Blog Archive: May 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.

Other sites:

Blog archives:

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.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Regarding the addiction-treatment industry:  if this is what passes for “innovative”, then I'd hate to see what they consider to be superstitious nonsense:

Innovative treatment turns addicts into fans

A former Hells Angels biker thanked his counselors one day last week for “giving me my life back” as he graduated from a unique state program to treat chronic drunken drivers.  [...]

“My best thinking got me here,” said [Ken] Davis.  “Now I don't do anything until my higher power tells me where to go and what to do.”

Um, Kenny boy, as long as you're going to rely on a Higher Power, maybe you'd like to consider this proverb:  “God helps those who help themselves”.  (Incidentally, I'm highly skeptical of the success figures cited in the article – you know what they say about things that seem too good to be true.)  For another perspective on the same issue, see the following blog entry.

Author/drug-addict James Frey doesn't mince words when he recounts his stay at Minnesota's infamous Hazelden clinic (Frey wrote the recovery memoir, A Million Little Pieces):

'Drugs rehab?  I just said no'

16 May 2003

Tackling addiction has become a multimillion-pound industry.  But when James Frey decided to kick his habit, he did so with the aid of just willpower and a nasty trick involving pulled toenails.  And now his remarkable memoirs are set to put the rehab world in a spin, says [reviewer] William Leith.

James Frey's first book, A Million Little Pieces, is a true story about a guy who, among other things, vomits over himself, soils his pants and, horribly, pulls one of his own toenails out.  The guy is Frey himself.  The book is definitely going to be huge.  [...]

But the crucial point comes when Frey rejects the 12-step programme he has embarked upon.  This is a dramatic moment in a book full of dramatic moments, and will be one of the most memorable scenes in the forthcoming film, which will almost certainly be directed by Gus Van Sant.  “We're recommending that you attend AA,” Frey is told.  “I thought we were through with this bullshit,” he says.  In a rousing speech, he goes on to say:  “I don't believe in the 12 Steps.  I don't believe in God or any form of Higher Power.  I refuse to turn my life and my will over to anything or anyone, much less something I don't believe in.”

We are living in addictive times.  All over the place, people are revealing themselves as addicted to things – to self-gratification and self-harm, to sex and celibacy, to prescription drugs, exercise, carbohydrates, eating, not eating.  And right now, Frey's is the most important voice in addiction culture:  this is the clearest and most powerful statement we have of a man who says “no more”.  He was addicted to drugs, he does not want to be addicted to rehab.

The Critical Psychiatry Network is having a conference on Friday, June 13, 2003.  Scheduled for debate:  “Antidepressants are no better than placebos”.

Britain seems to be cracking down on antidepressants much harder than the United States (note that Seroxat is called “Paxil” in the US):

Probe into 'happy pill' after spate of suicides

Government bows to pressure over Prozac and Seroxat

A major inquiry is to be launched into the safety of widely prescribed antidepressant drugs, including Seroxat and Prozac, following a spate of suicides and reports of severe withdrawal reactions.

The Government's medical advisers have caved in to pressure to hold a fully independent assessment of the risks associated with the antidepressants known as SSRIs, or selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors.

Recently, there have been reports of suicides among patients taking the medication, as well as users describing nightmares, tremors and feelings of violence.

An expert group of the Committee on the Safety of Medicines has been set up to look at withdrawal reactions suffered by users, who may spend months trying to come off the drugs. The group will listen to first-hand experiences, and investigate reports of suicidal behaviour.

I never thought I'd be saying this, but thank God for trial lawyers:

Trial Lawyers Now Take Aim at Drug Makers


Enriched and emboldened after successful fights against asbestos and tobacco companies, some of the nation's top plaintiffs' lawyers have trained their sights on drug makers, claiming that many giant pharmaceutical companies have hidden the dangers of medicines the lawyers say have harmed thousands of people.

In some cases the drugs at issue have already been pulled off the market, like Rezulin, a diabetes treatment from Pfizer that the Food and Drug Administration has linked to liver damage and is the target of almost 9,000 suits.  Other suits name some of the industry's current best sellers, including Paxil, an antidepressant that plaintiffs contend is addictive – a claim denied by the drug's maker, GlaxoSmithKline.

In some instances, teams of plaintiffs' lawyers are spending several million dollars preparing cases for trial, in the hopes of winning billions of dollars in settlements and jury verdicts from the drug companies, which have some of the deepest pockets among American corporations.

The lawyers pursuing the suits say that the Food and Drug Administration has systemically failed to protect patients from dangerous drugs, and that the companies have tried to hide side effects.

The pharmaceutical industry has been getting away with murder for far too long.  Who better to slap Big Pharma into submission than the same people who brought the tobacco industry to its knees?

