Blogs around the way

I’m catching up on reading my fellow bloggers’ posts (see Blogroll to the right), so if you’re not reading their site already, I’d encourage you to do so. Below  are some posts that caught my attention. Some might be a little dated.

Gianna at Bipolar Blast: Has a video up of Gwen Olsen, an ex-pharma rep who says that pharmaceutical companies aren’t in the  business of curing but in the business of "disease maintenance and symptom management." It’s nothing new but here are two quotes that caught my attention:

"And what I’m saying is provable is that the pharmaceutical industry doesn’t want to cure people. You need to understand specifically when we’re talking about psychiatric drugs in particular that these are drugs that encourage people to remain customers of the pharmaceutical industry. In fact, you will be told if you’re given a drug such as an anxiolytic, or an antidepressant, or an antipsychotic drug, that you may be on the drug for the rest of your life. And very frequently, people find that they are on the drug for a very long period of time, if not permanently, because they’re almost impossible to get off of. Some of them can have very serious withdrawal symptoms – most of them can have extremely serious withdrawal symptoms if they’re stopped cold turkey – but some people experience even withdrawal symptoms when they try to titrate or they try to eliminate the drug little by little, day after day."

"We have got to start making the pharmaceutical industry accountable for their actions and for the defective products they’re putting on the market. It won’t be long before every American is affected by this disaster and we need to be aware of what the differences are between diseases between disorders and between syndromes. Because if it doesn’t have to be scientifically proven, if there are no tests, if there are no blood tests, CAT scans, urine tests, MRIs – if there is nothing to document that you have disease, then you in fact, do not have a disease, you have a disorder and it has been given and has been diagnosed pretentiously and you need to get yourself educated and understand that there are options and those options are much more effective than drugs."

I’ve always wondered why doctors don’t run tests to diagnose any psychiatric disorders. From NIMH:

Research indicates that depressive illnesses are disorders of the brain. Brain-imaging technologies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), have shown that the brains of people who have depression look different than those of people without depression. The parts of the brain responsible for regulating mood, thinking, sleep, appetite and behavior appear to function abnormally. In addition, important neurotransmitters–chemicals that brain cells use to communicate–appear to be out of balance. But these images do not reveal why the depression has occurred.

If MRIs have shown that the people with depression have a part of the brain that functions abnormally then why isn’t it standard for all people diagnosed with depression to have an MRI done to confirm this? I have one of two hypotheses:  it’s too expensive to get an MRI done for each person and that insurance won’t pay for it or the abnormal functioning cannot be detected in the brain of every depressed person.  Therefore, is major depressive disorder really a made-up diagnosis?

Continue reading “Blogs around the way”

Pristiq receives approval from FDA

PristiqMore than a year ago, I promised to keep tabs on Wyeth’s new (renamed, rather) drug Pristiq. So I’m living up to it.

On February 29, 2008, the FDA granted Wyeth approval to move forward with putting the drug out on the market.

Wyeth said the company planned a big sales effort to introduce the product to psychiatrists and primary care doctors.

There’s a problem with that sentence. I’ll give you a second to figure out what’s wrong with it. Haven’t got it yet?

Primary care doctors. PCP should not be in the business of prescribing or providing psych meds. I’ve gone on and on about it at length before, but I’ll mention it again. PCPs are trained to treat overall conditions that have no need of referral to specialists. Think about it this way: If your psychiatrist prescribed anti-inflammatory medication because you mentioned that you’ve been having problems with your foot, you’d be taken aback, right? If a dermatologist prescribed heartburn medication after a patient mentioned he’d been having heartburn trouble, that would seem almost illogical, wouldn’t it?

(Pristiq logo from Pristiq.com)

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The Zoloft-rage/violence connection

[This post is quite lengthy so I suggest you grab a cup of coffee or tea and sit down and read it. The following is not for the faint of heart (or those with a lack of time).]

