Studies show adverse side effects in Schizophrenia drugs
The November 2010 issue of Nature reported that several large
pharmaceutical companies, including AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline,
have chosen to pull out of the psychiatric pharmacology in the treatment
of schizophrenia. The reason is obvious, according to Nature author,
Abbott: The first generation of schizophrenia drugs (manufactured in the
1950s) and the second generation (manufactured in the 1990s) have not
addressed the adverse side effects of antipsychotic drugs on patients.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes schizophrenia as a mental
disorder that interferes with a person's ability to identify what is
real. A person affected with this disorder is not able to manage
emotions, cognition, as well as communication. Symptoms could appear in
early adolescence as "early flickers of paranoia, hypersensitivity, and
hallucination" (Dobbs, 2010). According to WHO, schizophrenia is usually
characterized by disruptions in the most fundamental human attributes
such as perception, language, thought, emotion, and sense of self. In
2001, WHO estimated that schizophrenia affects 7 per thousand of the
adult population (the equivalent of 24 million worldwide), mostly
between 15 to 35 years old.
The same November 2010 issue of Nature discussed about a US clinical
trial involving nearly 1,500 patients in 57 clinical sites, and at a
cost of US$43 million. This trial examined an array of second generation
antipsychotic drugs to determine if they were better than the first
generation antipsychotic drugs. The clinical trial spanned from
2001-2005. When the results of the unblinded trial were released in
2005, the psychiatric community and pharmacological companies were
astounded: the findings suggest that the new drugs were barely different
from the old ones.
Although both generations of anti-psychotic drugs were reported to
control hallucinations and delusions, patients taking the second
generation drugs remained confused, withdrawn, and devoid of drive, the
same side effects observed in the first generation drugs. The result of
this clinical trial, according to psychiatrist Jeffrey Lieberman, is
frustrating and humbling for the research community and it had a
chilling effect on the pharmaceutical industry (Abbott, 2010).
A systematic review in 2003 by Bagnall, et al., examined the
effectiveness, safety, and cost-effectiveness of atypical antipsychotic
drugs used to treat schizophrenia. The review consisted of 171
randomized, controlled trials, of which 28 were from drug manufacturers.
Although the review showed that atypical drugs (i.e., risperidone,
amisulpride, olanzipine, and clozapine) were seen to be more effective
in relieving symptoms of schizophrenia than typical ones, it nonetheless
found the following common side-effects: agitation, movement disorders,
impotence, dry mouth, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, and weight gain.
The same systematic review examined the safety of these drugs and some
of the following adverse reactions were found: death, malignant
syndrome, seizures, hepatic dysfunction, and cardiac problems.
A systematic review, involving the application of scientific strategies
to limit bias, is a synthesis of relevant studies that address specific
clinical questions. Reviews of this kind are considered as the best
evidence for making clinical decisions.
The findings of the 2001-2005 US clinical trial and the systematic
review of Bagnall, et al. point to the ineffectiveness of anti-psychotic
drugs in dealing with schizophrenia. Considering that up to 1% of the
world's population is estimated to be affected by this disorder,
schizophrenia represents a huge market for any pharmaceutical. However,
as research have shown, the pharmaceutical industries have done little
in 50 years to address the adverse side-effects that patients have
experienced from antipsychotic drugs .
Abbott, A. (11 November, 2010). The drug deadlock. Nature, 468, 158-159.
Bagnall, A. M., Jones, L., Ginnelly, L., Lewis, R., Glanville, J.,
Gibody, S.,...Kleijnen, J. (2003). A systematic review of atypical
antipsychotic drugs in schizophenia (Executive Summary). Health
Technology Assessment, 7(13).
Dobbs, D. (11 November, 2010). The making of a troubled mind. Nature, 468, 154-156.
WHO. Schizophrenia. Retrieved from
About the author
Amy Chaves is a researcher, teacher, counsellor and writer. She has a
Ph.D. in Counselling Psychology from the University of Calgary, Alberta,
Canada. She is currently writing a book on connectedness and writes
blogs in her website, which can be viewed at