20% of American children suffer from mental illness

The new SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program) law that President Obama signed significantly increases health coverage for children, which also includes mental health parity. According to Nancy Shute of U.S. News & World Report, health coverage is expanded to:

“4 million more children beyond the 6 million already covered but also brings mental-health parity to the state programs that provide insurance for children in low-income families, requiring that they get the same access to treatment for bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and other serious disorders as they do for physical ailments.”

Then I stumble across this:

Depressed child“Mental-health needs are nowhere near being met,” says Jay E. Berkelhamer, past president of the American Academy of Pediatrics and chief academic officer at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “At least 20 percent of all visits to pediatricians’ offices are related to mental-health problems.

Normally, though, overworked pediatricians may not ask if a child has a mental-health problem—and may not know where to refer him or her if they do. About 20 percent of children and teenagers have a mental-health problem at any given time, or about 8 million to 13 million people. Two thirds of them are not getting the help they need.

That means out of roughly 40-65 million kids, we have 8-13 million who are “mentally ill.” And then about 5-8 million who aren’t getting proper mental help.

Color me cynical but I think 20 percent is a disproportionately high number to classify children as mentally ill. I think the percentage of adults being classified as mentally ill is exorbitant enough, let alone children who are going through stages in their lives where they’re simply developing, encountering mood swings, being disobedient, and perhaps, being — perish the thought! — normal children.

But let’s address something else here: I don’t think it’s impossible for children to suffer from mental illness but the incidence should be significantly lower.

According to Dr. Louis Kraus, the chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, suicide ranks as the sixth-leading cause of death among ages 5-14 — “although rare.” From ages 15-24, it jumps to number three.

The key word in that last paragraph is suicide is “rare.” The rate of mental illness in children should reflect that somehow. While I’m very happy SCHIP includes widespread mental health parity for low-income families, I’m also concerned children will be overdiagnosed with a “mental illness” when they may simply be dealing with the normal challenges of a difficult life.

“I used to care, but now I take a pill for that.” — Author unknown

Philip Dawdy at Furious Seasons has some great posts on the bipolar child paradigm that further explore the murky world of psychiatry pushing psychiatric illnesses and psychotropic drugs on kids. I’d also recommend reading Soulful Sepulcher as Stephany recounts her and her daughter’s experiences in and out of the mental health system.

(pic from save.org)

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Lamictal's generic equivalent, lamotrigine, has now hit the market

So much for Miss Up-on-Pharmaceuticals.

I’ve been paying so much attention to Pristiq that the very medication I take slipped out from right under my nose.

How did I find this out? It hit me where it hurt.

In the pockets, of course.

I went to CVS yesterday night for my Lamictal refill. Since I’ve been under my husband’s plan, we’ve been paying about $40 for the medication. So I nearly doubled over when the pharmacy cashier said $54.

WHAT?

I was in a bit of a foul mood about money anyway so the last thing I wanted to do was argue about the cost of my prescription that had jumped up by $14. (Which, in retrospect, I probably should have done because I could have saved $49 right there.)

I came home and made my husband’s day go from bad to worse. He flipped out and got on the phone with his insurance immediately. He said that the max he should pay on any medication is $50 so why was he paying $54 and why the cost rose so sharply.

“Well, sir, it’s because Lamictal has now gone generic and you’re paying the difference between the cost of the medication and the cost of the generic.”

Bob gets off the phone and goes straight to Google News to find out when Lamictal went generic.

Money & drugsAccording to MarketWatch.com, Teva Pharmaceuticals commenced shipment of lamotrigine tablets on July 22nd
. So instead of either the pharmacist asking me if I wanted a generic version or the insurance company letting us know a generic version would be available (it would have saved them money), we ended up paying $49 more than necessary. It appears that Teva’s generic is AB-rated, which means that it has similar strength, bioequivalence, and efficacy. Overall, it likely shouldn’t be a problem if I go from Lamictal to lamotrigine. At least I hope not. We’ll see.

Mood rating:
5

Lexapro maintains status as first-line antidepressant therapy

Lexapro vs. Pristiq According to a Decision Resources (DR) press release, Lexapro (escitalopram), a SSRI, “retains leadership among first-line therapies in the treatment of major depression” despite the fact that physicians have increasingly moved toward the use of SNRIs, eg, Effexor (venlafaxine). However, the reason why SSRIs still retain their first-line status is due to

  • cost
  • efficacy
  • familiarity

SSRIs have been out on the market for much longer than SNRIs so it’s what physicians are more comfortable with. As far as I know, there currently aren’t any generic SNRIs in the U.S.

As a result, SNRIs are likely pricier.

DR’s survey of psychiatrists found that the majority believe SNRIs work better in treating clinical depression than SSRIs and about 44 percent believe they have fewer sexual side effects. PCPs were also included in this survey and it seems that the majority of them believed the opposite despite DR’s spin that a lot of PCPs are on board with psychiatrists. From personal experience, four SSRIs were prescribed to me before I was shifted to a SNRI.

