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Licence to kill

We need to find out why drugs with lethal side effects have been used to treat dementia patients

By Jerome Burne   April 2010

After Harold Shipman was convicted in 2000 of murdering 15 of his patients with an overdose of morphine, a two-year inquiry recommended big changes to the legal framework governing healthcare and medicine. Yet when, in November 2009, a report revealed that certain legally prescribed drugs were killing 1,800 elderly people with dementia annually and causing 1,600 strokes, the response was very different.

The drugs in question are powerful tranquilisers known as antipsychotics, designed to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. They are also used on dementia patients to control difficult behaviour such as agitation, aggression and sleep disturbance. Their side effects…

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