Loose Screws Mental Health News

An antipsychotic inhalation powder has been approved by the FDA for the treatment of agitation in adults with schizophrenia or bipolar I disorder. While loxapine (brand name: Adasuve) by Alexza Pharmaceuticals acts rapidly, the side effects include “bronchospasm and increased mortality in elderly patients with dementia-related psychosis,” according to Medscape. In case you don’t know, bronchospasm can lead to acute respiratory problems in people with lung disease, asthma, or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

Plans are for the drug to only be accessible through a medical facility with the ability to treat bronchospasms.

In related and somewhat interesting news, the Medscape article also notes that 3.2 million people in the U.S. are being treated for schizophrenia or bipolar I. “Of these, approximately 90% will develop agitation during the course of their illness.”

That’s an incredibly high number of people who develop agitation. Just sayin’.


According to an article in U.S. News & World Report, patients in a study dealing with depression seemed to have high levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker for increased risk of heart and inflammatory disease. The lead researcher notes that “people with increased CRP have a two- to threefold risk of depression.” It is not clear whether CRP causes depression or is simply a sign of it. Increased levels of CRP tend to be seen in obese patients and those with chronic diseases.

“More than 21 million Americans suffer from depression, a leading cause of disability, according to Mental Health America.”

Note: the 2011 estimate of those residing in the U.S. stands at more than 311 million.


Depression is increasing among Japan’s public school teachers.

“A report by the Ministry of Education, Sports, Culture, Science and Technology shows that in 2011, around 5,200 public school teachers had to go on sick leave due to various mental illnesses, including severe depression.”

The Japan Daily Press article also notes:

“The study also highlights the fact that the main reason for the increasing depression is a school environment that puts too much workload and pressure on the teachers that they cannot have a healthy work-life balance anymore, much less deal with students, their guardians and the paper work that comes with all of these. (emphasis mine)

I recently finished a book by actor Tony Danza called I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had in which he chronicles his yearlong stint in Philadelphia’s inner city public school system. He echoes some of these sentiments as well. After trying to teach his students, he notes that it is difficult not to get involved in their personal lives as well. In the Epilogue, Danza writes:

“…I can only do so much. Where does teaching stop, and start? Where should it? I don’t really know. To engage my students, I found that I had to become engaged in their lives, their problems, and their futures. That connection was what made the job the most rewarding. Yet it was also the intensity of that involvement that, by the end of the year, had made the job of teaching so much tougher than I’d ever expected.”

It seems that Japan’s public school teachers are no different from American public school teachers.


Although 38 states require mental health background checks, only a quarter of states actually report their statistics to the federal NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System).


And surprise, according to a recent study, pot could lead to psychosis in teens or teens who smoke pot can later develop psychosis. I find it interesting that teens were actually evaluated after smoking pot.

It’s Official: I’m on Abilify and Prozac

A cursory search on Google for Abilify + Prozac didn’t yield too many helpful results. I suppose it’s not a common drug combination. So far, I haven’t had any real side effects. I take Prozac in the morning and Abilify at night. I’ve also started taking my vitamins again after shirking them for quite a while: Fish Oil with Omega-3s, Iron (for slight anemia), Vitamin B-Complex with Vitamin C, and a women’s multivitamin.

I am a little nervous about taking an SSRI again because the last SSRI I was on (Effexor/venlafaxine) produced some nasty side effects (mania, night sweats, vivid dreams, brain shivers) along with the one I liked (significant weight loss). When I last blogged about Prozac, my only side effect was somnolence—a side effect I don’t appear to be experiencing this time around.

Are you on a drug combination? If so, what and is it working for you? If you used to be on a drug combination, what was it and did it help?

Lamictal & Abilify: Wacky Side Effects

Images from rxlist.com & drugs.com

Here’s a list of the side effects I’ve experienced recently taking Lamictal and Abilify (I can’t attribute any side effect to a specific drug since I am taking both):

1. Somnolence (I am sleepy within minutes after taking the drugs.)

2. Dizziness/vertigo

3. Tremors (At night, I think I’m having convulsions but my husband says I don’t move.)

4. Delusions (I think I’m dying before I go to sleep.)

5. Disciplined sleep regimen (I wake up for the day when my alarm goes off. That’s consistently been 5:20 in the morning.)

6. Poor balance (This may be related to the dizziness and vertigo.)

 

I’ll add more to this list as I experience any additional side effects.

Lamictal and Abilify: Back on Medication

Images from rxlist.com & drugs.com

After 2 years of not being on medication, I am back to a daily regimen of lamotrigine (Lamictal) and aripiprazole (Abilify) with lorazepam (Ativan) as needed.

