About 10 years ago, a woman I know visited her family practitioner who noted that she was struggling with depression. There were a lot of tough things going on in her life and it was a rocky period.
The physician offered to prescribe an antidepressant. When the woman hesitated, the doctor explained: “Everyone takes them now. Most of the people you walk past in the street are on antidepressants. They’re as common as vitamins.”
“And you don’t see anything wrong with that?” the woman asked and wondered how it came about that someone without a psychiatric degree could so easily hand out scripts for psychotropic medication and how a culture could come to accept mental illness and it’s prescription band-aids as a normal way of life.
Psychotropic Drugs in America
Today, psychotropic medications are the most widely prescribed drugs in America. Prescription drugs ads bring in $643 billion worldwide, with the United States accounting for half the market. The pharmaceutical industry is the most profitable of all US businesses.
In 2008, the industry made $9.6 billion from antidepressants and $4.8 billion off of ADHD medications in America. Worldwide sales of the anti-anxiety medication, Xanax, rose 50% from 2003 to 2008: totaling $350 million.
As the common use of psychiatric medications rises, the rate of people that attempt to address the roots of their problems through psychotherapy has dropped. This is so even though prescription drugs are the cause of more deaths every year in the US than those resulting from crack cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin combined. The research that supports their effectiveness is highly suspect (antidepressants, for example may only work better than placebos 20% or less of the time), while cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has proven effective for anxiety and depressive disorders 90% of the time.
Children are regularly labeled with ADHD and bipolar disorder, drugged and formed into life-long customers. The elderly, especially in nursing homes, are drugged to make them more manageable (in 1989, more than 40% of nursing home patients were found to be drugged for mental illnesses they didn’t have). But the most frightening thing is how healthy and normal people are sold on daily doses of psychotropic medicines.
Harvard professor Frank Dattilio says, “Medication is like a cast, it doesn’t heal a broken bone, it holds it in place. Just like a cast, you don’t want to leave any medication on too long. People need to deal with their issues, whether it’s a struggle over sexual orientation, unhappiness with a career, or marital problems.”
We’re indoctrinated into taking drugs and dulling our feelings from the outset. Psychiatric prescriptions for children have increased by 50% from 1996 to 2006 and adult use has risen 73%. The US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality says that treatment for mental disorders in children made up the bulk of the money spent on them in 2006 healthcare: $8.9 billion.
Kids are diagnosed with attention deficit disorders and drugged to make them more compliant in class and more convenient for both parents and teachers. The emotional rollercoaster that naturally occurs during adolescence is quickly diagnosed as pathological. Bipolar disorder is a hugely growing childhood diagnosis, as if the normal ups and downs of life require smoothing out.
Robert Whitaker, author of Mad In America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill, says that kids are put on antidepressants or Ritalin which can trigger mania and psychosis and are then labeled with bipolar disorder and given another drug, setting them on a life path wherein they consider themselves abnormal and broken—and—that becomes the norm.
Parents have even been threatened with charges of medical neglect for refusing to cooperate with school recommendations for prescription drugs for their children.
Since 1987, Whitaker says, one in every 50 Americans today are considered disabled due to mental illness and that number increases by 150,000 every year.
What’s going on? Is there really an epidemic? Whitaker says it is a matter of increasing the market for pharmaceutical companies. We keep defining more and more behaviors and feelings as diseases and disorders to keep feeding our “sick-care” system. We have to buy in, as consumers, to the idea that all these things are wrong with us and that drugs are the quick fix for them.
Citizen journalist Mike Adams discovered that at an elementary school at which he spoke, 60% of the kids were on or had been on psychotropic drugs, two-thirds of the teachers took them regularly and 40% or more of the parents used psychiatric prescriptions.
This system pervades every aspect of our lives.
America is the only country in which pharmaceutical companies are allowed to directly market drugs to consumers. They spend over $21 billion a year on advertising and promotion because it works. Between 1999 and 2000, the 50 most advertised drugs experienced six-fold rises in sales. Patients get specific prescriptions from doctors after seeing a commercial more than 70% of the time.
Mainstream media gets most of its health news and stories pre-packaged from drug companies and the medical technology industry. They simply sub in their reporter’s faces and record the talk-over tracks.
It’s said that if you emptied Newsweek magazine of its pharmaceutical-funded articles and advertisements, you’d be left with only three pages of content. Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer purchased the entire advertising space in Time magazine’s “Future of Medicine” report.
And doctors? The malpractice business keeps doctors giving patients what they ask for and many factors conspire to keep them in the pharmaceutical loop. HMO’s prevent them from spending the kind of time they need in order to diagnose and treat emotional and mental problems without drugs.
They’re directly targeted by drug company promotions and representatives to the tune of billions of dollars spent “educating” them: $30,000 per doctor in the US!
Drug companies pay well-regarded doctors huge bonuses to promote their products to other doctors.
