Loose Screws Mental Health News

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

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

Gianna at Beyond Meds provides here take here.


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


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


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

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…and on to AstraZeneca's problems with Seroquel

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

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

Read the rest of Philip's post.

Atypical Antipsychotics: Patient Safety Information

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)

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.

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

Decision Resources attempts to restore confidence in Big Pharma's atypicals

Zyprexa

Whee for self-promotion!

“Eli Lilly’s Zyprexa Will Remain the Clinical Gold Standard for the Treatment of Schizophrenia Through 2015”

“Clinical Gold Standard,” huh?

I can’t bring anything new to the table on this. Maybe I’m wrong, but here I go:

“For almost three decades, Decision Resources has provided in-depth research on the trends, emerging developments, and market potential in various healthcare industry sectors.  Our client base is diverse – including large pharmaceutical companies, emerging biotechnology concerns, financial services, managed care organizations, and medical device manufacturers who turn to Decision Resources to help shape their strategy and master their chosen markets.

The privately-owned company offers a rich array of research publications advisory services, and consulting that make it second to none for quality, analytical depth and insight. With access to almost 10,000 thought leaders, specialists, HMO formulary directors, and general practitioners, Decision Resources’ highly-credentialed analysts are able to reconcile real-world practice with hard numbers from the industry’s most respected data sources.  The resulting analysis and insights drive business decisions and commercial success within the biopharmaceutical, managed care, medical device, and financial markets.”

Here’s my assessment, take it with a grain of salt: In an attempt to fight the decline in sales from the NYT-induced Zyprexa backlash, Eli Lilly has gone on the offensive and hired Decision Resources to reinvent its star medication.

Decision Resources (DR), a privately owned company (no hyphen if a modifier ends in “-ly”), has a client base that includes large pharmaceutical companies. Ta-da! Don’t get it?

Decision Resources is not a public company; hence, in addition to not receiving federal money, it doesn’t need to report its financial dealings to the SEC. Therefore, no publicly accessible financial records of DR’s clients. They haven’t said they are an “independent” organization. Perhaps this is implied. Whatever the case may be, DR gets paid by its client base to research their products and “help shape their strategy and master their chosen markets.”

This isn’t brain science; this is on their “About Us” section of their Web site. Therefore, if Eli Lilly turns to DR and pays them to – I like DR’s wording here – “shape their strategy and master their chosen markets,” then DR is essentially a PR loudspeaker letting everyone know that Zyprexa is the “clinical gold standard” for schizophrenia.

What a bunch of hooey.

Not too long ago, it seems that AstraZeneca (AZ) may have had DR engineer its new marketing strategy to give Seroquel a boost. Why not? Mental health media watchdogs are hatin’ on the atypical antipsychotics.

“According to a new report entitled Schizophrenia: Turning Physician Insight into Projected Patient Share, Zyprexa is superior in efficacy to all other current therapies, particularly on measures that are most important to prescribers, such as impact on global symptoms and responder rate.”

Holla at me if you’ve got your hands on that report mentioned above.

“In spite of scoring* less favorable than the other drugs in terms of safety and lower than risperidone in terms of delivery features, Zyprexa is the gold standard.”

OK – so it’s not safe and it doesn’t deliver as well as Risperdal – whatever that means – but Zyprexa is still “the gold standard”?

“This overall advantage for a drug with significant safety concerns highlights the importance of efficacy to prescribers.”

I want you to reread that: ” This overall advantage for a drug with significant safety concerns highlights the importance of efficacy to prescribers.” Let’s attempt to paraphrase this: The benefit of this potentially harmful drug shows the importance of how effective it is to those who receive the drug. Although Zyprexa has “significant safety concerns,” the drug works well enough for doctors to prescribe it to patients. Uh, no. Positives don’t outweigh the negatives. It was nice jargon for a second there, though. (If this is effed up enough for adults, why subject children to this crap?)

“The report also finds that the most commercially important emerging antipsychotics (Janssen’s Invega, Organon BioSciences’ asenapine, and Wyeth/Solvay/Lundbeck’s bifeprunox) score* lower than Zyprexa, indicating that Zyprexa will remain unsurpassed during Decision Resources’ forecast period.”