It’s been amazing to me that I’ve received numerous comments on Zoloft inducing rage. I’m humbled by having a Pittman supporter visit my site and post some comments from the ChristopherPittman.org forums. Read the following:

In my senior year in high school I was diagnosed as being severely depressed and put on medication. The first medication that I was on I took for 5 months and it made me really aggressive. My friends and family noticed the change and I told my doctor about it and she changed my meds. After that I was fine. I am normally a very passive person and will let just about anything fly. But the medication made me really aggravated and aggressive toward my friends and family and it seemed that I wasn’t overcoming my depression. I just got done watching the 48 hours investigation on the Discovery Times Channel and felt a connection with Chris. I felt that I had to write this to let you know that Chris is not the only one out there that had these side effects. I think there should be a study done to see how many people that take antidepressants have increased aggression. The problem is that the pharmaceutical industry has deep pockets and many lobbyists. I hope this helps in some way.

And another:

I remember the case when it happened.

At the time I thought, “Zoloft right”.

Let me tell you my physician put me on Zoloft and it took about three weeks for my to become psychotic and I’m a 50 year old woman.

I have three children and I don’t make a lot of money but please let me know if I can do anything for the Pittman boy.

The jury should have been placed on Zoloft before they made they decision. Unless you’ve experience it you simply cannot believe its’ effect.

Brynn and Phil HartmanI did a bit of quick reading/research into Zoloft triggering violence in people who otherwise would have never been violent and it seems that are a few stories out there to support the assertion. I found a few comments on depressionblog.com that mentioned a link between Zoloft and rage fits. A Salon.com article published a story antidepressants inducing rage in 1999. Apparently, Brynn Hartman, the wife of famous comedian Phil Hartman, killed herself and her husband while taking Zoloft. While close friends attribute the sudden behavior on the antidepressant, others attribute it to a combination of the medication with cocaine and alcohol in her system. (Zoloft does have a warning against alcohol use in conjunction with the drug.)

One interesting thing I learned from the article is that this kind of behavior is often labeled under the name akathisia on patient safety guides. Most – if not all – of the major antidepressants list akathisia as a side effect. Here’s the initial description of this condition from Wikipedia:

Akathisia, or acathisia, is an unpleasant subjective sensation of “inner” restlessness that manifests itself with an inability to sit still or remain motionless… Its most common cause is as a side effect of medications, mainly neuroleptic antipsychotics especially the phenothiazines (such as perphenazine and chlorpromazine), thioxanthenes (such as flupenthixol and zuclopenthixol) and butyrophenones (such as haloperidol (Haldol)), and rarely, antidepressants.

Akathisia may range in intensity from a mild sense of disquiet or anxiety (which may be easily overlooked) to a total inability to sit still, accompanied by overwhelming anxiety, malaise, and severe dysphoria (manifesting as an almost indescribable sense of terror and doom).

No real mention of extreme anger or irritability mentioned there. But if you read on…

The 2006 U.K. study by Healy, Herxheimer, and Menkes observed that akathisia is often miscoded in antidepressant clinical trials as “agitation, emotional lability, and hyperkinesis (overactivity)”. The study further points out that misdiagnosis of akathisia as simple motor restlessness occurs, but that this is more properly classed as dyskinesia. Healy, et. al., further show links between antidepressant-induced akathisia and violence, including suicide, as akathisia can “exacerbate psychopathology.” The study goes on to state that there is extensive clinical evidence correlating akathisia with SSRI use, showing that approximately ten times as many patients on SSRIs as those on placebos showed symptoms severe enough to drop out of a trial (5.0% compared to 0.5%).

Continue reading “The Zoloft-rage/violence connection”

Younger generation of psychiatrists skeptical of pharma companies

From intueri:

>> Psychiatrists Top List in Drug Maker Gifts. This kind of thing makes me embarrassed to be a psychiatrist. I’m glad that the Times is publishing this information—transparency is good and should be encouraged—and it’s painful to read. Many of us in the younger crew view Big Pharma with a disdain that borders on disgust, but how are other people supposed to know this? Average newspaper readers may now believe that I’m a skanky whore for Big Pharma upon learning my profession. I could prattle on, but I won’t.

It's good to know that the new breed of psychiatrists aren't as loyal to Big Pharma as the old ones are.

Women & Antidepressants

Pink, a magazine for business women, has an article in its April/May 2007 issue titled, “The Magic Pill.” (The only way to read this article is to get a hard-copy of the mag.) No, this isn’t about birth control. The subhead: “Antidepressants are now used for everything from migraines to menopause. But are women getting an overdose?”

