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Sunday, 9 December, 2001, 12:13 GMT
Schizophrenics 'miss out on drugs'
schizophrenia brain image
Debate continues over drugs for schizophrenia
A new study suggests patients suffering extreme schizophrenia are not being prescribed a drug which could improve their mental health.

Research at the Maudsley Hospital, in London, found patients wait an average of five years before being given the atypical antipsychotic drug clozapine.

It is known to be effective when other treatments have failed.

But one in three schizophrenics fail to respond to early drug therapy, according to the study sponsored by the company that makes the drug.

Side effects

The drug clozapine could be used after three months as a way of reducing delusions and hallucinations.

Patients wait on average five years to be prescribed these drugs
But its potentially serious side effects and patients need to be regularly monitored with regular hospital visits.

This is said to deter patients and psychiatrists from using the drugs.

Mental health charities believe that in appropriate cases the benefits of the use of the drug outweighs the disadvantages.

Paul Farmer, of National Schizophrenic Fellowship (NSF), welcomed the research.

Lives transformed

He said: "This study confirms the anecdotal evidence of many hundreds of NSF families who have found it very difficult to get access to this drug."

He said the study raised questions about the drug was not more widely available.

Mr Farmer cited the case of one schizophrenic who had seen his life transformed by getting clozapine, 11 years after diagnosis.

Now the patient is out of hospital and starting an independent life.

Mr Farmer called for schizophrenics to be given a wider range of choice in their treatment.

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental health charity SANE, said: "Far from justifying the extra cost, clinicians should have to justify why they do not prescribe it early enough to prevent the damage done by older and cheaper medications."

SANE has called for the drug to be introduced earlier for patients, sometimes as a first-line treatment.

Ms Wallace said not prescribing the drug could be denying "unhappy people the right to a better life".

Opinion divided

Experts have been divided over the merits of this class of drugs.

The dispute has been whether the atypical should routinely be prescribed to someone diagnosed with schizophrenia.

The Maudsley produces its own guidance on schizophrenia treatments, which is widely used by clinicians around the country.

It has previously recommended in its guidance that all schizophrenia patients should be prescribed the atypical anti-psychotics.

The BBC's Neil Bennett
"The drug's use is endorsed by mental health charities"
Paul Farmer, UK National Schizophrenia Fellowship
"It can have a transformational effect on many people's lives"
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