I know I’m doing a play-by-play but this is important. I need to find out how DR decided that Zyprexa would be the “gold standard” until 2015. (What’s the significance of this year? Does EL’s patent on Zyprexa expire then? Nope, Eli Lilly’s patent on Zyprexa expires in 2011. Expect a similar molecularly structured olanzapine before then. Biolexapine?) So basically, in this report, DR’s conclusion is Zyprexa beats every other atypical antipsychotic for schizophrenia by far. Notice that AZ’s Seroquel (the soon-to-be “gold standard” of bipolar meds),  an atypical also used for schizophrenia, is not listed. Not coincidence.

The little asterisk (*) next to the word “score” prompts me to wonder: Just how did they come up with these scores? Well, the asterisk tells me that I need to contact DR for the methodology behind the product scores. I just might. Then send it off to CL Psych or Furious Seasons to decipher the crap out of it.

Another thing to note on this PR:

“”Invega is a metabolite of risperidone and is likely to have efficacy similar to that of risperidone, which scored* slightly lower than Zyprexa overall,” said Nitasha Manchanda, Ph.D., analyst at Decision Resources. “Asenapine also lacks the differentiation to replace Zyprexa as the gold standard because it does not make as significant an impact on global symptoms, and bifeprunox is significantly inferior to Zyprexa in all primary efficacy measures and is not capable of surpassing Zyprexa.””

Dr. Manchanda, analyst for DR, pulled bifeprunox – not yet on the drug market – into the Zyprexa comparison and somehow was able to call it “significantly inferior to Zyprexa” with an incapability to “surpass” it. How many people have used bifeprunox, Ms. Manchanda? OK, now tell me how many people have used Zyprexa? And you’re telling me that a drug that hasn’t yet hit the market is “significantly inferior” to a drug that has been on the market for the past couple of years and has 1,200 lawsuits still pending in addition to the millions that have already been paid?

As for AZ, DR has determined that Seroquel will become the “gold standard” for bipolar medication by 2010, knocking Lamictal out of its current “gold standard” status. Like Furious Seasons, I had NO idea Lamictal was held up so highly for bipolar meds. Considering that lithium has always been the king of bipolar meds and treats both acute mania and depression better than Lamictal, I’m surprised to read this.

“According to the new DecisionBase report entitled Bipolar Depression: Turning Physician Insight into Projected Market Share, Seroquel’s advantages over Lamictal include the more profound effect on depressive symptoms seen in short-term trials.”

My doctor precribed Lamictal to me for management of depressive symptoms in bipolar disorder. He conversely prescribed Seroquel for mania (and to help me get sleep).  Getting back to the short-term trials, Lamictal was tested for 18 months for long-term management of bipolar disorder. Seroquel, however, was tested for 8 weeks. Effective for the short-term? Perhaps. But most patients on atypicals take them long-term. And that’s precisely where Seroquel fails.

“The drug’s efficacy on this measure differentiates it from other therapies, according to thought-leading psychiatrists, and the importance assigned to this measure by prescribing psychiatrists drives Seroquel’s product score above Lamictal’s.*”

According to thought-leading psychiatrists who probably function as consultants and analysts for “large pharmaceutical companies.” Seroquel may have the potential to sell more than Lamictal by 2010 – if this is what DR’s gauging. However, it seems like DR is trying to push Seroquel, not just as a better market share, but as a better product. In this “report,” DR also fails to compare Seroquel’s efficacy to Zyprexa’s. What a convenient absence for a product used for psychosis in bipolar disorder.

(ignore any spelling errors in this post. it’s late and i bumped my forehead against the edge of a car door in the rain. ouch.)

Loose Screws Mental Health News

According to a press release (I’m well aware what I’m saying), a recent study possibly shows that schizophrenia’s physical effects are more widespread in the body; researchers previously theorized that schizophrenia was limited to the central nervous system.

“The findings could lead to better diagnostic testing for the disease and could help explain why those afflicted with it are more prone to type II diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and other chronic health problems.”

