The science is settled.
Have you heard this proclamation before about a controversial medical topic?
I have, and it makes me smile. Or maybe smirk. It feels almost like my toddler frothing up a tantrum and yelling with a furrowed brow, when she knows, deep down, that she’s backed herself into a corner.
We’ve heard it about the benign nature of GMOs & glyphosate, about vaccine safety and efficacy, about the danger of homebirth or the necessity of ultrasound. It is dangerous to be certain, let alone so aggressively and dismissively certain about science, which, by definition is a process rather than a destination.
Psychiatry, in particular, has trafficked in proclamation-based medicine, and has fast become the proving ground for corporate interests. With no objective tests preceding diagnosis and prescription of habit-forming medications, the field of psychiatry is a bonanza for the pharmaceutical industry.
You almost have to hand it to these corporations for their largely unfettered success in supporting the financial interests of their shareholders. The job of Big Pharma is not to care for you, protect your wellness, or heal your children. The job of Big Pharma is to win – win at the game of unbridled capitalism – and they have.
But, The Tide May Be Turning
In the last few weeks alone, three articles crossed my desk that reinforce my faith in the ultimate correction that will take place.
- On the esteemed platform.com, voices are echoing, discussing the turning tide and loss of confidence in psychiatry. There is a growing loss of faith in the field on the part of other specialists, a lack of interest in pursuit of the specialty by current medical students, and dissent in the ranks, exemplified by the likes of Allen Frances, former DSM taskforce chair. It’s no longer just the rants of the fringe alternative folks, it’s a rumble from inside the fortress.
- With 7% of boys and 5% of girls medicated with psychotropics, and 10,000 toddlers under 3 prescribed stimulants, it is time to ask ourselves, what are we doing to our children? We need to look no further than the 2001 Study 329, a ghostwritten, data-manipulated propaganda tool designed to promote the prescription of SSRIs to children. Eleven years after its publication, Glaxo Smith Kline was ordered to pay a 3 billion dollar fine (part of the largest health care fraud settlement in US history) for misrepresenting evidence of increased suicidality in treated children (11 of those treated engaged in suicidal behavior vs 1 in the placebo group), in addition to falsely representing Paxil as outperforming placebo. This lack of efficacy was reflected in the results of two other unpublished GSK studies – 377 and 701. The results of the reanalysis of data by independent researchers has now been published in the British Journal of Medicine, asserting the opposite conclusion to that papered by industry. Dr. David Healy has dedicated a website to the exposure of this crime, stating:“Thousands of North American children and adolescents were seriously harmed by taking SSRIs like Paxil. Many died. Neither doctors nor parents had the information they needed, and the FDA only reluctantly issued the appropriate warnings, as might be expected from a regulator that has “corporate partnership” in its mandate.”Incredibly, study 329 has not been retracted.
- Last but not least is Johnson & Johnson, the company that markets the iconic but carcinogenic baby wash for your newborn, has now been “caught” looking at a multibillion dollar settlement for illegally marketing Risperdal to the elderly, to children, and hiding risks of male breast growth. In this incredible series that reads like a crime novel, Steven Brill details J&J’s journey with Risperdal, a mainstay of my Bellevue training, and the host of many a 5-star dinner during my weary days as a resident. A particularly shocking detail he recounts, is that:“In 2003, the company had a “back to school” marketing campaign for Risperdal, and a manager discussed including ‘lollipops and small toys’ in sample packages.”Because of its sordid history of enmeshment with industry, I bring a skeptical eye to the FDA’s corrective efforts in this case. I have to wonder if these minor scoldings are but a charade-like show of force to maintain the confidence of the populace in the FDA’s protective efforts. Either way, paying billions in criminal fees appears to simply be the “cost of doing business”.Dr. Peter Gotzsche, head of the Nordic Cochrane Collaboration, one of the few research outlets free from industry influence, has come out strongly on the lack of efficacy and safety of psychiatric medication. He also has analyzed the behavior of pharmaceutical giants comparing it to that of organized crime. He speaks clearly about his conclusions, on video, in his book, and in interviews, stating:“Our citizens would be far better off if we removed all the psychotropic drugs from the market…It is inescapable that their availability creates more harm than good.”What are we to do with all of this information? We must start to get more comfortable with these truths:
- The pharmaceutical industry uses fear to engage customers.
- It relies on a one-pill-one-ill model that ignores root causes and never asks why a given patient is suffering.
- It overpromises and underdelivers. It may be a wonderful idea to have a pill that sweeps symptoms away without leaving wreckage in its wake. This is not reality. It is not supported by the literature, and is why I have let go of any application of psychotropics. They don’t do what they say they do and they exact harm in the process.
- There is an easier (ultimately) way to help, to heal, and to resolve psychiatric suffering. It involves looking at the person in their journey, in their environment, and in their bodies.
Because until there can be oversight that engages the precautionary principle, is truly regulatory, and is free from industry influence, we must look upon pharmaceutical claims with appropriate discernment. They have won your trust because they use doctors as their messengers, and because we still want to believe in the white-coated religion of medicine. It’s time to shift our beliefs back where they belong: to the native intelligence of a body that wants to heal when supported, and a mind that will be free once it is.