Selling Sickness 2013

antidepressants and screenings. have we really made any progress?

I can’t believe its my 75th trip out to Washington DC since Woody died in August 2003. As I was preparing for this trip, I was reflecting on what little progress has been made in FDA/pharmaceutical drug safety over the years.  It always seems like its a game of whack-a-mole when FDA, Congress, and the powerful PhRMA and healthcare lobbying money and politics mix.

Sure, we helped get black box suicide warnings added to antidepressants back in 2004 and 2006.  This was 13 years AFTER the FDA first held hearings on Prozac and suicide in 1991 and did nothing about it. Despite these warnings today, it seems everywhere you turn the need for more mental health and its pill solution is in the news or advertised on television.  It makes me wonder if we have really made any progress.

Last week a group of researchers from Cochrane Collaboration released the largest meta-analysis of antidepressants studies showing that antidepressants DOUBLED the risk of suicide and aggression in kids under 18.  This analysis which appeared in the British Medical Journal is huge news as its counter to what the initially-reported findings given to the FDA. The researchers also say the suicide risk was under reported from the beginning and the original poor study designs did NOT detect the risks. They assume the same in adults although the studies didn’t show it. There was little reported in the US about the biggest ever review of antidepressant trial data like it was in the UK.

Meanwhile in our country last week, the United States Preventative Task Force (USPTF) comes out with the recommendation that EVERY US adult be screened for depression.  This is really disturbing especially when you look at the screening tools that are being currently being used by clinicians. They are riddled with conflicts of interest and ties to the pharmaceutical companies. The PHQ9 form is considered industry-accepted standard. It has been adopted in many health systems across the country, including my own Alina Health Systems. It is handed out when you check in at the doctor’s office.

Apparently no one reads the tiny disclaimer type at the bottom where is says created by Pfizer, Inc. Doctors and patients alike have no idea and just go along with the status quo. The screening tool asks leading questions that can quickly end in a diagnosis and an antidepressant prescription.  It asks questions like…In the past two weeks have you experienced … feeling down, tired, or having little energy, eat too much or too little, feel bad about yourself…. Who doesn’t? Its called being a human. Personally, I refuse to fill the form out at the doctor’s office even though the receptionists pressure me.

With these two contradictory reports last week alone, no wonder why the public is confused about mental health and the psych drugs. The public needs to push back and start critically looking at what’s happening in the world of mental health. Maybe what we have been told just isn’t the answer?

There have been many times I have wanted to quit this fight. Sometimes it seems so useless, that is, unless you like the feeling of beating your head against a brick wall.  But then I get an email like I did last week from a young guy who’s 48 year old father was put an antidepressant because he was getting divorced. 5 days later he hung himself. The family is devastated and had no idea about the link between antidepressants and suicide. They just did, like most people do, trust their doctor.

It made me realize that Woody’s story is as relevant today as it was 13 years ago. So, I will go and proudly represent the young kid’s dad, Woody, and countless of other families who live everyday with the consequences of a failed drug safety system.We were all just regular people living our everyday lives, trusting the system, until the unspeakable happened.

The reality is that it could be any one of us.


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