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.

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Loose Screws Mental Health News

Portland, Oregon has been recently declared the most depressed city in the country. BusinessWeek determined this based on “antidepressant sales, suicide rates, unemployment, divorce, and crappy weather.” Philly didn’t make the top 20 list. That’s because we’re too busy enjoying the highest suicide rate in the country.


smokingA great way to avoid depression, however, is to simply stop breathing. Yes, that’s right. Just stop breathing. A new study presented at an American Psychological Society meeting shows people who are consistently exposed to secondhand smoke are twice as likely to suffer from depression. So that’s my recommendation to you: STOP BREATHING. I guarantee you won’t be depressed after a while. (By the way, that’s a joke so you can go ahead and take a deep breath now.)


Apparently all this talk of an economic depression is causing people to be depressed enough to buy more antidepressants. I don’t get how it works but it seems as though antidepressant prescriptions (along with sleeping aid prescriptions) are rising alongside the unemployment rate in this country. Big Pharma isn’t filing for bankruptcy anytime soon. And if they do, it’s their own freakin’ fault.


In what appears to be a landmark ruling (correct me if I’m wrong), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that pharmaceutical companies are still liable for injuries cause by FDA-approved drugs and devices and juries can legitimately award damages. The buzzword I’ve learned for this case is preemption.

A woman who was injected with an antinausea drug (Phenergan, if you’re wondering) brought a damage suit against Wyeth after her arm had to be amputated. After a jury awarded her with $6.7 million, Wyeth took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, expecting a cool victory after the court sided with Medtronic in last year’s Riegel v. Medtronic case. Wyeth, the defendant in the case, hoped the Supreme Court would rule in their favor since the FDA had already evaluated their product for safety—a preemptive act. However, this time the court ruled 6-3 in favor of allowing the woman to keep her award money. The decision also sets a precedent for pharmaceutical consumers to sue pharmaceutical companies for injuries despite FDA approval—striking down preemption. For further information, check out Doug Bremner’s and Philip Dawdy’s blogs that have already covered this. In the meantime, I leave you with this:

Ronald Rogers, a spokesman for Merck, said, “We believe state courts should not be second-guessing the doctors and scientists at the F.D.A.”Merck was hit with several huge damage awards over its painkiller Vioxx before agreeing to a $4.85 billion settlement in 2007. Allowing juries to make determinations about drug risks, Mr. Rogers said, would cause “mass confusion.”

Hm. Make of that what you will.

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)

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:

Read the rest of this entry »

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)

Are Big Pharma murderers?

An book review in the NYTimes today focuses on Melody Petersen, a former reporter of the Times, who has written a book against  Big Pharma's marketing tactics called Our Daily Meds: How the Pharmaceutical Companies Transformed Themselves Into Slick Marketing Machines and Hooked the Nation on Prescription Drugs. In the book, she asks:

“Could drugs be killing people but escaping all blame, leaving them to harm even more Americans until someone, finally, catches on?” Ms. Petersen asks.

Few of us have. Most of America hasn't. Petersen outlines in great detail – the point of repetition according to Janet Maslin's review – Big Pharma's propensity for skewing clinical trial results so that their drugs perform better than placebo, the increased and ubiquitous DTC marketing, and the "payola-dispensing drug company representatives."

(“Hotel too cold inside,” one said, in an evaluation of a June 1998
drug company program, adding, “Resort places preferred.” From a
different doctor, miffed at the lack of a chauffeur at another event:
“Hired car would have been much preferable.”

Petersen also covers Big Pharma's tactic of fixing side effects of medications by creating medications to fix the side effects leading to medication on medication.

And when the side effects of sleeping pills or antidepressants mean
more elderly people fall down, the solution is not likely to be the
scaling back of such prescriptions. “Instead,” she writes, “the
companies have used the statistics on falls to create a new blockbuster
pharmaceutical market for drugs they claim will reduce the chances of
breaking a bone.”

