Panorama: Taken on Trust
BBC One, Sunday, 3 October 2004 at 22:15 BST
We take it on trust that the drugs our doctors prescribe are safe and effective.
But this special investigation exposes huge failings in the system of medicines regulation that is supposed to monitor drug safety. It reveals how patients' lives have been put at risk as a result.
Panorama takes a unique journey inside the secret world of the medicines regulator and discovers that it's been sitting on crucial safety information about one of Britain's most widely-prescribed antidepressants for over a decade.
For the last two years, Panorama has been investigating claims that Seroxat can cause addiction, self-harm, aggression and even suicide.
The medicines regulator always denied there was evidence to back up these claims. But now the programme reveals that, not only is the evidence there, it's been lying dormant in the regulator's archive for at least 13 years.
One insider tells the programme: "I have little confidence that the drugs they're licensing day by day are being licensed in a way that I would feel appropriate and - I have very little confidence in drugs that have been regulated in the past."
What the programme uncovers has led to some of the most influential names in medicine asking if we're being told the truth about the pills that we take.
Dr Mike Shooter, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, says: "It has serious implications for the whole of psychiatry, it has serious implications for the whole of medicine."
"I think a few years down the line we are going to be talking about this with many more sorts of medication."
Forty years after the thalidomide tragedy prompted the setting up of drug safety monitoring, the regulator is accused of letting down the patients it's supposed to be there to protect.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised by tonight's programme and want to be put in contact with an organisation that can provide information and support, you can call the BBC Action Line.
It is recommended that you do not stop taking any medication before consulting with a doctor.
The Action Line no is: 08000 688 456
The Action Line is open from 7am until midnight everyday. When the Action Line is out of hours, or when all advisors are busy on other calls, callers will be offered details of other relevant organisations.
Reporter: Shelley Jofre
Producer: Andy Bell
Associate Producer: Eleanor Plowden
Editor: Mike Robinson
Deputy Editors: Andrew Bell, Frank Simmonds