Friday, May 23, 2003

I really think that the tide is starting to turn with regard to psychiatric drugs.  It's turning verrrrry slowly, but it's turning (or, maybe that's just my wishful thinking).  Ten, or even five, years ago, you rarely saw skeptical articles published in the popular press.  Now it seems that they come out every month or two.  Check out the latest from the New York Times:

Leading Drugs for Psychosis Come Under New Scrutiny

They were billed as near wonder drugs, much safer and more effective in treating schizophrenia than anything that had come before.

For many years, it seemed that the excitement was fully warranted.

There were remarkable stories of recovery.  And the new generation of antipsychotic drugs, called atypicals, seemed to have few of the side effects commonly seen with high doses of older medications for psychosis.

The drugs appeared so successful that doctors began prescribing them for other things, not only for other psychotic illnesses, like manic depression, but also for Alzheimer's, personality disorders and nonpsychotic depression, and for conduct disorder and severe aggression in children.  Sales of the drugs soared.  More than 15 million prescriptions were written last year for the two leading drugs alone, Zyprexa and Risperdal, industry figures show.

But 14 years after the first of the drugs entered the market, researchers are questioning whether they are quite as miraculous – or benign – as originally advertised.

A few months ago, two former editors-in-chief from the New England Journal of Medicine published an article that was sharply critical of the pharmaceutical industry.  The article was called, “America's Other Drug Problem: How the Drug Industry Distorts Medicine and Politics”, by Arnold Relman, MD and Marcia Angell, MD (New Republic December 16, 2002).  When the article first came out, it wasn't available in electronic form.  Now, finally, it's available (note that the link goes to a 208K PDF file).  It's a bit long but worth reading, if you're at all interested in the excesses and abuses perpetrated by Big Pharma.

Sunday, May 18, 2003

In this New York Times article, actor Kirk Douglas describes how he quit a two-to-three-pack-a-day smoking habit.  So how did he do it?  Why, first he declared that he was powerless over tobacco.  Then, he turned his will and his life over to the care of God.  Heh, heh – not really.  Douglas quit the same way most people overcome addiction to any substance, w(ether it is alcohol, cocaine, heroin, or whatever.  He just decided to quit, and he used a lot of willpower:

One day in 1950 I was in my den, smoking as usual.  I exhaled and through the smoke I saw a picture of my father on my desk.  I thought of him on his deathbed [dying of cancer].  I stubbed out the cigarette in the ashtray.  I took one cigarette from the pack and threw the rest in the wastebasket.

I held up the cigarette and studied it.  My father's words came to me: “Who's stronger?  You – me?”

“I stronger.”  I put the cigarette in my shirt pocket and never smoked again.

It's too bad we don't have more testimonials similar to Douglas's but involving illegal drugs or alcohol.  Society needs to realize that you don't have to go off to a 28-day rehab program to stop abusing chemicals.

On a similar note, I'm currently reading a book called, A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey.  I'm only about 30 pages into it, but so far, the book is very good.  Frey describes his recovery from multiple addictions.  The Borders website has an interview with the author.  Here are some of the questions he was asked (you'll have to read the interview to see Frey's answers):

  • Alcoholics Anonymous - AA - is very careful to call people who have stopped drinking “recovering alcoholics,” never “recovered,” the idea being that one could always relapse.  Do you think that's inaccurate?
  • Unlike a lot of people who blame addiction on, say, genetics or their upbringing, you take full responsibility for everything you've ever done.  But you started drinking at age 10.  Can you really hold a 10-year-old responsible for a devastating addiction?
  • At one point in the book you say that going to AA is trading one addiction for another addiction.
  • Have you met other people who've done it without the 12 steps?

Friday, May 16, 2003

Sounds too good to be true:

Epilepsy drug may help combat alcoholism

LONDON (AP) – An epilepsy drug offers significant promise in helping alcoholics quit drinking and appears to be more effective than drugs now in use for the problem, a new study shows.

Half of the 55 alcoholics who took the anti-seizure drug topiramate either quit drinking altogether or cut back their drinking sharply.

Researchers found that those given the medication were six times more likely than those on a dummy pill to abstain from alcohol for a month, according to the report published Friday in The Lancet.

I'm skeptical.  Still, I'm in favor of any studies that examine alternatives to the traditional, ineffective methods of dealing with alcoholism.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Remember how psychiatrists and pharmaceutical companies have been telling us that the newer antipsychotic drugs are so much better than the older drugs?  Oops:

Newer Antipsychotic Drugs May Not Be Better After All

Friday, May 9 (HealthScoutNews) — Newer drugs used to treat psychosis are thought to have fewer side effects, but now a new study challenges that thinking.

