France’s drug addiction: 1 in 3 on psychotropic medication

Photo: AFP

France’s love of anti-depressants, sleeping pills and other prescription medication has reached new heights according to figures showing one in three adults in the country use some form of psychotropic drug.


A study by France’s National Drug Safety Agency (ANSM) found that 32 percent of French people used such medications in 2013, either on a regular or occasional basis, French daily Le Parisien reported Tuesday.

France has long been known as having a high prescription drug use rate – numerous studies have put France among the world’s top consumers of antidepressants, for example – but these latest figures have sparked fresh warnings by health experts over the nation’s pill-popping habit.

Professor Bernard Begaud, an expert in medication risk assessment, told Le Parisien it was “incomprehensible” that nothing has been done to lower the rate of psychoactive drug use in France.

“It is a matter of urgency because there is a real public health problem,” he added.

Many psychotropic drugs carry the risk of severe side effects. Certain antidepressants, for example, are known to cause dangerously high blood pressure, suicidal thoughts and an increased risk of developing diabetes.

“The level of consummation [of psychotropic drugs] remains important,” said the ANSM. “These drugs are too often prescribed and over too long a duration. Previously established health risks remain while new risks are emerging,” it warned.

A number of reasons have been put forward for France’s heavy use of psychotropic drugs, from apparently high rates of depression to overzealousness by doctors to prescribe medication.

Another study released this week, carried out by Ipsos on behalf of the French Hospital Federation, found that 84 percent of patients polled said that doctors often hand out unnecessary prescriptions.

Mixing medications

But it is not just the drugs themselves that are a cause for concern, it is also the way they are used by patients, particularly when combined with other medications.

A study by carried out by the company Celtipharm, also cited by Le Parisien, found that 230,000 French people were risking their health each month by mixing psychotropic drugs with other, non-compatible medication.

“It is in France that psychotropic drugs are the most heavily consumed, but also the most misused,” said Professor Begaud.

He said lack of monitoring of prescription rates as well as inadequate doctor training was to blame.

“The public, too, must be informed that no, these drugs are not trivial,” he added.

France is not the only country to suffer from a growing dependence on prescription medication, however.

A study published last year found that between 1995 and 2009 the use of antidepressants across Europe increased by almost 20 percent per year on average.

The highest increase, of 59 percent per year, was in Sweden, while France saw a relatively modest rise of just five percent.

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