Many of you may know, or may not know, what I decided to taper off of medication so that I could get pregnant. Well, that hasn’t happened. And my thoughts got to a point where it became life and death again. I didn’t want to go back to the psych hospital so I asked my psychiatrist for help.

My psychiatrist (God bless him) is a very conservative psychiatrist. He was the one who helped me off of medication 2 years ago, and he’s the one titrating my dosages up now. Lamotrigine is for long-term maintenance of the bipolar disorder, aripiprazole is for short-term maintenance of bipolar disorder and SAD (seasonal affective disorder), and lorazepam assists with severe anxiety as needed. I started taking the medication four weeks ago, and I’m only on 50 mg of lamotrigine and 5 mg of Abilify. There will be no increase on Abilify and I titrate up on lamotrigine every 2 weeks. My next big jump is 100 mg.

My psychiatrist expects me to come off of aripiprazole within the next few months (hopefully by December). If not, I will have to get regular blood sugar and cholesterol tests performed. He will adjust all medications as necessary in the event that I am pregnant. He’s a great psychiatrist; he’s willing to work with me based on my situation rather than him throwing drugs at me. He allows me to have complete control over my treatment regimen, which is something I like and respect.

In the past, I may have come off as anti-medication, but really, I’m not. I advocate for use of medication in a necessary, responsible manner. In 2010, 253 million prescriptions were written for antidepressants.¹ (Keep in mind that the U.S. is estimated to have 307 million people in the country.² That’s about 82.4% of the population taking antidepressants.) This is not responsible; this is too much. In the comments, people have rightly corrected me in the assumption that 1 person can get multiple prescriptions in a year; I failed to remember that.

Let’s assume a person is on 1 antidepressant (the majority of people take 1). Beginning in January, that person gets 5 refills for 30 days. By May, the person will need another 5 refills. Then another prescription is dispensed in October. That’s 3 prescriptions per person. Of course, this can vary depending on how often the doctor will see a patient so let’s generalize and say 5 prescriptions per person per year. My calculations for prescriptions per American mean that nearly 20 percent (about 17%) of the population is on antidepressants. Sure, it’s not my original ridiculous number of 82.4%, but I still think this is pretty high. (By the way, feel free to correct my stats in the comments if necessary; I don’t claim to be a math wizard.)

While I am not on an antidepressant, I am one of the millions of Americans who is on medication for mental illness. For 2 years, honestly, I’d forgotten I had anything relating to mental illness. It was nice to wake up and be myself without thinking about me plus bipolar disorder. Every morning and every evening, it’s now me plus bipolar disorder plus SAD plus anxiety. These are all real symptoms that need to be managed. I don’t want to be dependent on this medication forever, but I may have to. If it helps me manage my suicidal thoughts and function with people in life, then it’s worth it.

Your turn: What do you think about taking psychotropic medication? Do the symptoms outweigh the risks for you? What’s been your experience in taking (or not taking) psych meds?

Notes:

1. Shirley S. Wang, “Antidepressants Given More Widely,” The Wall Street Journal. Published on August 4, 2011. Available at: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903885604576486294087849246.html. Accessed October 20, 2011.
2. Google Public Data Explorer. Population in the U.S. Last updated: July 28, 2011. Available at: http://www.google.com/publicdata/explore?ds=kf7tgg1uo9ude_&met_y=population&tdim=true&dl=en&hl=en&q=us+population. Accessed October 20, 2011.

Should psych drugs be avoided at ALL costs?

My brain isn’t functioning today quite honestly so my apologies if the following makes no sense whatsoever. It’s long and I ended up rambling.


Lately, I’ve been thinking about whether there are any benefits to using pharmaceutical drugs. I have blogger friends who are very much anti-pharmaceuticals anything, try to avoid drugs as much as possible but take them if necessary, or think pharmaceutical drugs are a Godsend.

I’m still trying to figure out where I stand.

Pharmaceutical companies are in the business of making money. It is not to their advantage to put out completely shoddy products that do not work. I’m sure many of them bury negative data and findings that do not shed a positive light on their drugs but if something works overall, they’ll put it out there. I don’t believe the doctors who are involved in these trials are all dirty, rotten sell-outs. Some of them are very well-meaning and honest who work to make these drugs as effective as possible. Call me naïve if you like but I just can’t bring myself to believe there are more greedy docs who skew results than there are those who are concerned with advancement.