Good question. The article, well-written by Mary Anne Dunkin, does a nice job of trying to present both sides of the coin. One subject, Pam Gilchrist, takes tricyclic antidepressants to relieve her fibromyalgia symptoms. “One of the [antidepressants] that allows her to keep going” is Effexor (venlafaxine). God forbid the woman should ever have to come off of that one. (It works well when you’re on it, but withdrawal is sheer hell.)

The other subject mentioned in the article, Billie Wickstrom, suffers from bipolar disorder, but had a therapist who diagnosed her with obsessive-compulsive disorder. The psychiatrist she was referred to promptly put her on Anafranil (clomipramine). We all know what antidepressants tend to do for those with bipolar disorder. Wickstrom blanked out at an interview that she says she normally would have aced. In another incident, she veered off-course after leaving town and spent the night on the side of the road with her daughter. “Search parties in three states” were out looking for them.

“Three years and three hospitalizations later, Wickstrom is finally free of clomipramine and has a job she loves as PR director for a $300 million family of companies. She says she’s happy, she’s focused and she feels great – consistently.”

Dunkin’s article uncovers a large, problematic use – by my standards, anyway – of off-label usage by doctors.

“Gilchrist… is one of the estimated one in 10 American women taking some type of antidepressant medication. And a considerable percentage of these prescriptions, particularly those for tricyclic antidepressants, are not used to treat depression at all.

A growing number of doctors today prescribe antidepressants for a wide range of problems, including anxiety, chronic pain, insomnia, migraines, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, premenstrual syndrome, menopausal hot flashes and smoking cessation.”

I’m sure the list goes on, but magazines have but oh so much space.

Melissa McNeilDr. Melissa McNeil at the University of Pittsburgh points out three things:

  1. Since depression is a prevalent (see common) condition, doctors are better detecting it.
  2. Since antidepressants have proven their safety and efficacy, primary care physicians have no reservations prescribing them.
  3. Clinical studies are finding that antidepressants can aid a number of medical issues apart from depression.

My take on McNeil’s points (I’ll try to keep them brief):

  • Depression is way too common to be abnormal. If a woman has a rough patch in life for 2 weeks or more, she’s got depression. As for doctors being better at detecting depression? Studies consistently show that doctors are great at overlooking depression in men.
  • Antidepressants haven’t proven jack squat. Placebos have proven more safety and efficacy than antidepressants. PCPs have no reservations prescribing them because they only know about the positive facts that pharma reps tell them instead of researching the potential side effects.
  • Clinical studies aren’t finding all those things out. Seroquel has FDA-approval to treat psychiatric symptoms (psychosis, for one). As far as I know, Seroquel is not FDA-approved to treat insomnia or crappy sleeping patterns. There are no specific clinical studies to see if Seroquel can treat insomnia. Seroquel is prescribed to treat insomnia/restless sleep because doctors have found that a major side effect of the drug is somnolence. If this is the case, Effexor should be prescribed for weight loss. It’d be the new Fen-Phen.

Dunkin cites two widely used antidepressants for nonpsychiatric uses: Wellbutrin (bupropion) and Prozac (fluoxetine). Zyban, used for smoking cessation is, well, bupropion. Sarafem, used to treat PMS symptoms is – you guessed it – fluoxetine.

Viktor BouquetteDr. Viktor Bouquette of Progressive Medical Group thankfully takes a more cautious approach:

“The widespread use – mostly misuse – by physicians of antidepressants to treat women for far-ranging symptoms from insomnia, chronic fatigue and irritability to PMS and menopause is merely another unfortunate example of the pharmaceutical industry’s tremendous influence on the practice of modern medicine. Take enough antidepressants and you may likely still have the symptoms, but you won’t care.”

Kudos to Dunkin for landing that quote. Since Bouquette is part of an alternative medicine group, he’s got a good motive for slamming pharma companies.

McNeil goes on to sound anti-d happy in the article. Not that it matters, but she is also a section editor for the Journal of Women’s Health, which has several corporate associates representing pharmaceutical companies. (She is also the only source in the article who sings anti-d’s praises.) Dunkin tracked down Dr. Scott Haltzman, a clinical professor at the Brown University Department of Psychiatry, who advocated patient responsibility.

