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.

Antidepressant rankings: Zoloft and Lexapro considered best overall

A number of antidepressants were recently ranked in different surveys:

Zoloft and Lexapro came in first for a combination of effectiveness and fewer side effects, followed by Prozac (fluoxetine), Paxil (paroxetine), Cymbalta, and Luvox among others.

The first was efficacy — or how likely patients were to experience the desired effects of the drug.

Efficacy:

1. Remeron (Mirtazapine)
2. Lexapro (Escitalopram)
3. Effexor (Venlafaxine)
4. Zoloft (Sertraline)
5. Celexa (Citalopram)
6. Wellbutrin (Buproprion)
7. Paxil (Paroxetine)
8. Savella (Milnacipran)
9. Prozac (Fluoxetine)
10. Cymbalta (Duloxetine)
11. Luvox (Fluvoxamine)
12. Vestra (Reboxetine)

The second was acceptability — the likelihood that a patient would continue using a drug for the duration of the study (it is generally assumed that a high ratio of patients dropping out indicates the presence of undesirable side effects for a drug).

Acceptability:

1. Zoloft (Sertraline)
2. Lexapro (Escitalopram)
3. Wellbutrin (Buproprion)
4. Celexa (Citalopram)
5. Prozac (Fluoxetine)
6. Savella (Milnacipran)
7.
Remeron (Mirtazapine)
8. Effexor (Venlafaxine)
9. Paxil (Paroxetine)
10. Cymbalta (Duloxetine)
11. Luvox (Fluvoxamine)
12. Vestra (Reboxetine)

antidepressantsMy experience with Lexapro was a disaster and I’ve written about Zoloft’s connection with irritability and rage. Paxil’s side effects are especially rough (see Bob Fiddaman’s Seroxat page) while Effexor’s withdrawal effects proved to be significantly challgenging. Although Prozac offset Effexor’s withdrawal symptoms, it causes severe somnolence that can impair cognitive functioning. And last but not least, Cymbalta contributed to the unfortunate death of Traci Johnson who had no history of depression.

These drugs may be effective for many people but it’s still a guessing game. Dr. Mark I. Levy, quoted in ABC News’s article on the rankings, mentioned that while psychiatrists may not have much use for the rankings, he sees them as beneficial for primary care physicians. And Dr. Harold G. Koenig, a professor at Duke University Medical Center, adds:

“I would be likely to start patients on either Zoloft [because it’s cheaper] or Lexapro … Unfortunately, that is almost none of my patients. By the time they get to me [a psychiatrist], the primary-care doctors have tried Zoloft and other antidepressants, so my patient are not the “new to medication” kind of patients,” he said.

I won’t rehash my thoughts on PCPs prescribing antidepressants and other psych meds. You can read about them here.

For No One

NOTE: This post heavily focuses on God, His impact on my life, and living according to the Bible.

When I talk to my husband about embarking on freelance writing, he often asks me: "What do you define success as?"

Hmm. Good question.

My responses vary:

"It’s educating others and making a difference in other people’s lives."
"Bringing in a decent income."
"Doing what I love to do every day."

But if I’m honest with myself, I define success as writing a brilliant piece, receiving recognition, being lavished with laud and praise over it, and winning a slew of writing and/or journalism awards. I’ve done it in the past. I’d like to do it all over again.

Back in my senior year of college, I won an award as the best student print journalism writer on Long Island. I beat out I-don’t-know-how-many other college students on an island that boasts a population of 2.8 million (as of the 2000 census). Sure, it was just college but it opened my eyes and made me feel as though I had the potential to do that on a bigger scale.

Then comes Epic Fail. (Link provided for your amusement.)

Continue reading “For No One”

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)

Depression Overawareness and Overmedication Week

The Pursuit of Happiness

This post kicks off Depression Overawareness and Overmedication Week.

Two weeks ago, CLPsych and Gianna, among others, celebrated Bipolar Overawareness Week. To cap off Mental Health Awareness Month, I’ve declared this last week of May Depression Overawareness and Overmedication Week. Use this checklist to identify whether you may possibly be “overaware” and “overmedicated” for depression:

  • If you’re on Zoloft because you’ve never been sad or anxious.
  • If you get a prescription for Lexapro on Thursday because you had a bad day on Tuesday.
  • If you take Paxil because you’re never restless or irritable.
  • If you are on Pristiq as a result of sadness and guilt over your Wii-related injury (eg, throwing your shoulder out or tripping over the coffee table).
  • If you are on Celexa because you hate the job that you disliked anyway before you began the medication.
  • If you are on Cymbalta because you are tired after normal long, exhausting days at your job(s).
  • If you are on Effexor only because you overate during the holidays.
  • If you take Prozac because you’ve never had passing thoughts of suicide.

If you meet any of the criteria above, this is a medical emergency. You are overaware and overmedicated. Go see your doctor immediately and discuss treatment options that involve non-medication and/or talk therapy.