In 2007, Minnesota psychiatrists made $1.6 million in payments from drug manufacturers as antipsychotic prescriptions for children in the state rose by more than 9 times.
A former National Institute of Mental Health Director neglected to disclose the $1.3 million he received from drug companies to give promotional lectures to other doctors between 2000 and 2007.
Alan Schatzberg, 2009 American Psychiatric Association president, is under investigation for the financial ties he had with pharmaceutical companies when he headed a National Institutes of Health study on drugs to treat psychotic depression.
There’s a lot for doctors to keep up with in terms of the medical field. Besides industry-supported “medical education,” doctors try to find time to read medical journals. Unfortunately, these journals are also supported by the pharmaceutical industry.
Doctors are as susceptible to ads as any of us are, and drug companies deliberately exaggerate a medicine’s benefits while downplaying side effects. 60% of the journal ads violate the FDA standards for promotions but it only screens 10 to 20% of them.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) depends on pharmaceutical funds for its conferences, publications, medical education and seminars.
The information in the Physician’s Desk Reference comes directly from drug companies and 19 of the 27 psychiatrists who made up the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders issues IV and V had direct financial ties with pharmaceutical companies. These classifications contribute to $25 billion in psychotropic drug sales every year in the US.
Funding for studies is provided by drug companies themselves and suppression of negative effects and conflicting independent research is very common. Big Pharma spends millions to lobby legislators and influence laws and practices of drug-regulating agencies every year.
Psychotropics and Health
The Public Library of Science conducted a study in 2008 on the effectiveness of antidepressants. They found the prescriptions to be only a fraction more effective than placebo pills. As more research finds the effectiveness of these medications is limited, it’s also finding increasing evidence of harm.
Over the long term, anti-anxiety medications, antidepressants and stimulants like Ritalin actually worsen symptoms and cause new ones.
Psychotropic medications increase cholesterol levels, glucose levels, Parkinsonian symptoms and weight. They increase the risk of diabetes, liver problems and pancreatic disorders. Heart and respiratory problems are linked to many new psychotropic medications.
The craziest thing is that psychotropics actually cause brain malfunctions. When they were first created, psychiatrists referred to them as “chemical lobotomies.”
Antidepressants mess with the neurotransmitter system in the brain. Blocking dopamine triggers the brain to create more dopamine receptors. Raising serotonin levels causes the brain to stop producing as much serotonin naturally and lowers the number of serotonin receptors. When a person tries to stop taking the drug, the changes in receptors cause severe relapses.
Ann Blake Tracy, author of Prozac: Panacea or Pandora?, says that drugs such as Effexor, Paxil and Zoloft create brain wave patterns that resemble those of people under anesthesia or those that sleepwalk. Over the long term, they impair cognition, concentration and memory.
They’re regularly prescribed for everything from headaches to homesickness, Tracy says, even though there have been tens of thousands of reports of negative side effects to the FDA.
Professor Heather Ashton warns that the increasing use of anti-anxiety medications is a public health concern. “For one thing,” she says, which is what people regret most, “there is a breakup of family life, because you’re in sort of a daze; you don’t realize that you’re neglecting your children, or not listening to them or that you’re forgetting what they’re saying.”
These benzodiazepines often lead to impaired motor skills and memory loss. 10-20% of the people who use them become addicted. R&B singer Sean Levert died from Xanax withdrawal after being jailed in Cleveland.
And kids? Ritalin increases dopamine in the brain in the same way cocaine does. They are both methylphenidates, which were commonly used to trigger psychosis in schizophrenics in early research studies and in people who had never been psychotic before.
Antidepressants have been found to be no more effective than sugar pills for kids but 75% will experience an adverse effect such as drug-induced hostility, mania or even suicide.
These effects had all been studied since the 1970’s and yet when the kid market was opened in the early 1990’s, the FDA was reluctant to investigate it or issue warnings for a long time. That’s because at the same time, the FDA began to require that drug companies pay a fee to help fund FDA reviews of new drug applications. FDA funding began to rely on drug companies and their new drugs. In essence, the FDA became the employee of Big Pharma rather than an independent representative of the public.
There have been plenty of studies of nutritional components, supplements and natural treatments for anxiety, ADHD and depression. Because they’re natural, they can’t be patented however, and there’s no money in them for drug companies or the FDA.
There’s also no incentive for anyone to promote cognitive behavioral therapy, diet suggestions or other treatments, no matter how effective they are (exercise, for example, is just as effective and possibly more so, in the treatment of depression), because there isn’t enough immediate profit in people being well. The money turnover and the whole system depend on people being broken over the full course of their lifetimes.
The long-term costs, of course, are immeasurable. Your health truly is your greatest wealth. Taking care of the root causes of problems, whether they be mental, emotional or physical, is paramount to living life to your full potential.