Author and mental health campaigner Peter Lehmann also said people who would be perfectly normal without medication were remaining in a “toxic state” because of constant medication.
Speaking at a major conference in University College Cork yesterday on the overuse of medications, Mr Lehman told an audience of 400 people that, in general, people who are prescribed anti-psychotic drugs on a long-term basis are not informed about the possibility of illness such as diabetes, breast cancer and other risks.
Mr Lehmann, who has campaigned on the issue since the 1970s, called this an “illegal situation”, as there is no informed consent, and the lack of knowledge prevents people from looking out for early warning signs of medical side-effects.
He said there is now extensive research to show that coming off such medications is the same as withdrawing from morphine-based drugs or alcohol.
The conference, Medicating Human Distress, was organised by the School of Nursing and Midwifery and the School of Applied Social Studies, along with campaign group Critical Voices Network of Ireland.
Former chief psychiatrist of the eastern health board, Dr Ivor Browne, who was attending the talk, said that, for the first time in 50 years, there seems to be a wind of change.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Dr Browne, now a counselling psychotherapist, said there is so much evidence about the dangers of psychiatric drugs that it cannot be ignored.
“I think it is going to force change, but that means breaking the power that big pharma has over doctors who get perks for prescribing the drugs,” Dr Browne said.
“Psychiatry has all the power and unless we get this message through to them it is very difficult to see how things will change. But I feel sorry for psychiatrists because all they can do is prescribe medication, but there is an urgent need to look at different ways of doing things.
“You do find the odd psychiatrist who is willing to engage and I am trying to talk to them,” he said.
“We don’t have alternatives in place for people and drugs are damaging long-term. We need to treat people as humans and not patients who have a long term sickness. And we shouldn’t call what we do ‘treatment’. There is no way I can say to a person ‘I will treat you and make you better’. I can only guide the person. They themselves have to do the work.”
Dr Browne said 60%-80% of his work is helping people to slowly get off drugs. “At the moment I can’t keep up with the numbers of people trying to come and see me.