According to the Maslin's review, the book calls for non-government watchdog agencies and closer oversight on published studies, which Petersen says are ghostwritten by pharma spokespeople. Overall, Petersen's book sounds like a must-read for anyone who is skeptical of Big Pharma's activities. However, I doubt her book will get much press or coverage considering that you can't read any major publication without turning the page and seeing a drug ad then the required 2-page side effect warning that everyone skips over. If anyone reads the book, I'd like to know your thoughts about it.

Sorry if this post sounds hastily written. I'm off to an interview to freelance for a company.

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?

Read the rest of this entry »

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)

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Celebrities take undisclosed money to endorse pharma drugs

This is old news, but I found it interesting enough to put up here because of my obsession with celebrities (although I haven’t been keeping up with them recently).

Walk of FameBrandweekNRX posted about the FTC investigating pharmaceutical companies paying stars “undisclosed” amounts of money to endorse medication. BrandweekNRX has the entire list, but here are some of my favorites:

  • Alonzo Mourning of basketball team Miami Heart – Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J’s) Procrit for anemia
  • Sally Field, an outspoken activist for osteoporosis awareness – Roche Therapeutics’ Boniva
  • Holly Marie Combs of Charmed – Ortho contraceptives for J&J’s subsidiary, Ortho McNeil
  • Terry Bradshaw, my beloved football commentator – GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK) Paxil
  • Lorraine Bracco of The Sopranos – Pfizer’s Zoloft

Attribution: CLPsych

Hirschfeld developed MDQ for GSK

“GlaxoSmithKline, one of the world’s leading research-based pharmaceutical healthcare companies, is committed to improving the quality of human life by enabling people to do more, feel better, and live longer.”

Quetiapine articleOK, I’ll be honest. I can’t keep up with my own posts and have no idea whether or not I’ve posted on this yet. Judging from the fact that I still have this bp booklet, I’m going to guess not. If I have, then there’s more.

When my psychiatrist diagnosed me with bipolar disorder in November, he handed me a bunch of material: a mood tracker (PDF), an article touting the benefits of Seroquel, and a booklet titled, “Bipolar Disorder,” which refers the reader to www.1on1.health.com.

The booklet seems pretty harmless to a patient newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder:

“Highs and lows can be part of life. But, with bipolar disorder, they can be severe. You may feel too depressed to get out of bed one day. Soon after, you may feel full of energy. You may have normal times between the highs and lows. When people have mood symptoms, it’s more likely to be depression.

Mood swings can be hard to predict. But you may have warning signs. You may even learn what can trigger your symptoms. You’ll read about this and more in this booklet.

Bipolar disorder is complex. Doctors docn’t know what causes it. They know that genes play a role. The illness may be linked to brain chemicals. These chemicals can get out of balance.

There are treatments to help control the symptoms. Learn about your condition. Get help for it. This booklet is a good first step.”

Thank you, GlaxoSmithKline.

GSK, the provider of such psych drugs as Lamictal, Paxil, and Wellbutrin, issues a series of booklets for patients referring them to 1on1health.com. The topics include depression, anxiety disorders, epilepsy, type 2 diabetes mellitus, high cholesterol, among others. The tips seems pretty simple and straightforward:

“Health and lifestyle chances may trigger your symptoms. Some common changes are:

Not having a sleep schedule
Misusing alcohol or drugs
Stopping your medicine, or starting medicine for depression or another illness
Having thyroid or other health problems”

Then it gets into the general stuff about the difference between mania, depression and further clarifies what hypomania and mixed moods are. Then, the kicker follows:

“If you think you may have bipolar disorder, fill out the checklist on the next two pages. Share it with your doctor. He or she can use it to help diagnose you.”

Bipolar questionnaireFurious Seasons posted a link about a fake drug named Havidol (which I totally got suckered into because I skimmed the post and missed the “OK, it’s a gag” part), but the hilarity stems from similarly stupid (and vague) questions. I’ve put a screenshot of the PDF GSK provides on their Web site to the right. My issue is not so much with the questions necessarily, but with the lead-in to them:

Has there been a time when...” [emphasis mine]

It doesn’t matter whether you were 3 years old or 46 years old, if you answered “yes” to more than one “there’s ever been a time when” question, guess what? You MAY qualify for bipolar disorder! A sampling:

Has there ever been a time when…

  • You were easily angered that you shouted at people or started fights?
  • You felt much more sure of yourself than usual?
  • You talked or spoke much faster than usual?
  • You were so easily distracted that you couldn’t focus?
  • You had much more energy than usual?
  • You were much more active or did many more things than usual?
  • You were much more social than usual?
  • You were much more interested in sex than usual?