I don’t think twice about popping Excedrin Migraine when I’ve got a painful, debilitating migraine; I have no problem taking naproxen (aka Aleve) when I’ve got menstrual cramps, and taking ibuprofen isn’t an issue if I have severe muscle pain. I don’t question the safety of these drugs. I’ve used them for so long, they’ve proven to be relatively safe for me (not everyone can tolerate those drugs) and efficacious. The safety risk of taking Excedrin Migraine sometimes outweighs the benefits of not taking it. (Note: I only speak of adults in terms of ingesting this kind of medication.I don’t believe developing bodies, such as youngsters, are able to handle medication that can significantly affect mood.)

When it comes to psych meds, I am not anti-medication. Psych meds should be taken on a case-by-case basis. There are some people who consider these meds to be a life-saver while others complain that it has made them miserable and worsened their lives. This is the gamble people take when choosing to ingest a psych med—most people don’t know that. Trouble is, most people don’t know when the stakes are high enough to take that risk.

I shouldn’t be in a position to judge anyone but when I hear people taking antidepressants based on circumstances—a job loss, failed relationship, loss of a life—I worry that it’s unnecessary. We are becoming a nation that is more reliant on “quick fixes” rather than developing coping mechanisms. It’s easier to pop a pill and dull your emotions than it is to face problems, tackle issues head on, and learn to work your way through it. Case in point: rising unemployment hasn’t slowed sales of antidepressants or sleeping pills.

  • I have an aunt who was a violent paranoid-schizophrenic. She was placed in a mental institution and drugged up the wazoo. Now, she’s basically existing; the lights are on but no one’s home. The drugs have killed her. She’s alive but not really.
  • My father was a non-violent paranoid-schizophrenic. It got to the point where we needed to medicate him to get him on track. The medication helped him to function “normally” but his thought processes and physical ability was significantly slowed. He once told me that he felt useless because my mother was busting her butt at work to pay for my college and he was basically an invalid because his mental illness had prevented him from being able to work. He died 4 months later. A few days after the funeral, my mom began to find his psych meds hidden all around the house. I often wonder if the drugs killed him.
  • Another aunt (this is all on the paternal side of the family) also became a paranoid-schizophrenic. She was a brilliant woman who was basically reduced to moving from place to place to the point where she eventually became homeless and could not hold down a job. She disappeared for a while but during one cold winter, was found and brought into a homeless shelter. She was placed on meds and her cognitive functions returned despite the fact that her speech was sometimes garbled. She traveled the world, went on cruises and various excursions. The change was remarkable. Psych meds improved her life and saved her—the benefits of the drugs outweighed the side effects.

As I withdraw from Lamictal, I am curious to see who I am without this drug. Will my creative juices flow freely once again or are they now somewhat hindered? Will my cognitive functioning correct itself or will I forever suffer from problems? Will my short-term memory loss issues smooth out or will I still suffer from intermittent forgetfulness? I have some side effects that may remain with me for a while or perhaps forever (though I hope not) but seeing others fully recover after taking drugs for 10 times longer than I have gives me hope.

I feel the majority of my progress has come from intensive counseling and being infused with the truths as laid out in the Bible. I’d say 90% of my progress has been due to counseling. I give the meds 10%. You can tell I don’t place much stock in them. But they’ve helped to cut down on the mixed episodes.

So far, I haven’t had any suicidal thoughts are behaviors that are out of the ordinary. (Thank GOD.) I’ve been dealing with a mild depression but that stems from basing my worth based off of my career rather than any biological imbalances. The last time I suffered a severe depression, I was on Lexapro (if that tells you anything).

I’ve gotten a lot of resistance and concern from family members who question my decision to come off of the medication. They’ve seen a miraculous change in me and attribute it to being on meds. Meds aren’t a cure-all. They don’t see the counseling and shifting of thought processes going on that has helped me to develop coping mechanisms. Meds may help people “cope” but they don’t develop the tools needed to cope.

I’ve decided that I’ll probably give that Christian psychiatrist a call. My counselor recommended him and she said that he’s very neutral on meds and doesn’t shove them on anyone. I mentioned that I wasn’t sure if anyone would accept me as a patient only to lose me in the end—she insisted he wouldn’t mind. The intake cost is hefty but since I was able to temp a few days for my job this week—I’m not permanently returning, I can swing it.

Which brings me back to my position on psych meds: I said it earlier but I think it’s a case-by-case basis. In my personal life, I’ve seen the benefits outweigh the side effects and I’ve seen the side effects outweigh the benefits. And I’ve seen benefits (not necessarily beneficial) as a result of side effects. Psychiatry is the biggest medical guessing game of all medical specialties. There are no certainties, and there’s no one medication that works best for everyone. Pharmaceutical companies make it a point to put the disclaimer on the patient information sheet that they’re not exactly sure HOW these drugs work. All that stuff about serotonin, dopamine, and neurotransmitters is pure speculation when it comes to depression. You’ll have me convinced about chemical imbalances once I can get a MRI and blood test done. Until then, it’s all trial-and-error.