Now, the disclaimer.
The checklist above is satire. It is not intended to poke fun at those who suffer with real clinical depression (of which I am one). It is intended to mock the extremely high number of people in the U.S. who are diagnosed with depression and medicated with antidepressants. This is not a medically based checklist for anything. It is not a professional recommendation or intended for professional use. It is not intended to be serious. In fact, it is not intended to be seriously serious. If you take this to your doctor, he or she will probably diagnose you with something other than depression. If you have been offended by this post, don’t be; you shouldn’t come close to meeting the criteria above. And if you do, then you really should go to a doctor. While I meet the criterion for sadness over my Wii-related injury, I don’t take Pristiq for it. If you have something nice to say, click on the Comments link below. If you don’t have something nice to say, click on the Comments link below.

(comic from problogs.com)

My official position on pharmaceutical companies and psychotropic meds

In previous posts, perhaps I’ve come off a little bit as “I hate Big Pharma.” I did. For a while.

I’m not in love with pharmaceutical companies either. I’ve quoted it before but “to whom much is given, much is required.” As a result of accumulating knowledge through reading and research, I know a whole lot more about pharmaceutical companies, the treatment options they put out there, and what lengths they go to get those treatments out there. Most of the things I read are negative. Much of what I’ve said is negative. Perhaps “ignorance is bliss.” My husband said this recently:

“The Internet is the great bitching ground. No one’s going to talk about how great medication is. Everyone’s going to go on and just bitch about side effects and bad experiences.”

I agree. “Effexor really helped me feel better today” doesn’t make for an interesting blog post. No one pays attention to medication when it’s working, however, everyone will complain if something is going wrong. The most “positive” drug comments I’ve seen are on my seemingly “negative” posts from people who are being helped by a drug.

Take, for instance, the following comment from Suffering:

Continue reading “My official position on pharmaceutical companies and psychotropic meds”

Today's lesson: Paxil and Lexapro are not great antidepressants

Dawdy at Furious Seasons wrote a post on an editorial in the LA Times by Summer Beretsky’s experience with Paxil. After reading her editorial, I’m reminded that my own experience with one antidepressant wasn’t all that unique. Her drug was Paxil for panic attacks; mine was Lexapro for depression following a 3-month (on-and-off) stint with Paxil. I’m struck by the similarity of our experiences; not only did the same thing happened to me but I was also a communications major in college as well.

Paxil had one pretty undesirable effect on me: I started to lose interest in just about everything. I stopped initiating social activities (who needs that sort of thing?) and was no longer motivated to perform well academically.

My emotions had flat-lined: I hadn’t cried in months, nor had I proverbially jumped for joy. I felt — nothing.

I can still remember sleeping in bed at home on a weekday when I should have been at class. It was 2 in the afternoon, around the time my copy editing class was to begin. My boyfriend at the time (now my husband) lived in Kentucky while I attended college in New York. He planned to visit me that weekend but was getting fed up with my depression and listlessness. He called from work to tell me to get up and go to class. I mumbled on the phone, half-confused, and said no. He demanded, “Why not?” I said quite plainly, “Because I don’t care.” He said, “If you don’t get up and go to class, I won’t visit you this weekend.”

I replied, “I don’t care.”

Continue reading “Today's lesson: Paxil and Lexapro are not great antidepressants”

Loose Screws Mental Health News

Let’s start off small and build up, shall we?

A blog I came upon, Providentia, has a post on the suicide rate in Kentucky over a 10-year period. Male schizophrenics have the highest rate of suicide. The leading methods of suicide in the state are firearm use, overdose, and hanging.


Mary WinklerMary Winkler, the preacher’s wife who killed her husband, has been moved from jail to a mental health facility, where she will serve the remainder of her three-year sentence.


East meadow, a poster on the drugs.com message board, asks about Lexapro’s correlation to suicide. Her sister committed suicide while on Lexapro and questions whether the Lexapro might have affected her in that way. As a former Lexapro user, I can empathize with the change in her sister’s behavior.


The Depression Calculator: see how much depression is costing your company and see if treatment is worth your while. I went through it for kicks and basically, I walked away feeling like it cost too much to hire someone with depression, especially if I were running a small business. Blah.


Apparently, bipolar disorder is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Starbucks is settling an $85,000 lawsuit with Christine Drake, a former Starbucks employee who suffers from bipolar disorder. It seems that Drake’s first manager was willing to work with her “psychiatric impairment” and allow her to gain “extra training and support.” Then, get this:

“But, during her third year, new management told her she was “not Starbucks material,” refused to continue the accommodation and ultimately fired her for discriminatory reasons, the agency alleged.”

Starbucks probably put up one helluva fight, but in the end, they’ve tried to put a good face and good spin on the situation:

Starbucks agreed to pay Drake $75,000 and donate another $10,000 to the Disability Rights Legal Center, which provides legal representation for low-income people with disabilities facing discrimination, as part of the settlement.

“The facts of this case illustrate how relatively minor accommodations are often all that disabled people need to be productive members of the work force,” said the EEOC’s San Francisco district office director, Joan Ehrlich. “It is important that all of Starbucks’ managers understand their legal duties regarding disabled employees and provide them with the tools necessary to succeed. This is in everyone’s best interest.”