Guaranteed everyone reading this said “yes” to at least TWO questions. If not, I question whether you’re breathing. (Sadly enough, this makes me realize how easy it was for me to get fooled by the phony Havidol quiz.)

The follow-up to the questions above asks, “If you checked YES to more than one of the questions above, have several of these things happened during the same period of time?” Then, “How much of a problem did any of these things cause you (like not being able to work, or having money or legal troubles)? Choose one[:]

  1. No problem
  2. Minor problem
  3. Moderate problem
  4. Serious problem”

The multiple choice question above may not matter. Answering some of the lead-in questions in the affirmative may qualify you for the disorder.

Here’s a nice little tidbit. The questionnaire was “adapted with permission from Robert M.A. Hirschfeld, M.D.” So as an uninformed patient reading this (which I was at the time), I’m thinking, “Oh, this must be legit since they got permission from a doctor to use this checklist.” There’s more than meets the eye here.

On the surface, Dr. Hirschfeld seems like an awesome doctor – and he very well may be. Dr Hirschfeld’s bio from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB) extols the “Professor and Chair” of its psychiatry deparment. He has history of working with various national organizations such as the National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association,  National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD). He’s written all kinds of articles and blah blah blah. He’s considered a leader in his research of bipolar disorder.

In fact, because Dr. Hirschfeld is so great, he’s a member of pharmaceutical boards and has acted as a consultant for pharmaceutical companies, according to ISI Highly Cited.com. Some of our favorite guys appear here: Pfizer, Wyeth, Abbott Labs., Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Forest Labs, Janssen, and – lookee here! – GSK.

The duration of Dr. Hirschfeld’s affiliations with these pharmaceutical companies are unspecified. All other “appointments/affiliations” have assigned years, i.e. 1972-1977, 2001-Present. His consulting affiliations follow his internship in 1968-1969. It looks a bit misleading to follow the consulting jobs after, oh say, 1969, and not provide dates of when he became a consultant for all of these pharma companies. Toward the end of the document that I found, his affiliations from 1986-Present are listed with various boards, associations, journals, and a slew of pharmaceutical companies.

Hello, hello, hello. He is a MEMBER of the Zyprexa U.S. Bipolar Academic Advisory Board, the Celexa/Excitalopram [sic] Executive Advisory Board, the Lamictal National Advisory Board, and the Zoloft Advisory Board.

Humor me here. His clinical trials include:

  • 1994 Paroxetine for Dysthymia (SmithKline Beecham)
  • 1995-97 Several (I found five) double-blind studies on sertraline and imipramine in patients qualifying for the DSM-III definition of major depressive disorder
  • 1996-98 Gabapentin therapy for bipolar patients

And the list, including mirtazapine, fluoxetine, venlafaxine, lamotrigine, goes on. You can also find the “grants” pharma companies gave to fund these clinical trials.

From 1997-2000, Hirschfeld received a $100K grant from Abbott Labs to develop “a new checklist for bipolar symptoms.” (I’m not sure what the old one was.) In 2001, he received a $142K grant for the “Bipolar Prevalence and Impact MDQ Project.”

I don’t even need to look MDQ up. It’s Mood Disorder Questionnaire. The grant came from GSK, who “adapted” the questionnaire with Hirschfeld’s “permission.” That sounds simply gravy.

To understand more about bipolar disorder, you can listen to the stories of Greg, Stuart and Leslie – all your classic bipolar cases and how medication and/or therapy has helped them so much. You can also watch the bipolar
disorder animation
that regurgitates all the things that we’ve become skeptical about.

In the meantime, remember the instructions included in Seroquel’s safety information that no one reads (excuse the crappy “Paint” job):

Seroquel warnings

intueri hits the spot

Oh. My. Goodness.

Abilify phone booth (side view)Intueri originally wrote the post about seeing Abilify on the side of a phone booth. I thought it was pretty funny and pretty stupid.

