Young Danes suffering from anxiety can easily get 100 pills on a prescription from their doctor, while a study finds students at risk of psychiatric morbidity.

By Simon Vincensen

A study shows that the consumption of beta-blockers is highest for people aged 18-19. Photo: Simon Vincensen

A study shows that the consumption of beta-blockers is highest for people aged 18-19. Photo: Simon Vincensen

Like a rising number of students today, 20-year old Sandra Poulsen, a former student at Svendborg High School, used performance enhancing drugs to pass multiple exams during her time in secondary education. The drugs were administered to her on a prescription by her doctor.

After having failed her driving test a third time, Sandra Poulsen talked to her mother and decided to call her doctor. The doctor wrote a prescription for beta-blockers, which is a drug used to help people with heart diseases, and also reduces the release of norepinephrine which is released in response to stress. When Sandra went to the pharmacy to pick up the pills, she was stunned to learn she was prescribed 100 pills.

“I remember thinking: ‘What do I need 100 pills for?’ All I wanted was a little help to pass my driving test – nothing else,” says Sandra.

Medicine used for heart diseases

Beta-blockers are a drug used by doctors to treat patients with heart diseases, such as hypertension. The drug slows down heart rate meaning it beats at a slower pace, which makes it efficient for people suffering from nervousness or anxiety.

According to Anders Beich, Chairman of DSAM, Danish Corporation of General Medicine and professor at the University of Copenhagen, beta-blockers do not come in packages containing less than 100 pills. He emphasizes that beta-blockers are not dangerous and neither are the side effects.

“Doctors aren’t responsible for what the patient chooses to do with the medicine they receive,” he says.

Beich acknowledges that giving 100 beta-blockers to students isn’t optimal. He also recognizes the fact some doctors are aware of the dilemma students may find themselves in after their need for the few pills subsides. Still, he reiterates patients using beta-blockers are not at risk.

“There is nothing suggesting that beta-blockers can be dangerous for patients.”

That seems to be a matter of opinion. Jawad Haider Butt, MB, Rigshospitalet Copenhagen University Hospital performed a study on adolescents’ use of beta-blockers. The study was published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology.

“We found that consumption is highest among 18-19 year olds, and the beta-blocker use in the evaluation period is associated with an increased risk of developing depression, use of antipsychotic drugs and several suicide attempts later in life,” says Jawad H. Butt.

But beta-blockers aren’t dangerous in themselves?

“Correct. But one can imagine that some students using beta-blockers not only suffer from test anxiety, but there is something else psychologically that may underlie their anxiety,” says Jawad H. Butt.

It has proved impossible to get a comment from the Danish Minister of Health, Ellen Trane Nørby.