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Clozapine, labeled as Britain’s “most dangerous” prescription drug, has been licensed for treating schizophrenia since 1990. A Times analysis revealed that the drug is associated with nearly eight times as many reported deaths as any other high-risk medicine. Despite being prescribed to approximately 37,000 Britons annually, clozapine can lead to toxicity, manifesting symptoms such as weight gain, heart problems, and respiratory issues.

The drug’s dangers were tragically exemplified by the case of William Northcott, who passed away at 39 due to a heart attack at a mental health care home in Torbay, Devon, after years of taking clozapine. His sister, Kate Northcott Spall, expressed frustration, stating that William exhibited clear signs of clozapine toxicity, but no action was taken despite his interactions with various healthcare teams.

An interim death certificate cited “fatal arrhythmia most likely due to prescription drug toxicity” as William’s cause of death, though the family awaits a full inquest. Schizophrenia affects approximately 685,000 Britons, causing various psychological symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, and disconnection from emotions.

Clozapine, initially withdrawn in the 1970s due to immune system concerns, was reintroduced in the 1980s for treatment-resistant schizophrenic patients. Available in the UK since 1990, the drug has also been prescribed off-label for conditions like Alzheimer’s.

The Times’ analysis disclosed over 400 clozapine-related deaths reported annually to the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency in the last decade. Additionally, the agency receives around 2,400 yearly notifications of “suspected serious reactions” to the drug through its yellow card reporting scheme.

Nikki Holmes, a consultant mental health pharmacist, emphasized the tragedy of each clozapine-related death. Living with Schizophrenia noted the drug’s complex side-effect profile, requiring meticulous management, with a recognition that any adverse effects must be carefully weighed against the risk of not intervening.

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