I still find it stupid, but even more so now.

I was on the bus heading to work today (I don’t normally take it) . When it reached a red light near the subway, I saw a telephone booth – akin to the one that you see on the right – draped in an Abilify ad. The ad is exactly what you see here. (If you can’t see it, go to Abilify.com and click on the “see our print adverisement!”)

I work near two major colleges with students who all have cell phones. Adults in the area are too busy thinking about their own problems while heading into the subway. (They, too, are likely to own cell phones.) Public telephones are rarely used anymore. So who’s going to read an ad on Abilify, let alone on a public telephone booth?

Some marketing person at Bristol-Myers Squibb probably thought it would be awesome to have an ad for Abilify near two major colleges. “All the college kids that walk by will see it!”

The readable text – from the bus, anyway – was “Treating bipolar disorder takes understanding.”

Understanding of what? Who’ll actually stand there and go, “Yeah, I need understanding” and walk right up to it to read more.

    • “where you’ve been
    • where you want to go
    • how you want to get there”

I’m ready to understand my history, my future, and the plans I should make. Uh-huh, Abilify will help me do that.

“Ask your doctor or health care professional if ABILIFY is right for you.” [emphasis mine]

The bus didn’t stay there long enough for me to see if they included the safety information, but here’s the gist of what they provide:

    • “Acute manic and mixed episodes associated with Bipolar I Disorder
    • Maintaining efficacy in patients with Bipolar I Disorder with a recent manic or mixed episode who had been stabilized and then maintained for at least 6 weeks “

Someone can explain the last part to me a little better? I’m a mixed-episode case, do I qualify for Abilify?

I was under the impression that Abilify (aripiprazole) is an atypical antipsychotic. Antipsychotics should be prescribed for those who have psychosis. (I may be wrong here; I’m still trying to figure out the difference between typical and atypicals.) I don’t have psychosis. I don’t need Abilify. But the few bipolar people who will read that ad – they’re likely to be homeless – will be misled into thinking that they need Abilify to help them. They’ll go their doctors, saying, “I’ve heard Abilify helps people with bipolar disorder, could I perhaps try it?” PCPs will immediately churn out prescriptions and uneducated psychiatrists (yes, they are out there despite their degrees) will say, “Sure, Abilify works for bipolar disorder. Let’s see if it works for you.” The smart psych would say, “I’m not sure if it would be right for you. It’s an atypical antipsychotic that targets Bipolar I patients who have symptoms of psychosis. Let’s try something else instead.”

So I went on my soapbox. Again. But it angers me to see:

    • An Abilify ad on a phone booth. Period.
    • A misleading advertisement geared to all people with bipolar disorder (it doesn’t specify until you get to the fine print) that says, “Try this; it may work for you.”
    • An advertisement for medication. At all.

What’s next? A marketing blitz by Eli Lilly? “Zyprexa doesn’t cause diabetes! Check out zyprexafacts.com for more information!”

Big Pharma never fails to surprise me.

Pristiq gains ground with FDA

FDA approval for Pristiq (I'll refer to it as Pq occasionally) is contingent upon Wyeth's handling of "quality control problems… made to the satisfaction of federal inspectors." As I'd previously mentioned before, Wyeth has built an amazingly similar medication based on Effexor. Wyeth is trying to market Pristiq as an antidepressant and treatment for vasomotor symptoms (hot flashes during menopause). Wyeth is significantly banking on Pristiq since their $3.5 billion Effexor XR will lose its patent in a few years, allowing other companies to make venlafaxine generics.

Some of the "quality control" problems Wyeth is experiencing:

  • unclear whether Pq keeps depressive episodes at bay
  • efficacy at low doses and in young kids
  • severe nausea in 50 percent of patients in the clinical trials

Reuters' article notes this, though:

"But the studies do not need to be completed prior to approval of the new depression pill."

While Wyeth has admitted that Pq is "structurally related" to Effexor, it "has not yet disclosed if Pristiq has any advantages over Effexor XR, other than to say it would be an alternative to existing treatments."

But it has acknowledged the newer drug caused nausea in about one-half of patients in clinical trials.

