Blog Archive: July 2003

Blog subjects:

  • Pseudoscience in the mental-health industry

  • Unethical behavior among pharmaceutical companies

  • Whatever else strikes my fancy

Note:  This site has absolutely no association with any outside group, and most especially not with the “Church” of Scientology.


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Note:  Starting in 2003, blog updates will occur sporadically.  I'm just too busy now to maintain a schedule of daily updates.  Thanks for understanding.

Friday, July 25, 2003

A presidential commission gives its verdict on the state of the mental-health industry:

Overhaul Urged for Mental Health System

WASHINGTON – Care for the mentally ill must go beyond medication and managing symptoms to help people find jobs, go on dates and live productive lives, a presidential commission said Tuesday in a report that recommended a major overhaul of the nation's mental health system.

The report said... innovative treatments and ideas must get into the field as they are proven effective;  today, promising ideas can linger for 15 years or more before moving into routine practice.

“The commission recommends fundamentally transforming how mental health care is delivered in America,” said the final report of the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health.

The full text of the report is available on the web.

The report doesn't, of course, exhibit enough skepticism toward the usefulness of psychotropic drugs, but still – it's encouraging to hear a government agency express the opinion that drugs alone aren't going to solve the problem.  I guess we have to crawl before we can walk.

The New York Times also had an article on this subject.  This section certainly gives one pause:

One proposed means of early diagnosis would use questionnaires to screen high-school students, with parental permission, for signs of mental or emotional disturbance, with follow-up testing and treatment for those who need it.

That's all we need – the mental-health industry trying to convince teenagers that they have a disease (or diseases) and need psychiatric treatment.  See also the blog entry from Thursday, July 10th for a link to an article in the Los Angeles Times about the psychiatric treatment of children.


And speaking of things that don't work:

College Study Faults Anti-Alcohol Program

By Ylan Q. Mui, Washington Post Staff Writer

An approach to alcohol awareness used by many of the nation's colleges has largely failed in its efforts to curb students' consumption by emphasizing that heavy drinking is not normal, according to a Harvard School of Public Health study released yesterday.

The research, to be published this month in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol, found no decrease in student drinking on campuses that used the method – a cornerstone of some programs funded by the U.S. Department of Education – compared with those that did not.  In fact, student drinking actually increased in two ways, the study said.

“These programs... were long on promise but short on proof,” said Henry Weschler, director of the College Alcohol Study at Harvard and the lead researcher.

That's OK – the colleges are in good company.  DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) doesn't work, either, but that doesn't stop communities all over the country from pushing it on young kids.  And conventional rehab programs (like the kind that Robert Downey, Jr. keeps attending) don't work, either.  Let's just admit it – it's very difficult to get people to reduce or eliminate their intake of drugs and alcohol.  The sooner society stops being in denial, the sooner we can start putting some effort into developing programs that actually work.

I like the way that the Charleston (South Carolina) paper covered this story:

“One problem with this approach is that many students do not care about what the 'typical' student does,” said Henry Wechsler, principal investigator in the study.  “Especially in large schools with diverse student bodies, students are more likely to be influenced by their immediate circle of friends than by the drinking habits of a mythical average student.”

Wechsler is the director of College Alcohol Study in the Harvard School of Public Health, which released the report.

Schools using the social norms approach saw the number of students who drink go up.  The report notes that schools with social norms programs had higher rates of drinking to begin with, and that drinking rates stayed higher after the programs were put in place.

“The message is always, 'The average student drinks,' ” Wechsler said.  “This may normalize drinking.”


Look, I'm certainly no fan of 12-step groups, but this is a little over the top:

Ax-wielding minister enters plea

The Associated Press

July 19, 2003

BEND – A minister accused of threatening Alcoholics Anonymous members with an ax has pleaded innocent to charges of menacing, disorderly conduct and unlawful use of a weapon.

Ronnie McCulloch, 53, who made his plea Thursday, has resigned as pastor of the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Madras, said Paula Carlson, the president of the congregation.

“We are going through a grieving process,”, she said.

Outside the church in May, McCulloch demanded keys to the church building and, while holding an ax, ordered the AA members off the property, according to Tom Adams, the Madras police chief.

Before all the members had left, McCulloch returned with a shotgun, Adams said.


The BBC doesn't mince words when writing headlines:

Male menopause 'is just laziness'

The male menopause is a myth, the symptoms more likely to be caused by laziness and an unhealthy lifestyle, researchers have claimed.

Some men claim symptoms such as hot flushes, depression and a lack of libido – similar to those experienced by women going through the menopause – are due to hormonal changes.

But US researchers said they were more likely to be caused by men's unhealthy habits, such as weight gain, smoking and too much drinking.

Professor John McKinlay, dismissed the male menopause as a “myth”, and said drug companies were cashing in on some men's belief that they need hormone replacement therapy.

It figures that drug companies would be involved.