Apparently, those who suffer from schizophrenia have abnormal proteins in the liver and red blood cells. While schizophrenia’s most visible effects are psychological, researchers have noted that schizophrenics are at a higher risk for “chronic diseases.” The genetic and physical implications of such a study could prove interesting, especially for those suffering from and at risk for schizophrenia. Also in schizophrenia news, researchers have noticed an “excessive startle response.” The startle response, known as prepulse inhibition (PPI), is being considered as a biomarker for the illness.

Something Furious Seasons might like to argue if he hasn’t taken the following on:

“Lastly, but quite importantly, atypical antipsychotic were found to be more effective than typical antipsychotics in improving PPI, thus ‘normalizing’ the startle response. This led the authors to note:

‘Because an overwhelming number of patients with schizophrenia are currently treated with atypical APs, it is possible that PPI deficits in this population are a vanishing biomarker.”

What’s the advantage with atypicals vs. typicals? How do they work differently? *sigh* I need a pharmaceutical-specific wikipedia.

Schizophrenia News previously wrote about how proof is lacking in schizophrenia developing in those who have suffered from child abuse. (Excuse me for the awful construction of that sentence.) However, a new study shows that those at a high risk for schizophrenia benefit from having a good relationship with their parents during childhood. Read more.

Editor and Publisher has noted that suicides among Army soldiers doubled in 2005 compared to 2004.

Read the rest of this entry »

Seroquel abuse and medication weight gain

SeroquelFurious Seasons has blogged about Seroquel (quetiapine) in the past and he recently posted on Seroquel abuse in an Ohio prison. Apparently, inmates have been snorting the atypical antipsychotic, also known in slang terms as “quell” or “Susie-Q.” Excerpt from Furious Seasons:

“Second, we all know that Seroquel is regularly handed out to bipolars and depressives and people with anxiety in order to address insomnia, as opposed to the kind of underlying psychosis/mania issues you’d expect it to be used for. PCPs hand it out this way and so do psychiatrists. What I have noticed among friends who’ve been given Seroquel for sleep issues is that they end up, over a few months time, needing more and more of the drug in order to get an effect. Or, put another way, people keep complaining of problems with sleep despite taking, say, 300 mgs. of Seroquel and their doctor will keep upping the dose to get the desired effect. As a result, I have seen people with very mild bipolar disorder wind up taking 800 mgs. of Seroquel a day–that’s roughly the same that a schizophrenic in a state hospital would get–and still they get no results, aside from putting on tons of weight. I have heard this from other readers of this blog as well.”

My aunt, who works in the psych wing of a hospital, warned me that she’s seen patients on Seroquel gain weight. A man I met at my Bipolar and Depression Alliance Group last night gained 60 lbs since taking Seroquel. I can’t image that everyone who takes Seroquel overeats to a point of obesity and leads a sedentary lifestyle. I have a random theory that Seroquel signficantly slows a person’s metabolism down to the point where it is difficult for a person to lose weight.

Read the rest of this entry »

"Quetiapine comes from the root word 'quiet'"

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

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

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

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

Clinical Psychiatry News’ publication goals:

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

Good thing they didn’t say objectively.

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

The article’s lede:

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

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

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

At least they disclosed his financial affiliations.

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

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

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

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

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

I didn’t.

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

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

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

Quetiapine article

My semi-daily fluoxetine update

Okay, the brain shivers are gone. Completely. I still get some vertigo and light-headedness but it happens maybe three times a day max. So fluoxetine has eliminated some of the effects.

I wasn’t prepared for fluoxetine’s side effects, however. And boy, it’s got some kickers.

Since I was on an incredibly low dosage (10-20 mg), there weren’t many side effects.
But boy, is somnolence kicking my butt.

After becoming used to waking up before I’m supposed to, now I’m having the opposite problem: I can’t get up at all. I need my husband to drag me out of bed. And since he’s so nice, he doesn’t do that either.

Argh. As of Friday night, I’ve stopped taking fluoxetine so I’m praying to God that these side effects will go away. I hate somnolence. I’ve had that issue with hydroxyzine (Atarax) and it’s the same reason that I refuse to take quetiapine (Seroquel). I’m getting sleepy right now. If I can get up before noon, I’ll be so freakin’ lucky.