Wyeth is banking on patients sticking out the nausea for one week (it supposedly subsides after that) or a 50 mg pill that would be more effective than the whopping 400 mg they used in earlier phases of the clinical trials.

"The company said it will not launch Pristiq until it obtains results from the low-dose trials. Moreover, Wyeth said the timing of the launch also will depend on progress of the FDA's ongoing review of Pristiq as a possible non-hormonal treatment for hot flashes. The FDA is scheduled to decide on the hot flashes indication in April."

Wyeth wants to be absolutely sure they can cover all of their bases in an effort not to lose a single portion on their market share — from those who can tolerate low doses at 50 mg to those who need to go 400 mg and up.

"A G Edwards analyst Joseph Tooley has predicted Pristiq will garner annual sales of $1.4 billion by 2011 — about $1 billion from use against depression and the remainder for menopausal symptoms."

Getting not only psychiatrists to prescribe the drug, but also OB/GYNs is a clever move on their part.

Loose Screws Mental Health News

Surprise, surprise — the likelihood of suicide attempts increases with antidepressants.

     “Suicidal patients taking antidepressants have a ‘markedly increased’ risk of additional suicide attempts but a "markedly decreased" risk of dying from suicide, a large Finnish study has found.
     “The research into nearly 15,400 patients hospitalized for suicide attempts between 1997 and 2003 showed that ‘current antidepressant use was associated with a 39 percent increase in risk of attempted suicide, but a 32 percent decrease in risk of completed suicide and a 49 percent reduced risk of death from any cause,’ the authors wrote in a report published in the Dec. 4 issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.
      “The Finnish study analyzed 15,390 suicidal patients of all ages for an average of 3.4 years. The authors said they did this ‘because previous suicide attempts are the most important risk factor for predicting suicide.’”

I think 15,390 patients is a sizeable, significant study that could probably yield semi-accurate statistics.

      “Among the 7,466 males and 7,924 females examined, there were 602 suicides, 7,136 suicide attempts requiring hospitalization and 1,583 deaths recorded during follow-up. The risk of completed suicide was 9 percent lower among those taking any antidepressants than among those not taking antidepressants.
     “But the picture was not so bright for all those who took SSRIs. It was for those taking fluoxetine (Prozac), who had a 48 percent lower risk of suicide than those not taking medication. But the study found that those taking another SSRI, venlafaxine hydrochloride (Effexor XR), had a 61 percent increased risk.”

So Prozac is better than Effexor XR in terms of suicidal risk. Nice, considering that I've had a 10-year history of suicidal attempts and this study seems to show that venlafaxine increases the risk of suicide attempts. Perhaps Effexor should be prescribed to those who aren't/have never been suicidal?

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An Interesting Observation

Time’s Quote of the Year:
“Actually, I thought we were going to do fine yesterday – shows what I know.” – President Bush on the midterm elections

CLASSIC.


An interesting observation I don’t know if anyone has already made or if anyone will pay attention to – Time‘s 2006 POTY issue carried 14 medically- or pharmaceutically-related ads. Two of those ads were full-color spreads related to two major pharma companies: AstraZeneca (an ad letting you know they can help/care) and Eli Lilly (touting the benefits of Cymbalta). I couldn’t help but stop and stare at Ambien CR’s ad pages. Ambien CR, a version of the popular sleep aid developed sanofi aventis has a WHOPPING 3.5 pages. Three-quarters of the first page is the Ambien CR color ad and the bottom quarted is  “Important Safety Information” in a blue box. Turn the page and there is nothing but fine print black text streaming across TWO pages. As if a quarter-page of safety information and a FULL two pages weren’t enough, flip the page again, and more “information for patients” continues for a half-page. I’d like to  know someone that’s actually read ALL those warning/safety information things. How many people actually READ all two and three-quarters (2 3/4) of safety information? I’ll be honest with you; I sure don’t. I skip all that stuff. But it’s there so when people suffer side effects, the company can say, “Hey! We  included this in our advertisement! It’s everywhere; you have no basis to sue.”