“Just because antidepressants work for depression does not mean they should always be used. People need to learn skills to manage their depressive symptoms instead of depending on medication. When you take medicine for every complaint, you lose the opportunity to learn how to regulate your mood on your own.”

Oh, for more doctors like Haltzman and Bouquette.

UPDATE: Uh, alleged fraud suit pending against Progressive Medical Group. Bouquette is now part of Progressive Medical Centers of America.

Blogs vs. Mainstream Media

“Mr. [James B.] Gottstein, [a lawyer from Alaska, who was pursuing unrelated litigation for mentally ill patients in his state], sends [Dr. David Egilman, a consulting witness in ongoing litigation against Lilly] a subpoena for copies. Hell begins breaking loose.” – Tom Zeller, Jr. in The New York Times

I think Furious Seasons originally linked to this (I can’t remember the source of the post), but I read this on the NYT and had a few thoughts, regarding brick-and-mortar courts vs. “teh Internets.”

Warning: Rant ahead.

I can’t help but think back to the 2004 showdown between Dan Rather and CBS (endearingly named Rathergate) vs. political blogs regarding a memo about George W. Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard. From NewsMax:

“Added [Matthew] Sheffield [of RatherBiased.com]: A virtual think-tank was born… Forty-seven posts later, a person who called himself ‘Buckhead’ offered the proposition that he thought the documents were forgeries.’

Sheffield and his Web site jumped on the bandwagon, searching the Web for experts on 1970’s typewriters. Another blogger site, PowerlineBlog.com, raised the question of forgery. ‘Matt Drudge and his DrudgeReport.com then linked to the Powerline piece, and the story took off,’ recounted Sheffield.”

Someone please tell Drudge about Zyprexa, Risperdal, Cymbalta, Seroquel, Abilify, and blah blah blah, psych med, blah blah blah.

“Some media observers now contend the “Blogosphere” is rapidly replacing CBS and the rest of the mainstream media.

“You’ll note that several blogs rank higher than mid-size daily newspapers and some are pushing the sites of papers in the top 50 (by daily circulation). The data suggest that the question isn’t “When will blogs arrive?” but rather “Blogs HAVE arrived, what now?” [said Kevin Aylward of Wizbangblog.]”

I’ll probably have a string of quotes from the newsmax article, but I will eventually get to my point.

I quoted this previously, but it’s worth requoting:

“It’s great that [Philip] Dawdy [of Furious Seasons] has stepped up for a huge, mainly voiceless population, but on the other hand, it’s weird to see citizen journalists so responsible for watchdogging our mental health industry. When we hear newspapers complain about declining readership, we can’t help but think it’s mainly because — gosh, this is awkward — the shit they’re reporting on isn’t newsworthy. And this shit is.” – Seattlest

Continue reading “Blogs vs. Mainstream Media”

Bloggers are mental health watchdogs

Seattlest wrote a piece on Philip Dawdy and how he’s been tracking the story of a cop who was fired for being bipolar despite several years of stellar service on the force. I can’t investigate things to the depth that he can, but Seattlest has an awesome quote that I had to use here:

"It’s great that Dawdy has stepped up for a huge, mainly voiceless population, but on the other hand, it’s weird to see citizen journalists so responsible for watchdogging our mental health industry. When we hear newspapers complain about declining readership, we can’t help but think it’s mainly because — gosh, this is awkward — the shit they’re reporting on isn’t newsworthy. And this shit is." [emphasis all mine]

With the exception of the NYT, no one else IS monitoring the mental health industry for abuse of power. It’s pretty sad that organizations like NIH and NIMH, which are supposed to be helping patients, can be bought out. Can the mental health bloggers take down Big Pharma like the political bloggers took down, uh, well… Dan Rather?

Pharmaceutical roundup

AbilifyNearly every mental health blog I know is talking about this post from intueri.org. It’s definitely worth the read. I don’t know much about Abilify, but I don’t think most uneducated bipolars know that it is prescribed specifically for those with psychosis. On the flip side, I don’t think uneducated PCPs know that tidbit either. A person with bipolar without symptoms of psychosis who asks for Abilify may be in for a rude awakening. [UPDATE: Who paid this chick? I only skimmed the post but I don’t see any negative side effects listed.]

