McMaster study warns against antidepressant use

Medical malpractice lawyers ensure that Canadians are protected from the negligence of medical service providers, including pharmaceutical manufacturers. When a medication or consumer medical product causes harm, a medical malpractice lawyer may be asked to seek compensation for the injured individual.

Canadian doctors prescribe a lot of antidepressants. According to a 2013 study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, as much as nine per cent of the population may be prescribed antidepressants at any given time, the third highest consumption rate in the developed world behind only Iceland and Australia. In 2015 alone, more than 50 million prescriptions were filled coast to coast.

To be sure, antidepressants save lives by providing much-needed relief for people experiencing severe depression or suicidal thoughts. However, as the National Post reported in September, psychiatrists and family doctors alike “have been accused by some … of being overly liberal with the use of the mood-altering pills,” prescribing the medication to treat illnesses from mild depression to insomnia to chronic pain. If these aggressive prescribing methods were to result in injury or illness, a medical malpractice lawyer might have grounds to file a personal injury claim. Recent research from McMaster University in Hamilton suggests this scenario is fairly common.

“Most people should not be given these drugs because it looks like, at least in the general population samples, they’re doing more harm than good,” Paul Andrews, the study’s lead author and an evolutionary biologist and associate professor at McMaster, told the Post.

Andrews’ research consisted of a meta-analysis of 16 studies involving close to 380,000 people, some who used antidepressants and some who did not. The research found that antidepressant users had a 33 per cent higher risk of death and 14 per cent higher risk of stroke or heart attack than people who did not use the medication. The study controlled for the higher risk of death generally affiliated with depression.

According to the McMaster study, antidepressant use poses a risk due to the medications’ impact on platelets, small cells that exist in the body’s bloodstream to form clots and stem bleeding. Platelets rely on the chemical serotonin to function properly, and many antidepressants prevent the body’s organs from absorbing serotonin. Thus, antidepressants may act as a de facto blood thinner, making it possible “for a normal person to have increased risk of stroke, or upper GI (gastrointestinal) bleeding or other sorts of abnormal bleeding events that could be harmful or deadly,” Andrews said.

Andrews’ team isn’t alone in linking antidepressant use to negative health outcomes. In January, the Post reported on a separate study which found that antidepressants “are associated with a twofold increase in the odds of developing some forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s.”

Psychiatric and psychopharmacological experts have greeted Andrews’ and other studies criticizing the use of antidepressants with measured scepticism. Some admitted that the effects of long-term antidepressant use are not yet known, while others cautioned that individual studies are not cause for alarm.

If you have experienced negative outcomes as a result of being prescribed antidepressants, contact a Will Davidson LLP medical malpractice lawyer today to set up a free consultation. Our team can determine whether you have the right to launch a lawsuit and help you on your road to recovery.

Should dementia patients be prescribed antipsychotic medications?

As the Canadian and global populations grow older, healthcare workers are eagerly seeking solutions to prevalent age-related health problems. Chief among those is dementia, a disease which affects millions of people around the world, and which today remains incurable.

Scientists do not fully understand what causes dementia, which makes it a frustrating and complicated ailment to treat. Many long-term care facilities and other healthcare providers resort to antipsychotic medications to mitigate severe symptoms like aggression, agitation, and hallucinations and delusions. In some cases, this is an entirely appropriate course of action. Antipsychotics were developed to treat people with mental illnesses, like schizophrenia, that produce hallucinations; dementia patients with similar symptoms may benefit from such a treatment.

But using antipsychotics to treat more common dementia symptoms, like aggressive and agitated behaviour, can be dangerous to patients’ health and can lead to serious lasting harm. In some situations, injuries resulting from the use of antipsychotic medications can even lead to a medication error lawsuit. If one of your loved ones has suffered an injury stemming from the use of antipsychotics, contact Will Davidson LLP today to speak with a medication error lawyer.

Dangers of antipsychotics

According to the Alzheimer’s Society in Great Britain, two thirds of prescriptions for antipsychotics are unnecessary or inappropriate. Especially when used for longer than 12 weeks, side effects of antipsychotic use may include: sedation, shakiness and unsteadiness, falls, blood clots, stroke, and the worsening of dementia symptoms.

Prolonged antipsychotic use has also been linked to higher mortality rates for people with dementia living at long-term care facilities.

Many of these side effects, from serious falls to stroke, could be the basis of a medication error lawsuit. Thankfully, some alternatives to antipsychotics exist which pose a less significant risk of injury.

Preventative Medications

Although there is no cure for dementia, some medications can help slow the onset of its symptoms. The United States Food and Drug Administration has approved cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine to ease certain cognitive symptoms, including memory loss, confusion, and issues with thinking and reasoning.

These medications are limited in their effectiveness: as the disease progresses, cognitive symptoms will worsen, regardless of treatment.

Certain alternative treatments, like coconut oil and some fatty acids, have shown some promise in mitigating the symptoms of dementia, but these have not been widely accepted by the medical community, and are not endorsed by regulatory bodies. At very least, these medications seem to pose less threat to patients’ health than antipsychotics, and prescribing them could help healthcare providers avoid a medication error lawsuit.


Perhaps the most effective approach to delaying the onset of dementia is making healthy lifestyle choices. Maintaining an active social life, engaging in mental and physical exercise, and not smoking have all been linked to better mental health in later life.

We can help

If a member of your family has suffered an injury due to being prescribed antipsychotic medication, you may have grounds for a medication error lawsuit. Contact the personal injury lawyers at Will Davidson LLP today for a no-obligation consultation about the viability of your case.

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