AstraZeneca, the maker of antipsychotic drug, Seroquel, writes in its ad (click on the thumbnail to see the modified scanned version):

AZ“A pharmaceutical company saving you the money on the medicines it makes.Imagine that. [larger font]

If you take any AstraZeneca medicines, you may be surprised that there’s someone you can turn to for help if you can’t afford them: Us. A family of four without prescription covrage making up to $60,000 per year may qualify for patient assistance. The AstraZeneca Personal Assistants can assist you in signing up for programs that can provide you free medicines or significant savings IF you qualify. [emphasis mine]
We’ll be the first to admit we don’t have all the answers. But as a pharmaceutical company, we recognize that when you trust us to help you, we feel we owe you the same trust in return. That’s what AZ&Me is all about. A place we’re creating to put the personal touch back into healthcare.

Please visit AZandMe.com or call 1-800-AZandMe.”

AstraZeneca Personal Assistants??? What is this? A department store? I can hear it over the loudspeaker now: “Now, calling all patients who use AstraZeneca medicines, we have personal assistants who can help you select the right care and plan to help you get the medicines you need.” And the cute slogan AZ&Me slogan. How adorable. It just makes you want to cuddle right up to Big Pharma! Because remember, they’re putting the “care” back in “healthcare.”  (sarcasm)

If anyone has used AZ&Me to get Seroquel for free or at a discount, e-mail me ASAP at suicidal.recovery AT gmail.com. I’d love to communicate with you.

Well-intentioned but not completely right

medicating the brainI read this commentary from the Philly Inquirer on mental illness and the author insists that mental illnesses are all “chemical imbalances.” While I do think many mental illnesses are the result of chemical imbalances, some mental illnesses are not physical. Some mental illnesses come from a spiritual and/or psychological battle. There are many people who recover from mental illness without medication. If a chemical imbalance was the case for these people, they would never get better. Pharma companies have sold the American public and countless mental health organizations on the idea that millions of people suffer from a “chemical imbalance.” I don’t buy that – well, come to think of it, actually, I do – my dollars contribute to Wyeth and GlaxoSmithKline‘s profits.

After suffering from bipolar disorder (or depression, depending on which psychiatrist I listen to) for 10 years, my husband and I are leaning toward the “chemical imbalance” theory that many doctors and pharmaceutical companies push. But a person who is depressed over a temporary situation does NOT have a chemical imbalance and simply may need psychological counseling.

America is overmedicated, drugged-up, and the victims of the smartest ad campaigns from pharma companies. What concerns me even more is that the FDA and mental health organizations like NIMH buy into many of the pharmaceutical companies’ lies and tactics. What further concerns me are the doctors involved in clinical trials who fail to disclose their affiliations with many of these pharmaceutical companies.

So yes, chemical imbalances do exist for many people. Millions? It’s possible. But unlikely. And I could go off on another rant about how PCPs shouldn’t be prescribing psych meds, but I’ll leave that argument for another day.

Absolutely crazy

PfizerThis has nothing to do with psych meds but I recently learned through the Clinical Psychology blog and Pharma Marketing blog that Pfizer supposedly spent more than $800 million on what was supposed to be their own competitor to Lipitor. The new drug, torcetrapib, needed to be halted because of safety concerns. It seems that quoted cost for the new drug is shady but it prompts the question of how much money pharmaceutical companies invest in new drugs.

Just another day: Part II

Originally written October 16, 2006 (Updated edits in bold red)

On the heels of discussing my cynicism about pharmaceutics and pharmaceutical companies (namely, psychiatric-related), I have a few questions regarding the approach of psychiatric evalutations:

1. Why aren’t people tested for biochemical imbalances?
2. Is there a way to determine from blood work or an MRI what kind of mental illness a person is suffering from (in conjunction with the patient’s psychiatric assessment)?
3. How do doctors know the appropriate dosage for a patient? Does s/he start a patient off on what is considered “normal” for an average person and then increase or reduce the dosage based on reactions and side effects?
4. How does a doctor know when to increase a dosage? (Figuring out when to reduce a dosage SHOULD be much easier.)


Psychiatry is an inexact science. For the most part, I think much of it — regarding medication, Freud, and now, the pharmaceutical industry — is a crock.

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