Many 1000s are sickened by psych drugs, but millions are saved? Is that a valid argument?

(Updated at end of post.)

I had an online conversation with a psychiatrist the other day. We were talking about benzo withdrawal.

His bottom-line argument against my cautions about the dangers of benzo use and withdrawal was that those who get sick are in an insignificant minority and therefore everything I said was fear-mongering. Period. The fact that many 1000s of people get sick in withdrawal compared to the millions who are “saved” means that those of us who are ill are simply to be written off as people with bad luck. Too bad, you’re sick, the miracle that is benzodiazepine helps most people.

I find this argument intriguing. He is a doctor and thinks like many doctors. He thinks like many people in fact. Democracy is actually based on such thinking. The majority rules, right?

There is something wrong with that thinking. Yeah, there is. The very notion that the minority doesn’t count is just wrong. The thing is there is much more wrong here, because it’s completely unclear we are talking about a minority at all when it comes to people who are harmed by benzodiazepines (and other psychiatric drugs in general where this argument is also often applied.)

I’m pretty much thinking out loud here today. I’m not going to make an intricate and well thought out argument of any kind. You all can do what you like with my meanderings.

I do want to say one more thing. Even if the above argument were somehow valid — those of us that get sick are a piddling in the scheme of things so we don’t really count — the fact is it’s very unclear it’s true at all. Whitaker’s studies suggest the majority of people on benzodiazepines for any length of time are sickened.

A collection of studies on Robert Whitaker’s website that show how benzodiazepines create worse havoc in the bodies of those given them:


In the early 1980s, governmental medical authorities in the United States and the United Kingdom concluded that benzodiazepines were addictive and should not be used on a long-term basis. Studies showed that people withdrawing from the drugs often experienced greatly heightened anxiety and other distressing symptoms. But if people stay on benzodiazepines, long-term use may lead to worse anxiety, cognitive impairment, and functional decline. look at links to numerous studies here

Had to highlight one of the studies here that found:

Seventy-five percent of long-term benzodiazepine users found to be “markedly ill to extremely ill . . . a great majority of the patients had significant symptomatology, in particular major depressive episodes and generalized anxiety disorder, often with marked severity and disability.” These findings “are in line with the knowledge of a lack of efficacy of benzodiazepines in depressive and most anxiety disorders.” (emphasis mine) links to studies here

For extensive interpretation of these studies as well as a look at real people in case studies buy and read Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America by Robert Whitaker

For an extensive collection of articles and information about benzodiazepine use and withdrawal on Beyond Meds look here.

UPDATE: Every now and then my husband makes a comment that is worth posting. This morning he did that again. In response to having read this post this morning he said:

 One of the many arguments against the idea that greater good negates lesser harm is that this is not in fact the principle that the pharmaceutical industry operates on. If it did, drugs like Vioxx would not get withdrawn from the market. When people drop dead from taking a drug it undermines the drug’s commercial value and exposes the manufacturer to law suits. If on the other hand the harm caused by the drug is less dramatic and harder to litigate and the commercial value can be protected, then it’s business as usual. The underlying issue therefore is economics. As for the idea that the interests of the majority always supersede those of a minority — there’s a name for that: the tyranny of the majority. Most proponents of democracy recognize that majority rule needs to be tempered in such a way that minority interests can be protected.

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