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Dr Terry Lynch
Limerick-based Dr Terry Lynch, author of the controversial book Beyond Prozac says that, after media attention to the side effects of a benzodiazepine called Ativan in the late 1980s, a doctor he knew actually publicly apologised to his patients for prescribing benzodiazepines. He also says antidepressants, which are replacing benzodiazepines as the new panacea, are equally addictive and that the core of the problem is that doctors are "preoccupied" with finding a "drug" solution to mental distress:
"If people are suspected of having a biochemical problems, like a thyroid problem, or are suspected of having diabetes, they are given a blood test. But thousands of people are diagnosed as having a biochemical disorder of the brain every week, without any test to prove it.
"Doctors say these drugs correct a chemical imbalance but having studied the medical evidence, there is little proof of that. These drugs certainly change how a person feels. The older types of tranquillisers tend to sedate, while the more recent products stimulate the patients.
"A substantial number of people – I would say 20-30% – feel absolutely awful while they are on them.
"The medical profession says that antidepressants are 70% effective, but I don't believe that.
"Quite a number of people may get better on medication, but quite a number who are not on drugs get better as well.
"There have been five or six groups of drugs which were introduced in the past and were not supposed to be addictive. Those include alcohol, opium, barbiturates, amphetamines, benzodiazepines and, now I fear, anti-depressants.
"We have been very slow to recognise the addictive nature of drugs. In the past, it has taken 20 to 25 years for doctors to accept that certain drugs are addictive. There was medical proof, but doctors didn't really want to explore that.
"Over the past 50 to 60 years, the medical profession has decided to treat those sort of problems as an illness. The starting point decides the way of treatment. If it is an illness, it is treated with a drug. But if it were classified as something else, then other forms of treatment would be used.
"I feel that a lot of what is being called mental illness is an experience – human distress.
"If people aren't sleeping well, for example, there are ways of dealing with that other than a pill. I am in favour of more therapy-based treatment. A fundamental problem in medicine is that we doctors don't believe in that approach. The value of therapy is grossly underestimated. Doctors are suffering from a case of tunnel vision."
"The issues involved in the over-prescription of medicines are very serious and a more radical approach may have to be taken in the future.
"The direction of health care doesn't come from the Department of Health; it comes from doctors because they are the ones who decide which treatments are valuable and which are not.
"Patients need to be listened to and heard and they need time. But if patients were given that time, doctors would make less money."
Dr Terry Lynch is a GP who practises in Dooradoyle, Co Limerick, Ireland.
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