The metabolism aspect of fluoxetine doesn’t make me jump for joy.  According to my favorite “reputable” site, wikipedia:

“Fluoxetine is metabolised to norfluoxetine, and it may take up to 1 to 2 months for the active drug substance to disappear from the body.”

I don’t know if I can tolerate somnolence for 1-2 months. I hope the side effects from this is out of my system by the end of the week.

Come to think of it: somnolence vs. brain shivers?

I’ll take somnolence ANY DAY.

Venlafaxine withdrawal symptoms

Work has got me busy, folks, so posts may drop significantly in the next coming days/months. Possibly through April or May. (I’ll probably have one of those work days when I end up doing more blogging than working. It happens every now and then.) But don’t be surprised if Saturday quotes, Wednesday puppies, and Sunday stats are what pops up each week. I’ve got many of those backlogged through April. I’ll try to backlog some other posts on bipolar disorder and depression for the coming weeks and quickly blog on anything that’s timely.

electric shockIn the meantime, I had to take a sick day today. It’s my third day off of the Effexor and I’m having some weird side effects (see Case 1: Standard Dose under the link). Whenever I turn or move too quickly (consider your “natural” body turn), I “kind of” see stars and the whole world slightly spins beyond my field of vision for about 3 seconds before coming back into focus. After doing some light research on the side effects of venlafaxine (Effexor’s generic name), I’ve found out that side effects can incude vertigo, dizziness, light-headedness (associated with dizziness), and something called “brain shivers,” which are a form of electric shock sensations. You know that feeling when you get an electric shock from somebody? Yeah, imagine feeling that throughout your whole body. Precisely; not a good feeling. Nancy Schimelpfening, blogger for depression.about.com, found a newsgroup posting on the brain shiver effect, mainly associated with venlafaxine:

It happens to me if I turn my head quickly, or if I stop suddenly, or in general with sudden motion. They’re worse if I’m nervous.

i’ve seen them described as feeling as though your brain keeps going when you turn your head. that doesn’t seem quite adequate to me. it’s more like this:

you turn your head (or your whole body — this happens to me if i whirl around too quickly as i’m taking the stairs. what. doesn’t everyone whirl on the stairs…?), but your brain *stays put* for a micro second, then tries to catch up but only in a stuttering, stopstart motion, accompanied by a staccato ‘zzt zzt zzt’ with each stop. the ‘zzt’ you can feel in your head, an electric sort of vertigo, and it often reverberates in your hands and fingers. some folks feel it in their toes; i haven’t yet.

sometimes your brain overshoots and comes strobing back, then overshoots again.. this all unfolds in just a second or two.

these days i endeavor to go around corners all smooth slow and steadylike. helps to reduce the number of brain shivers per day

Yeah, that’s me. It’s hard to explain to someone who’s never felt it. I got this feeling after not taking Paxil for three days too. The effects eventually wore off, but it was such a weird feeling.

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PCPs Don't Know Jack From Zyprexa

Eli Lilly’s actions continue to be appalling.

LillyApart from trying to hide the fact that Zyprexa induces weight gain, diabetes, and hyperglycemia, they also had sales reps encourage primary care physicians to prescribe Zyprexa for patients who did not have schizophrenia or bipolar disorder (basically off-label usage).

It seems that Lilly told marketing reps to suggest Zyprexa for dementia in the elderly. Lilly denies this, of course, since olanzapine (Zyprexa’s generic name) is not approved for that kind of use since it increases the risk of death in seniors with psychosis associated with dementia. Lilly also attempted to market olanzapine to patients with mild bipolar disorder who suffer mainly from depression. (In actuality, Zyprexa is approved to treat those who suffer from mania.)

This issue with Eli Lilly delves into precisely why I am against PCPs prescribing psychiatric medicines. Primary care physicians don’t know enough about the various psychiatric conditions to prescribe the appropriate kind of medication. This type of prescription should be left to specialists like psychiatrists. PCPs should focus on the things they deal with on a daily basis that no one else can take care of: the common cold, the flu, annual physical, etc. It should be the job of the PCP to refer a patient to a psychiatrist should they present symptoms of mental illness (depression, schizophrenia, etc.). I have been burned by having a PCP prescribe antidepressants for me and as a result, attributed my horrible experience with drugs to that.

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