Is it possible that a pill prescribed by your doctor can turn you into a killer?
Over 40 million prescriptions for SSRI anti-depressants were handed out by doctors last year in the UK. Panorama reveals the devastating side effects on a tiny minority that can lead to psychosis, violence, possibly even murder.
With exclusive access to psychiatric reports, court footage and drug company data, reporter Shelley Jofre investigates the mass killings at the 2012 midnight premiere of a Batman movie in Aurora, Colorado. Twenty-four-year-old PhD student James Holmes, who had no record of violence or gun ownership, murdered 12 and injured 70.
Did the SSRI anti-depressant he had been prescribed play a part in the killings?
Panorama has uncovered other cases of murder and extreme violence which could be linked to psychosis developed after the taking of SSRIs – including a father who strangled his 11-year-old son.
Panorama asks if enough is known about this rare side effect, and if doctors are unwittingly prescribing what could be a prescription for murder.
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Two years ago, Dr Chris van Tulleken discovered we are taking more prescription drugs than ever before – a billion prescriptions a year in the UK. He worked with a GP surgery to get patients to try drug-free alternatives – with amazing results.
Now he is on a new mission – to understand why we are giving British kids over three times more medication than we were 40 years ago. As a new dad, Chris has a very personal motivation to explore the reasons behind this explosion in medication. In the series he sets about finding alternatives which might be just as, or even more, effective than drugs. He tackles the shocking rise in teens taking anti-depressants by testing if wilderness therapy can work where the drugs are failing. He investigates why parents are giving out so many over-the-counter meds when they may not be always necessary, and he helps hyperactive kids replace their drugs with mindful meditation.
He also digs deeper into the forces driving the over-medication of UK children and asks whether the drug industry itself could be playing a part in the rise. In 2016 we spent a staggering £64 million on one brand of children’s liquid paracetamol. Chris meets a self-confessed fan who reveals she has bought over 25 bottles in less than two years! As a new dad, Chris doesn’t blame vulnerable parents. His research reveals a pharmaceutical industry that helps create a culture which, he believes, encourages parents to unnecessarily use liquid paracetamol. At a family fair in Bristol, Chris creates a surprising stunt to show Britain’s parents when not to give liquid paracetamol and make sure they don’t waste their hard-earned money giving children drugs they don’t need.
One of the other areas where medication rates have increased the most is treating kids’ behavioural problems – prescription meds for ADHD have increased by 800 per cent since 2000. These drugs do help some symptoms of ADHD in the short-term, but side effects can include loss of hunger, changes in personality and stunted growth. Chris joins a group of hyperactive children as they attempt the impossible – an intense course of stillness and mindful meditation as an alternative to the meds. As the families go on transformative and emotional journeys, they discover, with poignant results, that ADHD remedies do not always have to come in a pill.
A sharp rise in strong painkiller prescriptions is partly being driven by inconsistent pain services across Wales, a leading clinician has said.
Dr Julia Lewis said the lack of alternative therapies left doctors little choice but to prescribe them, leading to dependency.