A study of the effects of anti-anxiety and sleeping drugs published in the British medical Journal by researchers from the universities of Warwick, Keele, and two health trusts in the UK earlier this month have alarmed the health profession with results which are worrying to say the least.
Drugs to help people sleep and deal with anxiety are prescribed widely around the world, and are relied on by many on a regular basis. This collection of drugs, known as psychotropic medicines have already been the subject of a series of studies that have shown that they are addictive. However this study, has shown a direct link between these drugs and increase risk of early death.
The study looked at the death or mortality rates of people prescribed either anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) or hypnotic (sleep) and a control group who were not taking any prescribed medicines. Overall the records of 34,727 patients taking one of these drugs were compared to the records of 69,418 patients not taking them over a 7 and a half year period. What the researchers found was that there were 4% more deaths in the psychotropic drug taking group than in the control group over a 7 year period. The study also found that the more of these types of drugs you take the greater the risk of death becomes.
There are other issues with this collection of drugs. Studies have found that people taking these drugs are at 6 times the risk of hospitalisation due to car accidents, and also have increased risk of stroke, heart problems, birth defects, suicide and cancer.
Another issue from my perspective is that these drugs hide rather than deal with the underlying problem. Anxiety and sleep issues are largely cognitive or psychological issues which can successfully be dealt with as such, rather than reaching for what is turning out to be a quick fix. A fix that doesn't really solve the problem on a long term basis and as these studies are showing, can be dangerous.
Weich. S., (2014) Effect of anxiolytic and hypnotic drug prescriptions on mortality hazards: retrospective cohort study. BMJ 2014; 348 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g1996