So if I do suffer from relapses while withdrawing from this medication and it gets to the point where I may need to be hospitalized, I’m not averse to remaining on the drug. Better to be alive and on a psych drug than dead because I was determined not to use it at risk to my safety. If I end up having to stay on the drug, the future of giving birth to children will seem a bit more uncertain.

Loose Screws Mental Health News

As reported by The New York Times, people with bipolar disorder have a higher risk of suffering from fatal illness according to a study (that reviewed 17 other studies involving more than 331,000 people) reported in the February issue of Psychiatric Services.

In the larger studies, almost every cause of death was higher among bipolar patients: cardiovascular, respiratory, cerebrovascular (including strokes), and endocrine (like diabetes). In the smaller studies, mortality from cerebrovascular disease was higher among those with bipolar illness, but they showed inconsistent results, probably because they used smaller samples or less representative populations.

Gianna at Beyond Meds provides here take here.


Some crazy nurse in Minnesota convinced a Canadian college student to kill herself and walked her through the process of appropriately hanging herself. Ed Morrissey of Hot Air calls the nurse "the first serial suicide-inciter of the modern age." Couldn't have said it better myself.


Philip Dawdy at Furious Seasons is on a roll, holding AstraZeneca accountable for its actions regarding hidden information about Seroquel and now he hosts the Seroquel documents — alongside Lilly's Zyprexa documents — that indicate buried studies. Dawdy's also running a spring fundraiser and I suggest you get your butt in gear and donate to him if it's important to you that someone holds pharmaceutical companies accountable for their actions. I've already done my part.


Sorry this post isn't filled with my normal snark and cynicism. I'm behind on a lot personally — still trying to get the hang of this self-employment thing — and this is what I can throw out for now.

…and on to AstraZeneca's problems with Seroquel

Eli Lilly seems to be passing along its misfortune off to AstraZeneca, which now appears to be having issues with masking evidence of Seroquel side effects. From Furious Seasons:

A great article appeared in the St. Petersburg Times over the weekend, revealing that lawyers for AstraZeneca will argue in court later this month that the company wants documents introduced into a federal court hearing in a case over various allegations around Seroquel sealed and hidden from public view. They want an upcoming hearing in the federal class action lawsuit against AZ closed to the public as well. Lawyers argue that they are protecting patients and, oddly, the public at-large.

Read the rest of Philip's post.

Pharma's "me-too" drugs face skeptical docs and health insurers

As patents expire on a variety of drugmakers’ moneymakers, pharma companies have gone to great lengths to structurally reinvent the successful drugs then tout the benefits that differ from their predecessors.

InvegaCase in point — Johnson & Johnson’s Invega. Invega is the successor to the popular antipsychotic drug, Risperdal, and competitor to AstraZeneca’s widely used antipsychotic Seroquel. Scott Hensley at The Wall Street Journal’s Health Blog (WSJ) reports that Risperdal is going generic in June. Gianna at Beyond Meds recently said it will not. According to the Dow Jones Newswires (DJN), these “junior” drugs face skepticism from health insurers and doctors. California-based Kaiser Permanente and Minneapolis-based UnitedHealth Group Inc. (UNH) are example of companies that have somewhat discouraged use of the drug. Kaiser doesn’t cover Invega at all, and members of UNH are required to pay higher copays for the brand name. The wire reports New York-based psychiatrist Jeffrey Lieberman wasn’t “buying it” the difference between Invega and Risperdal.

Invega is “basically a me-too drug, and the company hasn’t done the studies that would be required to really distinguish it,” Lieberman, chairman of the psychiatry department at Columbia University’s medical school told Peter Loftus of Dow Jones Newswires.

Ouch.

The blog also quotes Daniel Carlat from the The Carlat Psychiatry Report.

Dan Carlat, a psychiatrist and a tough critic of Invega, wrote that J&J’s “marketing team apparently missed the fact that the word in the English language that sounds most like “Invega” is “inveigle,” meaning “to entice, lure, or ensnare by flattery or artful talk or inducements.’ ” He asked doctors: “Will you be doing your patients a favor by taking the plunge? Or will you simply be giving them the same wine in a fancier bottle?”

Even J&J’s Group Chairman of Pharmaceuticals, David Norton, admitted that Invega is a tough sell.

