Unofficial dementia drugs kill 1,800 each year


Friday 13th November, 2009

Powerful anti-psychotic drugs prescribed to dementia patients are causing 1,800 deaths per year, according to a Government review.

Around 145,000 patients are being wrongly prescribed the drugs and only 36,000 of the total 180,000 being prescribed anti-psychotics may derive any benefit from them.

The Government review comes after patients’ groups complained about the use of a ‘chemical cosh’ to suppress anxiety and distress in people with dementia.

Care Services Minister Phil Hope has said he’ll appoint a national clinical director for dementia to conduct an audit of doctors who prescribe the drugs. The minister also promised more use of psychological therapies for dementia rather than a reliance on medication.

Anti-psychotic drugs are given unofficially when families or care homes are having difficulties coping with dementia relatives or patients. The drugs are licensed for treatment of schizophrenia and guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence state they should only be used when there is a risk to the individual or others and all other methods have been tried, and then for only three months.

Dementia affects around 700,000 people in Britain and the numbers could double over the next 30 years due to an ageing population. The cost of treating the condition is about £17 billion per year.

Mr Hope said that routinely prescribing anti-psychotic drugs was an unacceptable practise.

“More than half of people with dementia will experience agitation or aggression at some point, but Nice guidance is clear — anti-psychotics should only be given when this is really necessary,” he said.

“We know there are situations where anti-psychotic drug use is necessary — we’re not calling for a ban, but we do want to see a significant reduction in use.”

The Government will attempt to introduce targets for health authorities to help reduce the use of drug treatments and provide better access to psychological therapies. An estimated £55 million could be saved by reducing use of anti-psychotics which could be put towards improved care and training.

Neil Hunt, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society has called the deaths from anti-psychotic drugs a scandal and welcomes the long-awaited review into the problem.

“There is a resources issue. Dementia care has not had enough money from the whole system. But the money that is there is not always being used effectively,” he said.

“There is a need for those who are providing care and regulating care to define what good practice looks like.”

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