In the up-and-coming SNRI department, DR forecasts a bright future for Pristiq (desvenlafaxine).

Physicians are expected to move patients from Effexor to Pristiq-a newly approved SNRI- over the next two years. … Pristiq will begin to replace Wyeth’s Effexor XR and Lilly’s Cymbalta, especially in
psychiatrists’ practices.

This is an interesting analysis from DR considering that psychiatrists, health insurers, and even some investors seem less than impressed with the slight advantages the “me-too” drug has over Effexor.

(logos from Forest Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and Wyeth)

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

The London Free Press reports that more than 80 percent of employees admitted to taking a “mental health” day. Most people took the day (or days) off because of work-related stress. Others called out because they were tired, bored, or lacked motivation to go to work that day.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists published a report about a month ago that concluded abortions can lead to mental illness. This is significant considering that many psychiatrists in the mental health industry deemed carrying out an unwanted pregnancy to term far more of a mental health risk than getting an abortion. However, the report seems to be echoing old information: in 2006, the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry arrived at the same conclusion in young women who had abortions.

At last, New York victims of the 9/11 attack are getting assistance with their mental health benefits. Newsday reports that the benefit program “will reimburse out-of-pocket costs for mental health or substance-use treatment through a claims process similar to any insurance benefit.” These costs include outpatient services, medication related to treatment, lab work, and psych evaluations.

Unfortunately, the benefit only applies to those living in the New York City boroughs or are workers of the city. Anyone from NYC who’s curious to find out about whether they’re eligible can dial 311 or go to www.nyc.gov/9-11mentalhealth.

Finally, in more sad military news, the Veterans Health Administration admitted that about 18 vets a day—126 per week—commit suicide. This news comes on the heels of the study that found mental illness is increasing (or is being identified better) in U.S. troops.

Mental health parity bill

I haven’t posted anything on legislation that relates to mental health care so it’s about time I did.

On March 6, the House approved the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act, a mental health parity bill that will require most medical insurance companies to provide better treatment for mental illnesses akin to what they do for physical illnesses. This is a significant move considering that insurers who cover mental health treatment can currently do one of two things: make patients pay for the bulk of the cost or place limits on treatment. The Senate also passed a similar bill in September 2007. Here’s what both pieces of legislation would do:

Both bills would outlaw health insurance practices that set lower
limits on treatment or higher co-payments for mental health services
than for other medical care.

Typical annual limits include 30 visits to a doctor or 30 days of
hospital care for treatment of a mental disorder. Such limits would no
longer be allowed if the insurer had no limits on treatment of
conditions like cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

As a result, the cost of group health insurance premiums likely will go up. However, the bills do not apply to businesses with 50 employees or less or individual insurance.

According to the NYTimes, President Bush initially endorsed mental health parity but came out opposing the current bill because it “would effectively mandate coverage of a broad range of diseases.” Technically, he’s right.

Under the bill, if an insurer chooses to provide mental health
coverage, it must “include benefits” for any mental health condition
listed in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual
of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association.

The protections of the House bill apply to people who need treatment for alcohol and drug abuse, as well as mental illness.

Covering a broad range of conditions is a step forward, but I realize if group insurers are forced to pay for all conditions listed in the DSM, I can see why premiums would go up. It wouldn’t surprise me if costs increased significantly. No one likes to hear this but if people want better mental health coverage, they need to be willing to pay for it. For those who suffer with mental illnesses, it’s certainly worth the cost.

(By the way, only 47 Republicans joined the 221 Democrats in helping to pass the measure. It has nothing to do with the overall importance of the bill but it was a little annoyance that I had to throw in here. Grr.)

I'm officially unemployed

As of this past Monday, I currently own the title of "resident housewife." I made the big jump, at my husband's behest, and now find myself doing domestic things like housework and running errands. (I can't tell you how many times I washed dishes yesterday.) Oddly enough, I don't seem to mind except my feet hurt. I'd like a part-time job but the likelihood of obtaining a job where I wouldn't work weekends is highly unlikely. I have a friend, however, who's willing to pay me $10 an hour to help take care of her kids on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. She's currently having carpal tunnel problems so I'll likely take advantage of that offer whenever I can.

During the next coming weeks, I'm also going to try and freelance write. We'll see how that works out for me. I also wouldn't mind picking up some editing and proofreading jobs so I might have to re-interview with creative staffing services like Aquent and Boss Staffing. If anyone knows of any other creative staffing services like that in the Philadelphia area, please let me know. They specialize in placing people in "creative" jobs like editing, copy writing, proofreading, desktop publishing, web design, etc.

So that's my update. I can't promise multiple posts a day but I hope to write about mental health issues for a few publications so the potential for frequent posts and scouring other blogs for information in the next few weeks could be high. We'll see. I'm not sure about a market on writing about mental illness but it's one of the few topics I have a significant interest in.

