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Schizophrenia drug “cuts death risk”

People could have been prevented from dying after developing schizophrenia if they had been prescribed the anti-psychotic drug clozapine, a new study claims.

Researchers at the University of Kuopio in Finland examined the death rates of about 67,000 schizophrenic patients in Finland against those of the general population between 1996 and 2006.

Clozapine was first introduced in the 1970s, but it was later banned after some patients suffered from a deadly side effect, where they lost white blood cells.

Despite this, the drug, which is sold generically as Clozaril, Leponex, Denzapine and Fazaclo, was brought back onto the market with strong warnings in the 1980s.

However, clozapine is only prescribed as a last resort in most developed countries if patients have already tried two other drugs, but are not seeing any results.

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The findings of the study, published in the Lancet journal, show that patients on clozapine had the lowest risk of dying, compared with other patients with schizophrenia.

James MacCabe, a consultant psychiatrist at the National Psychosis Unit at South London and Maudsley Hospital, said the research was “striking and shocking.”

He said: “There is now a case to be made for revising the guidelines to make clozapine available to more patients.”

Copyright Press Association 2009

The Lancet, doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(09)60742-X