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Tuesday, 8 February, 2000, 01:52 GMT
Call to end schizophrenia drug side-effects

Newer drugs would in most cases reduce side effects

A group of leading European psychiatrists has joined the call for the wider use of newer treatments for schizophrenia - because they have fewer side-effects.

A meeting of the European First Episode Schizophrenia Network in Davos, Switzerland, heard that an estimated 170,000 young people are diagnosed with the condition throughout Europe every year.

Psychiatrists in Davos said that the use of older anti-psychotic drugs is often detrimental to the treatment of young people with schizophrenia because of their pronounced side-effects.

Professor Shon Lewis, of Manchester's Withington Hospital, told the meeting that the side-effects increased the stress of young people newly diagnosed with the disorder.

'Devastating effects'

And she said the negative effects of many of the drug therapies still in use meant that many people with the illness chose to stop taking their medication.

She said: "These side-effects can have an enormous impact on our patients.

"People experiencing their first episode of schizophrenia and coping with the devastating effects of the illness can find the side-effects of treatment a terrible burden to bear.

"These very visible movement disorders are distressing to patients and their families and inevitably draw attention to the patient at a time when they are at their most vulnerable."

The side-effects of older drugs can include extrapyramidal symptoms (EPS) - a violent tremour, similar to that experienced by Parkinsons disease sufferers - and sexual dysfunction.

Campaigners say cost is the only reason mentally ill people don't get the best drugs
Prof Lewis added: "Experiencing EPS, or indeed other side-effects typically associated with conventional anti-psychotics such as prolactin elevation leading to sexual dysfunctioning, can put patients off taking the treatment, putting them at risk of relapse.

"Anti-psychotic treatments now available, which are often better tolerated by patients.

"If a patient's first experience of anti-psychotic treatment is negative, they may well decide to stop treatment. One then runs the danger of it quickly developing into a long-term pattern of persistent non-compliance, making it extremely difficult to successfully treat their illness."

The use of newer drugs in the treatment of schizophrenia has been a matter of controversy for some time.

Mental health campaigners say that newer drugs are not used because they are more expensive.

New drugs known as atypical anti-psychotics are known to greatly reduce side effects such as shaking. The drug Seroquel, for example, has shown to give no more EPS side-effects than a controlling placebo.

Community care

Gary Hogman, of the National Schizophrenia Fellowship - which has been campaigning for the wider use of newer drugs - said that the changes in the treatment of psychiatric patients over the past two decades have made it imperative that side-effects of medication were minimized.

He said: "Since treatment has moved from a hospital-based to a community-based environment, people spend a lot more time in the community, with their families, friends and colleagues than they would have done 20 years ago.

"When care was hospital-based, the side-effects of a drug would not have been seen by the community at large.

"Now, however, the side-effects of some drug therapies will mark a person out in his or her community. And the sum total of the side-effects can be so bad that a sufferer will decide not to continue with treatment, or to go back to the doctor who prescribed it."

Mr Hogman said that it was perfectly possible, however, for a person with schizophrenia, who had the right treatment, to lead a "normal" life.

He said: "We are in contact with plenty of people who have schizophrenia, but have families and jobs.

"But mental illness is stigmatised and is not high on the political agenda for the right reasons."

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See also:
04 Jan 00 |  Health
Tailor-made schizophrenia drugs on the way
15 Nov 99 |  Health
Mentally ill could face compulsory treatment
13 Oct 99 |  Health
Warning over 'rationed' mental health drugs
13 Oct 99 |  Medical notes
Schizophrenia: The facts

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