Nowadays, progress – under its all possible declinations – has reached results that nobody could have ever imagined and over time its pace has only increased. Medicine above other sciences is one of the main points of reference, because these days there is a drug for everything. It seems as if we lived in the pursuit of preventing as many hypothetical diseases as possible. If a century ago it was normal for people to die from getting the flu, now the slightest discomfort makes us anxious.
It appears that most people have access to (more or less) affordable medical treatments and the related pharmaceuticals, if required by diagnosis. Nevertheless, it is a fact that we are constantly subject to a full-fledged marketing process exercised by pharmaceutical companies, who are determined to sell their product even in the absence of evidence of their effectiveness.
One of the actors who are involved in raising awareness of this issue is David Healy, an internationally respected psychiatrist and professor of psychiatry in Wales, psychopharmacologist and former Secretary of the British Association for Psychopharmacology.
As an expert in adverse effects of pharmaceutical drugs, he explains that a groundless belief is spread that meeting some of the criteria peculiar to a certain disease corresponds to the disease itself, which leads to taking medications even when not necessary. Furthermore, treatments do not always go as intended: most psychotropic drugs’ side effects are actually worse than what they are supposed to cure, threatening the person’s mental and physical wellbeing. In particular, this problem concerns the elderly, people on the autistic spectrum, with learning disabilities and mental illness.
Paradoxically, when patients or their carers report the inefficacy of a treatment, they are often not paid attention to. Drugs such as antipsychotics, antidepressants, and mood-stabilisers have become sacraments, entities that cannot be flawed. This is how much people have trust in medicine, the kind of trust pharmaceutical companies need to endure.
A further issue is the total lack of data from clinical trials for psychotropic drugs in published or unpublished studies, and the articles analysing data we have access to are usually ghostwritten or recorded under the name of researchers who never gave their consent to do so.
It is for this reason that Dr. Healy has founded the Data Based Medicine Limited,in order to make medicines safer by means of an online direct report of drug effects through the website RxIsk.org. It is possible to take a free report to find out how likely it is for a problem that someone is experiencing to be due to starting or stopping a prescription drug.
Finally, Healy underlines the need to reform the healthcare system, to make sure that patients, as the key actors to properly report on the efficacy or side effects of drugs, might be recognised their rights to contribute and actively participate in the process of treatment.