As a result of leaving my job, the excellent medical  insurance that covered my husband and I has expired. We'll be moving to his health care insurance (which isn't awful but not as great as mine was). After a cursory search, however, we noticed that my psychiatrist isn't included under his plan. I'm reluctant to go to another doctor because I've already established a rapport with my current one. He's allowed me to have control over my own treatment and dictate the medication that I choose to use. I'm afraid another psychiatrist would try to shove Abilify down my throat if I mention passing suicidal thoughts. A few months ago, I went down to 100 mg of Lamictal in an attempt to slowly come off of it. I've been decreasing my dosages by about 25-50 mg every three months. I had a recurrence of frequent suicidal thoughts so I upped my dosage back to 150 mg. I was hoping that perhaps I had tricked myself into feeling better in conjunction with my counseling, but my suicidal thoughts have significantly decreased on the increased dose. It never ceases to scare me how much medication influences my mind.

Random news from across the board

I know I blog primarily on mental health, but I can’t help but add my 2 cents on the following:
Colts

  • Times SelectHillary Clinton and health care: The plan sounds nice and feasible, but Ms. Clinton and health insurance have been a disaster in the past. We’ll see what happens the second time around.
  • Colts and Bears face off in Super Bowl: Other than making history with two black coaches facing off in the Super Bowl, I’ve been holding out hope for Peyton Manning to lead his Colts to victory over the N.E. Patriots. The Super Bowl is definitely worth watching for me now. Oh yeah, and the Saints lost. Karma certainly sucks. (photo courtesy New York Times)
  • And I found this on NYT, but I don’t have Times Select and don’t feel like registering for a 14-day free trial (it’s just not worth it to me). If anyone’s seen the regular article or can read the reader responses, please send me some text. I’d be very much obliged.

Loose Screws Mental Health News

Liz Spikol linked to this and I can’t believe I missed it: Poorer mental health for black Caribbeans.

“The longer Caribbean immigrants who are black stay in the United States, the poorer their mental health, according to a study.

Prior research has shown that black Caribbean immigrants differ from African-Americans in various measures of physical health, but little research has been done on differences in mental health.

‘What we found was that ethnicity matters a lot in the black population in the United States for mental health risk,’ [lead author David R.] Williams said.”

This is certainly a study that should yield interesting results. As a first-generation African-American with West Indian parents, I can definitely see the higher risks of mental health problems in my own family. Not only is it an ethnic problem, but it also is rooted in genetic causes. My maternal line has no history of mental illness (the DSM threw out homosexuality a while ago), but my paternal line has many cases of mental illness – almost all of them developed after immigrating to the U.S. From what I understand, my grandmother suffered from some kind of mental illness and out of her eight children, three of them developed mental illness, including my father.

I’m mainly interested to see what kind of effect this could have on first-, second-, and third-generation blacks of Caribbean ancestry and what correlations result from immigrant relatives who developed mental illnesses in the U.S.

Before leaving office, Gov. George Pataki signed a bill into law that requires commercial insurance policies to pay for mental health care just like care for physical illnesses. (Pataki has been slightly redeemed in the sight of a former New Yorker who suffered under his reign.)  Since this is news from Dec. 23, you might have to pay $4.99 to read the article, but as of Jan. 9, the article is still available for free. Read a few excerpts below:

“Most commercial policies already cover mental health treatment, which the governor said had helped allay his concerns about cost, and so do government programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

Business organizations – whose members pay for most health insurance – and insurance companies generally oppose these kinds of mandates. But they did not work against the mental health bill this year, after small employers were exempted and after coverage that would have mandated treatment for alcohol and drug addiction was taken out of the bill.

An employer with fewer than 50 workers could opt out, but the insurer would be required to offer a policy that covered mental illness. The law pledges that the state will develop a method to help small businesses pay for that coverage if they choose to buy it.

There were at least 17 other states that mandated some kind of mental health coverage, but not full parity with other health benefits.”

I'm glad that the state has offered to help small businesses pay for mental health coverage if employers choose to provide it. It would be difficult for a small business to pay for health insurance – let alone mental health! – for 50 employees or less. However, it's an important investment in employees that small businesses and large corporations can't afford to overlook.

As for treatment for substance abuse, the state is doing a major disservice to employees who struggle with these issues. More employees are likely to suffer from some kind of substance abuse problem and the lack of coverage for treatment is a step backwards. During my mental health treatment, I've noticed that mental health problems sometimes accompany substance abuse. If a patient can't obtain substance abuse coverage, then the entire problem isn't solved. I can only hope that an amendment mandating substance abuse coverage is added to the bill in the future.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention provides their take on the bill:

"The law requires insurance companies to cover 30 inpatient and 20 outpatient days of treatment for mental illness. Companies must fully cover "biologically-based mental illnesses" including major depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, anorexia and binge eating. Timothy's Law would also require coverage for children with attention deficit disorder, disruptive behavior disorders or disorders that include suicidal symptoms. The measure is expected to increase premiums about 3 percent and no more than 10 percent, while providing a much wider array of mental health services.

Timothy's Law took effect on New Year's Day and will last for three years. The Legislature will make a decision about continuing the law in 2009. New York is the 38th state to enact mental health parity."