I’m not deep into the pharmaceutical industry like all of these heavyweights: CL Psych, PharmaGossip, and Furious Seasons, among many others whom I may have failed to mention. However, there’s a wealth of information to be found. My newest discovery:

“The approach is called ‘ethical pharmaceuticals,’ and it was unveiled on January 2 by Sunil Shaunak, professor of infectious diseases at Imperial College, and Steve Brocchini of the London School of Pharmacy, the Guardian reports. Their team of scientists in India and the UK, financed by the prestigious Wellcome with technical assistance from the UK government, have developed a method of making small but significant changes to the molecular structure of existing drugs, thereby transforming them into new products, circumventing the long-term patents used by the corporate giants of Big Pharma to keep prices – and profits – high. [emphasis mine] This will give the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people access to life-saving medicines – now priced out of reach – for mere pennies.”

I read the above on CLPsych’s blog (originally from Chris Floyd at truthout) and couldn’t believe what I was reading. It somewhat ties into what I’ve been researching about Neurontin (which will probably be posted later in the day):

“Pfizer has developed a successor to gabapentin [Neurontin’s generic name], called pregabalin (being marketed as Lyrica®). Structurally related to gabapentin [emphasis mine], pregabalin is effective for neuropathic pain associated with diabetes and shingles, and for the treatment of epilepsy and seizures.”

Pfizer, in an attempt to distance itself from the trouble surrounding Neurontin, developed another medicine – pregabalin, which is similarly structured to gabapentin. Pfizer can now claim, “Don’t like Neurontin? You can have Lyrica instead!” Pfizer also tried to pass off the (illegal) off-label marketing practices with Neurontin off to their acquired division Parke-Davis. So now we’ve got two options: Pfizer either has learned from Parke-Davis’ issues with Neurontin or is pretty stupid and pushing Lyrica for off-label usage similar to that of Neurontin’s. No evidence to support either option… yet. But CLPsych delves into an interesting practice that Pharma companies use to circumvent a drug patent running out:

“News Flash — PhRMA does NOT believe in the free market: While PhRMA likes when the market works in their favor, they also believe in circumventing that same market when it comes to competition. When drugs are slated to come off-patent, which would allow generic version of the drug to be made, PhRMA members have increasingly turned to buying off the competition. That’s right; they simply pay the generic manufacturer to not make a generic version of the patented drug, so that the consumer can continue to pay a hefty price for the drug which is still under patent. [emphasis sorta mine]

Wow. That bit of information has left me speechless. Screw the consumer that can’t afford psych meds without health insurance; we as Big Pharma need our DAMN money!!! [end rant]

This practice, called “reverse payments,” is not something new and, at the current moment, is relatively legal. Supposedly, the FTC and the Department of Justice are keeping their eyes on reverse payments and patients can only imagine what might occur in the future. PharmaGossip has more, but slips this bit of info before linking to the Star-Ledger:

“And with the patents on 70 blockbuster drugs — with a total of $48 billion in annual sales — set to expire by 2011, the industry expects reverse-payment deals to proliferate further.”

The FTC and Justice Department better hurry up and step in so we can finally have a generic version of Lipitor!

In all honesty, my mind can’t simply fathom the depths to which Pharma will stoop to make money. (Perhaps because I don’t work directly within the medical industry.) It has me wondering if Pharma is worse than gas companies. Is OPEC more trustworthy than Eli Lilly? I’ll leave it up to you to decide.

"Quetiapine comes from the root word 'quiet'"

[UPDATE: I had some funky issues with my table. It should be fixed now. Sorry about that.]

The first time I visited my psychiatrist for my initial evaluation, he gave me the option of choosing one of three medications: Seroquel, Lithium, or Lamictal. He handed me information about Seroquel and Lamictal. I did some research on both meds (lithium was out of the question because I don’t have time to get my blood checked constantly) and Lamictal sounded like a way better deal than Seroquel. I found mental health blog Furious Seasons (probably via The Trouble With Spikol) and read numerous posts on Seroquel’s adverse effects and all the good stuff AstraZeneca doesn’t tell anyone. From Philip Dawdy’s “Seroquel, The Bipolar Pill?” post, here’s what stood out to me:

“He told her that he didn’t think Seroquel worked benignly for patients and that the increased blood-sugar levels and cholesterol levels associated with its use were unacceptable to him. She broke out a recent paper which claimed that there were no metabolic syndrome problems with Seroquel.”

