Research Article

Drugs prescribed for self poisoners.

Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1985; 290 doi: (Published 01 June 1985) Cite this as: Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1985;290:1633
  1. L F Prescott,
  2. M S Highley


    Of 230 adults admitted for self poisoning over two months, 153 (67%) had previously been taking a total of 309 prescribed drugs. Of these patients, 119 (78%) had been given psychotropic drugs (usually benzodiazepines), 81 (53%) obtained them on repeat prescription, and 47 (31%) had been prescribed multiple psychotropic drugs, often in seemingly illogical combinations. The use of these drugs increased progressively with age and most patients took the same drugs in overdosage as they had been prescribed. Psychotropic drugs were prescribed for more than a third of patients with no psychiatric illness and a normal personality, nearly half of those with existing alcohol or drug abuse problems, and for most of the unemployed. Fewer than a third of the patients suffering from depression were prescribed antidepressants but half had been given benzodiazepines and other potentially depressing drugs. Psychotropic drug use, psychotropic polypharmacy, and the repeat prescribing of these drugs were strongly associated with repeated overdosage and, under certain circumstances, with personality disorder, alcohol or drug abuse, unemployment, and conflict with the law. In the long term psychotropic drugs are unlikely to benefit most self poisoners, and they may do positive harm by inducing apathy and depression and predisposing to self poisoning. The incidence of self poisoning (and repeat overdosage in particular) might be reduced by more care and restraint in the prescribing of these drugs.