world related issues then I'm sorry to say that this is social issue and not a medical one. Realize that the medication that will help you deal with the stress of life will end up killing you. That said I don't judge you as I have love and compassion for all peoples suffering through life's many tribulations. As cliche as it sounds just say no to drugs, you will never understand how bad they are until you actually are a patient who needs them to survive. Blessings to all. Thanks for the read.

    Josh Bloom
    Nowhere in my comment did I say anything either positive or negative about benzodiazepines. I simply said that this study is so flawed that their conclusion is meaningless. 

    If you think this is wrong, I would like to know why.
    Josh Bloom
    Mr. Bloom thanks for your reply. It made more sense to me at least, than your whole article. The title is a bit misleading since it makes it sound as if you are taking a side. Am I to understand that you remain ambiguous on anything positive or negative about benzodiazepines because the study is meaningless? If so I encourage you to make your own studies, research, and experience so that you may have a better personal understanding of how unique each and every case can truly be. All studies have margins of errors yet they can be dissected and used as guidelines to further educate oneself. In the end I feel as though I have misunderstood your article Mr. Bloom, I must have skipped the whole part in the article where you say the study was useless, you focused mainly on negative effects and finished with holistic therapy while vaguely not choosing a side as you pointed out. Please don't be upset, I suppose you wrote this like someone who reports news about inconclusive studies yet only focuses on the negative points. Two sides to every story Mr. Bloom, it's all I'm saying.

    Thanks for the read, By the way your article states plenty of negative things about benzodiazepines, unless the number of times you wrote about related death symptoms don't count.

    Josh Bloom
    You might want to check the author of the article. It wasn't me.
    Josh Bloom
    Josh Bloom
    This study is just terrible.A look at Table 3 is one of several reasons, but by far the worst.
    The sleep aids did not kill the patients. The sicker patients used more sleep aids.
    How such an obvious case of mangled cause and effect could be published is astonishing.

    The authors admit this in the explanation of Table 3:
    "Patients who were prescribed study drugs were more likely than controls to be current smokers and to have higher rates of all forms of physical morbidity, most notably cancer and respiratory disorders."

    Here is the accurate title of the paper: "Sick people die more often than healthy people."

    Playing professional basketball does not make you tall.

    These guys should be ashamed of themselves.

    Josh Bloom
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    This is definitely a very interesting subject where I feel that opposing black and white viewpoints are not very helpful as there are so many shades of grey when regarding the usefulness of different prescription drugs in many different situations, for many different people from many different walks of life and at many different stages in their lives. 

    I have to agree with Josh when he says 'sick people die more often than healthy people' but then sick people often feel that they need help or treatment and the wholistic or therapeutic approach that Richard is suggesting has got to be a good idea for many sick people. Sticking a band aid on a symptom does not usually address or cure the cause. If it was just a one-off or short-term event that would be fine but creating a dependency on using a band aid and not addressing or curing the ongoing long-term cause of the illness is only good for band aid manufacturers and their retail outlets and when the band aid itself starts to cause even more debilitating symptoms then it has to be good to look for alternative more wholistic treatments and therapies and try to end any unnecessary or inadvertent drug dependency, addiction and costs.

    I work as a volunteer on a crisis telephone line and we receive many phone calls from people who are living alone and often suffering terrible anxiety, panic attacks and depression in the mornings, while they are waiting for their anti-anxiety, anti-psychotic or anti-depressant medication to take effect. They often describe debilitating side effects from these drugs such as weight gain, slurred speech, blurred vision, dry mouths, lethargy, memory problems and the inability the think clearly or feel motivated to go out and enjoy and participate in ordinary every day activities that many of us just take for granted. Naturally in these sort of situations the person's overall health is likely to be suffering and 'sick people die more often than healthy people'.

    So who is benefiting from millions of people living their lives like this? Presumably the person taking the medication has to be taking it for a reason? Often they simply say that the doctor prescribed the medication for them years ago and if they complain about unpleasant side effects then the doctor simply prescribes a new drug  which often brings with it new side-effects. Few of them are getting any other therapy after possibly being labelled with a mental disorder or psychological condition. Without a doubt many of these people are psychologically and/or physically addicted to their prescription drugs and they are naturally scared that without these drugs their original symptoms would reappear and may even be much worse because of the additional drug withdrawal symptoms. 

    It worries me that so many people who were once experiencing depression, anxiety or sleeplessness for perfectly valid reasons such as grief for the loss of a loved one, anxiety from loneliness, stress, bullying or financial problems or even post traumatic stress or trauma from negative life experiences and who desperately needed therapy and counselling to help them address these problems and then identify realistic future goals and strategies for overcoming past obstacles and achieving their goals and rediscovering their love of life are instead living indefinitely in an often socially isolated, drug befuddled and chemically addicted state alone and with no hope of recovery. This naturally makes them much more prone to desperate acts of self-harm as cries for help that can unfortunately be fatal

    This article is reporting on very large studies of prescription drugs from primary care doctors 'comparing 34,727 patients prescribed anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) or hypnotic (sleep) drugs to 69,418 people not prescribed these drugs. Over 90 percent of the prescribed drugs were benzodiazepines or Z-drugs, which you might know by brand names like Xanax, Valium, Lunesta, Ambien and many more'. So I think its definitely an area that needs a lot more study and that black and white conclusions and condemnations have no place here. 

    Drugs, like band aids, are good for some people in the short term and even in the long term but for others with illnesses and symptoms from a cause that could be better treated and even cured these prescription drugs like band aids are often simply masking the symptoms, perpetuating the misery and making a lot of money for people and companies with very vested interests.

    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at
    Josh Bloom
    Again, I'm not saying a word about the risks or benefits of sleep aids or sedatives.
    I'm just saying that it is impossible to say that these drugs will make more people die because the study populations are self-selecting. If you study whether sicker people who take sleep aids or eat popcorn die sooner than healthier people, you will get the same result.  Am I wrong?
    Josh Bloom
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    No you are right :)
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at
    It seems a bit callous and risky headlining this article as you have. There are many truly sick individuals who will give up taking their medications upon hearing such a headline even though the "psych" medications referred to here are specifically anxiolytic or hypnotic and this article has nothing to do with antipsychotics. That should have been made clear in the headline and it was not.