In a major surprise, researchers find out that herbal supplements won't make women's breasts bigger:

Breast enhancement pills a bust:  study

WASHINGTON – Breast enhancement supplements don't work and may not be very safe for you, according to a new study.

Herbal pills sometimes claim to boost a woman's bust by as much as two cup sizes. They can cost hundreds of dollars.

Dr. Adrienne Fugh-Berman of the Georgetown University School of Medicine says there's no scientific proof to back up what's in the advertising.  Fugh-Berman has published her findings in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology.


Friday, July 19, 2003

More bad news about antidepressants:

Newer Antidepressants Can Harm Newborns

TUESDAY, July 15 (HealthDayNews) -- Infants whose mothers take selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) during the late stages of pregnancy may suffer neurological problems during their first weeks of life.

So says a Finnish study in the July issue of The Archives of General Psychiatry.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

The Los Angeles Times has an article about the psychiatricization (is that a word?) of very young children.  It's an interesting article, I suppose, but you really have to read between the lines to get much out of it.  Despite hedging a little here and there, the reporter demonstrates far too little skepticism when discussing the claims of the mental-health practitioners cited in the article.

Psychiatry and preschoolers

More young children are being diagnosed with mental ailments and treated with drugs even as doctors grapple with a lack of research.

Over the last two years, doctors have diagnosed Andrea Robinson with half a dozen severe mental disorders and prescribed her a series of strong medications, including antidepressants and an antipsychotic.

Her parents are beside themselves.  Andrea is 5 years old.


The Sydney Morning Herald has a good article that describes how marriage counselors may do more harm than good:

Till therapy do us part

Professor William Doherty, the director of the marriage and family therapy program at the University of Minnesota, says:  “If you talk to a therapist about problems in your marriage, I believe you stand a good risk of harming your marriage.” [...]


Reuters reports that red clover extract doesn't work to treat hot flashes associated with menopause.  Sometimes I'm not sure which industry irritates me more – pharmaceuticals, or “alternative” medicine.

Study Questions a Treatment for Menopause

CHICAGO, July 8 (Reuters) – Red clover extract, advertised as a substitute for hormone therapy, offered menopausal women no more relief from hot flashes than a placebo, a study published today found.


And speaking of alternative medicine:

Vitamins 'do not protect heart'

Vitamin E and beta carotene do not protect against heart disease and may even be harmful, according to doctors.  Previous studies have suggested these vitamins can keep arteries healthy and can protect against heart disease.

But a study by doctors in the United States has found no evidence to support these claims.

In fact, they found that beta carotene may actually damage health.


Friday, July 4, 2003

The New York Times has another excellent article about the pharmaceutical industry:

Who's Minding the Drugstore?

By MELODY PETERSEN

FEDERAL regulators decided last year that a national television commercial promoting a drug called Prevacid was misleading viewers by failing to make clear that the medicine was for serious heartburn problems and not for occasional indigestion.

But the letter that regulators wrote to Tap Pharmaceutical Products, the maker of Prevacid, demanding that the ads be stopped, sat for 78 days in the offices of Daniel E. Troy, the chief counsel of the Food and Drug Administration, while millions of viewers continued to see the commercials.  After the letter was finally sent, the company pulled the ads and refashioned them to address the F.D.A.'s grievance.

Government auditors warned regulators about such delays last fall, and the F.D.A. promised to do better.  But now, delays are not the problem.  Far fewer actions themselves are being taken, even though industry critics say they continue to see promotions that illegally market unapproved uses of a drug, understate risks, overstate benefits or make claims not backed up by studies, in an industry that is spending more than ever to promote its products.

Until mid-June, when a reporter called to ask about the decline in enforcement actions, the F.D.A. had sent only four such regulatory letters this year.  After that call, the agency issued four more letters.  At that rate, it is now sending an average of fewer than two letters a month on promotions it says are illegal.  That is down from about 10 letters a month, on average, from 1997 to 2000.


I continue to be somewhat skeptical about the alleged link between antidepressants and acts of violence, but for what it's worth, here's another article on the subject:

Prescription for violence?

Gebauer case draws notice of group linking crime, antidepressants

Looking to bolster a theory linking antidepressants to adolescent violence, a group that studied the Columbine High School massacre has decided to follow the John Gebauer murder case.

The International Coalition for Drug Awareness – counting dozens of cases in which juveniles reportedly hurt themselves or others while taking prescription drugs such as Paxil, Prozac, Celexa and Luvox – wants Congress to hold hearings on whether the antidepressants are appropriate for young people.

Through monitoring of newspapers and the Internet, group members built a bank of cases to advance their claims.  In the process, they became aware of Gebauer, 16, charged last year with fatally shooting his adoptive mother, Alison, and sexually abusing her corpse at the family's Fallowfield farm.

Gebauer, who faces a preliminary hearing June 18, acknowledged taking an antidepressant in an October 2000 school essay he wrote about his family life.  He didn't identify the drug.