Ms. Drake, who seems to be more than capable of handling a job well, has probably eeked out several years of a barista’s salary from the Starbucks suit.


I’m amused, but it’s not necessarily a good thing.

RisperdalJohnson & Johnson is gearing up to put Risperdal for children on the market. I’m sure other blogs have beat me to the punch on this, but I just came across this info and found it absolutely retarded. (But what do drug companies care?)

The FDA has approved “expanded use” for Risperdal in teenagers who suffer from schizophrenia and the short-term treatment of bipolar mania in kids ages 10-17. I’m leery enough about antidepressants in kids let alone antipsychotics.

“J&J said the agency has not requested the company perform any additional studies, implying that it need only agree with the FDA on acceptable labeling for the expanded uses in order to gain final approval.”

I wasn’t sure what “expanded use” was so I looked it up. This was the best I could come up with:

“Applications for a new or expanded use, often representing important new treatment options, are formally called “efficacy supplements” to the original new drug application.”

Well, I didn’t know what efficacy supplements were so I looked that up too:

“The legislative history indicates that this provision was directed at certain types of efficacy supplements (i.e., supplemental applications proposing to add a new use of an approved drug to the product labeling).”

So – correct me if I’m wrong – it sounds like the studies performed that led up to this “expanded use” are not as rigorously evaluated by the FDA as the initial studies that allowed the drug to be released on the market in the first place. It just seems like a company and the FDA simply need to agree on “acceptable labeling.” So if we’re following the theory that I’m still correct, the FDA doesn’t follow up on the clinical trials performed on these children, they just agree with J&J on the “acceptable labeling.” Doesn’t that thought make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside about your health?


Christopher PittmanOn the subject of children and psychotropic medications, 12-year-old Christopher Pittman shot and killed his grandparents and then set their house on fire in November 2001 all while on an adult dosage of Zoloft. It looks like the drama is still playing out in June 2007.

According to CourtTV.com, Pittman suffered from hallucinations while on the 200 mg dose and while in jail, displayed symptoms of mania.

“Three years after the killings, Pittman was tried in adult court and convicted of murder. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison. He was then 15 years of age.”

No doubt Pittman should be held responsible for what occurred, especially if he admitted to the killings (which he did). However, the situation raises a few questions. First of all, why was he on 200 mg of Zoloft when he was TWELVE? Why wasn’t he considered mentally ill and placed in a mental health facility? I could go on and on. While Pittman “did the crime and needs to do the time,” why isn’t the doctor who prescribed this not present in any of the reported stories? If this incident was 2001, it can only be worse for antidepressants and other psych meds today.

Paxil's great for kids

An Associated Press article has reported on how antidepressants have a positive effect on children and adolescents. The upside? No suicides.

Antidepressants used: Paxil, Celexa, Zoloft, Lexapro, Prozac, Serzone, Remeron.

Dr. David Brent from the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Medicine is a flat-out idiot:

‘‘The medications are safe and effective and should be considered as an important part of treatment. The benefits seem favorable compared to the small risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior.’’

Screw you, Dr. Brent for not taking meds and taking money from drug companies (probably to fund research studies). All meds listed above – Paxil, namely – have side/withdrawal effects strong enough to fuck an adult up, let alone a developing child. Sure, I recommend alcohol for kids: It’s safe, effective, and the benefits are favorable compared to the small risk of alcoholism and drunk driving.

The prestigious Duke University has a smarter and cautious doctor, Dr. John March, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center.

“He said the suicidal behavior risk, although lower than found by the FDA, demands that doctors and families watch for warning signs.

‘You can’t treat kids with these drugs without taking this information into account,’ said March, who was not involved in the study, but does similar research. ‘You can’t say, ‘Take these and call me in six weeks.’ You have to monitor carefully the benefits and adverse events.’

An addendum: “The study was supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.”

Talk amongst yourselves.

Wyeth looking for Pristiq's FDA approval in 2008

Depressed Americans will be spared of Pristiq for 1 year. According to an article from Reuters, "positive" data has raised investors’ hopes in Wyeth’s future star drug.

"The trial data showed low doses of Pristiq were effective against both depression and hot flashes and caused less nausea than was seen in prior studies of higher doses. Although the new data will take more time for regulators to analyze, it could bolster prospects for eventual approval and commercial success of the drug."

My best guess? Pharma reps will push Pristiq at higher dosages and doctors will prescribe it at higher dosages with a minimal warning of nausea. I’d like to know the highest dosage tolerated with the least amount of nausea. And really, what is considered a low dosage anyway? The difference between 37.5 mg of Effexor and 300 mg of Effexor is significant despite the fact people told me that the dosages didn’t compare to that of Lexapro’s. (It was supposedly less powerful than Lexapro.)

Anyway, I’ll stop my rants. I’ll follow Pristiq as the information continues to trickle out but don’t expect to hear much about it until next year when Wyeth becomes the proud papa of a brand new (and approved) product.