“We need to do a better job at drawing a differentiation in a difficult-to-treat population.

So far, Invega sales have been incredibly disappointing compared to the Risperdal blockbuster.

Wyeth (antidepressant Effexor XR cum Pristiq) and Shire (ADHD drug Adderall XR cum Vyvanse) face the same uphill battle. Wyeth’s Effexor faces generic competition from Teva Pharmaceuticals despite efforts to halt generic sales of the drug and the patent on Shire’s Adderall is set to expire next year.

Hensley, in his analysis, raises a question in which the answer remains to be seen:

Cheap generics abound to treat a broad assortment of illnesses these days. What’s the point, the critics ask, of paying more for drugs that are at best only slight improvements over tried and true medicines available at bargain prices?

It’s something that I’ve questioned myself.

In an attempt to have the “me-too” drugs compete with its derivative, both Wyeth and Shire are slashing their prices, or as the DJN reported, “emphasizing improved dosing for the newer drugs.” Although Pristiq’s efficacy comes at higher doses, it’s being priced 20 percent lower than Effexor.

[Deutsche Bank pharmaceutical analyst Barbara Ryan] thinks the odds of
Pristiq’s success are slim because it appears to offer few benefits
beyond those of Effexor.

That remains to be seen. So far, a few patients have commented on my blog that Pristiq has already begun to help them. I haven’t seen any DTC ads for Pristiq so I can only assume that drug reps are doing a fine marketing job at selling the different benefits of the drug to doctors.

Vyvanse, on the other hand, is looking promising for Shire, already having 7 percent of U.S. ADHD drug prescriptions. Chief Executive Matthew Emmens says the drug is chemically different from Adderall (aren’t they all?) and has better pricing. Shire expects to beat Adderall’s 26 percent peak market share. Seems like a lofty goal to me.

As for Invega, J&J is currently seeking FDA approval to use the drug for bipolar disorder and not just treatment for schizophrenia. It is also l0oking to get approval for an injectable Invega XR.

(Invega logo from Janssen.com)

Loose Screws Mental Health News

If the state gets its way, hundreds of children could be put in foster homes, in what could be a wrenching cultural adjustment that may require intensive counseling.

Wow. That's all I can say. How do you place 400 different children in foster homes and ensure they'll get proper care? You can't.

Loose Screws Mental Health News

I recently wrote about the MOTHERS Act and the unnecessary scare tactics surrounding it. A Dallas-Fort Worth TV station picked up on the story and provided a short one-sided view of the issue, continuing to purport that the bill is solely about drugging new moms. I don’t discount Ms. Philo’s terrible experience with her medication. In fact, I’d be against the act if its sole purpose was to force treatment on pregnant women – medicated or not. Again, I’d like to reiterate that the bill’s purpose is to educate moms about postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis – not to shove unnecessary pills down women’s throats.

If you have sleep apnea, your CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine may alleviate depression symptoms. My husband has sleep apnea and hasn’t been able to use the CPAP machine because of sinus problems. When he doesn’t use it (he hasn’t for a while), he’s noticeably moodier and prone to depressive symptoms. But then again, anyone who doesn’t get good sleep for several days is pretty moody.

Seroquel XRAstraZeneca (AZ) is going after Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and Novartis AG’s Sandoz unit after the two companies applied to make cheaper version of Seroquel available. AZ’s patent on Seroquel expires in 2011. The trial date for patent litigation is August 11. In the meantime, according to the Bloomberg report, the FDA is considering approval of Seroquel XR for bipolar depression and bipolar mania.

What is it about the U.K. that they seem to take pharma’s power more seriously than the U.S.? The UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) charged GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the maker of Seroxat (Paxil in the U.S.), with not fully disclosing their clinical trial data that downplayed serious side effects such as increasing suicidal tendencies among those 18 years and younger. The MHRA also asserts that Seroxat didn’t alleviate depression as much as GSK’s initial data showed. GSK, of course, denied manipulating the data to show favorable results:

GSK denies withholding data, claiming the risks did not come to light until the results of nine studies were pooled.

The UK minister of public health, Dawn Primarilo, promised to address the issue of Big Pharma hiding negative clinical trial data.

“Notwithstanding the limitations that may exist in the law, pharmaceutical companies should disclose any information they have that would have a bearing on the protection of health,” she says.

In other news, I shouldn’t be a successful writer or novelist. The correlation between creative writers and suicide is ridiculously high. More than 70 well-known writers and poets have successfully committed suicide. How much more “unknown” writers and poets have as well?

(Image from Monthly Prescribing Reference)