The post got me thinking. One of the materials I received from my psychiatrist was an article on how Seroquel seems to help the depressive part of bipolar disorder. He had a stack of these articles. My guess is not that he’s an overzealous reader of various newspapers but received the glowing article from – you got it! – a pharma rep. The article was taken from the August 2005 issue of Clinical Psychiatry News. (NOTE: I received the article in November 2006.)

Clinical Psychiatry News’ publication goals:

“Clinical Psychiatry News is an independent newspaper that provides the practicing psychiatrist with timely and relevant news and commentary about clinical developments in the field and about the impact of health care policy on the specialty and the physician’s practice.”

Good thing they didn’t say objectively.

I don’t know much about ClinPsych’s reputation and whether they are generally a good paper that reports things objectively. However, the article, “Atypical Quetiapine Appears Effective for Bipolar Depression,” reads like a press release. I’m not happy about receiving (practically) PR material from my doctor when trying to make an unbiased decision.

The article’s lede:

“The atypical antipsychotic quetiapine led to significantly greater reductions in bipolar depression than did placebo within the first week of treatment and throughout an 8-week randomized, controlled study of 511 patients, Andrew J. Cutler, M.D., said.”

Dr. Andrew CutlerDr. Cutler? Who IS Dr. Cutler? No research necessary; look no further than the article itself:

“The differences between the placebo group and each quetiapine group were significant at each weekly assessment, said Dr. Cutler of the University of South Florida, Tampa. He is a speaker and consultant for, and has received research grants from, the company that makes quetiapine: AstraZeneca.”

At least they disclosed his financial affiliations.

It is also worth noting that Dr. Cutler also founded a clinical research company, CORE Research, which runs many of the clinical trials that he’s involved in. CORE Research’s background details:

“CORE Research, Inc. is a private research company with three offices in the Central Florida area. CORE specializes in pharmaceutical research and psychopharmacology for mental illnesses such as Bipolar Disorder, Depression, Anxiety, Schizophrenia, Attention Deficit Disorder, and Insomnia.”

Private + Pharmaceutical research + Psychopharmacology = Funding from Big Pharma Companies

I sound like I’m touting some grand conspiracy theory. (OK, maybe I am.) CORE’s background bio makes the company sound objective and unaffiliated, which isn’t the case. If Dr. Cutler has “received research grants from” not only AstraZeneca, but other companies, it’s in his best interest to make sure that their pharmaceutical products turn out OK. Namely in the interest of AZ – remember: he’s a consultant for them.

How can I expect to make a decision about which medication to take (remember it’s between Lamictal and Seroquel now) based on promotional materials from pharm companies and – oh – an article touting the benefits of Seroquel with quotes only from the study’s lead author who is paid to say good things about the company’s products?

I didn’t.

Then how did I decide on Lamictal over Seroquel? Wikipedia‘s outline of each medication’s side effects, of course, in addition to other materials. (Don’t EVER overlook the Patient Safety Information of any medication. Unless you’re reading about the molecular structure – ignore that.)

Lamictal (lamotrigine) side effects Seroquel (quetiapine) side effects
Headaches Sedation
Insomnia Agitation
Insomnia Constipation
Major weight loss Memory problems (i.e. anterograde amnesia)
Blurred/double vision Headaches
Muscle aches Abnormal liver tests
Lack of coordination Dizziness
Sleepiness Upset stomach
Nausea Substantial weight gain
Vomiting Stuffy nose feeling
Rash (Stevens-Johnson syndrome) [uncommon in adults] Neuroleptic malignant syndrome [rare]
Binds to melanin-containing tissues (i.e. iris of the eye) Tardive dyskinesia [rare]
Diabetes [unclear]
Cataracts [possible]

Not that Lamictal’s side effects looked like a walk in the park, but considering that I’d already had awful trouble with weight gain on Paxil and Lexapro – nearly 50 lbs. – Seroquel was a serious no-go on my part. That and I don’t mind major weight loss from Lamictal. (Although I have been told Lamictal has no effect on weight.) Below is a copy of the article I received from my psychiatrist or you can just go and read the archived full text at Clinical Psychiatry News.

Quetiapine article