Writing in the May 10 issue of The Lancet, researchers say older, low-potency drugs might not cause more neurological side effects – such as tremors – than the newer drugs after all.  They arrived at that conclusion after analyzing 31 existing studies involving 2,320 patients.

Friday, May 9, 2003

Pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline has decided to drop the claim that its antidepressant drug Paxil (“Seroxat” in England) is non-addictive.  I think this change only applies to the drug's label in Britain, though.  There's more about this issue here.

Looks like Wednesday's article in the New York Times caused some red faces.

Wednesday, May 7, 2003

More shenanigans from Big Pharma:

A Respected Face, but Is It News or an Ad?


Aaron Brown of CNN, Walter Cronkite and other broadcast journalists have been hired to appear in videos resembling newscasts that are actually paid for by drug makers and other health care companies, blurring the line between journalism and advertising. [...]

Critics of the news media say that the videos mislead viewers by packaging promotional material to look like news.  Dr. Joseph Turow, a professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, said that he had seen similar videos in the past that tried to imitate news but never ones featuring working journalists, let alone such prominent ones as Mr. [Morley] Safer and Mr. Brown.

“They are buying credibility,” he said of the health care companies that pay for the appearances.

Saturday, May 3, 2003

The American Spectator has a short article about the use of psychiatric drugs in children.  Here's an excerpt:

The National Institutes of Health is currently conducting clinical trials regarding the treatment of “Childhood Social Phobia,” more commonly known as shyness.  This “Social Effectiveness Therapy for Children (SET-C)” is treated with Fluoxetine, the generic Prozac.  This, of course, should not be confused with the clinical trial for “Child and Adolescent Anxiety Disorders,” which are treated with Zoloft.  The National Institute of Mental Health is also sponsoring clinical trials right now to study the effects of drugs like Prozac on children who suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Child and Adolescent Anxiety Disorders (CAAD), and Major Depressive Disorder (MDD).  Considering that so many of our children are suffering from so many disorders – pass the Prozac please, the adults are going to need it.

I wish that these types of articles at least mentioned that there's evidence that antidepressants are nothing more than glorified placebos.  If the drug doesn't actually do anything, then safety issues become moot.

Friday, May 2, 2003

An e-mail correspondent alerted me to this article about the infamous inkblot test developed in 1921 by a Swiss psychiatrist named Hermann Rorschach.  Anybody who thinks that mental-health professionals are largely rational, skeptical, and logical men and women of science should read this article:

Last month, a quartet of academics published “What's Wrong With the Rorschach?” – attacking a test administered to more than a million people worldwide each year.  According to recent surveys by the American Psychological Association, 82 percent of its members “occasionally” and 43 percent “frequently” use the test, in which subjects speculate about five colored and five black-and-white inkblots.  Test-givers in turn interpret the answers to diagnose mental illness, predict violent behavior and reveal suppressed trauma.  Their conclusions are applied to everything from child-custody disputes to parole reviews.  According to James M. Wood, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Texas at El Paso and one author of the book, tarot cards would work almost as well.

Wood and his colleagues level basic criticisms against the inkblot test's foundations.  They say it lacks accurate norms to serve as benchmarks for comparing healthy and sick patients.  Reliability is also at issue, because many scores are determined by test-givers' subjective interpretations.  And last, they contend that virtually none of the scores are scientifically valid, because they neither measure what they claim nor can be consistently correlated with other tests or diagnoses.  The Rorschachers simply harbor a “romantic” devotion to the test's efficacy, Wood says, one based on “an uncritical, even gullible, acceptance of ridiculous claims that the Rorschach is like a medical test, a sort of brain scan.”

Thursday, May 1, 2003

Danish drug company Lundbeck thought it could fool people by claiming that its new, branded antidepressant drug escitalopram works better than its older drug citalopram, which is now available in some countries in a cheaper, generic version.  (In the United States, pharmaceutical company Forest Laboratories markets both drugs.  The older drug is sold under the brand name “Celexa”, and the newer drug is called, “Lexapro”.)  In reality, the two drugs are virtually the same.  Psychiatrist David Pyle, based in Wales, persuaded British authorities that Lundbeck was not justified in making claims of superior effectiveness:

A drug company has been found to have broken the pharmaceutical industry's code of practice five times by claiming that its antidepressant is better than its out-of-patent drug from which the new product is derived. [...]

Eight complaints were brought against the company by David Pyle, a psychiatrist in Wales.  He objects to NHS doctors being urged to prescribe an expensive new antidepressant when cheap generics of the old one are available.  The authority upheld five of Dr Pyle's complaints.

Lundbeck was found in breach for claiming that “Cipralex is significantly more effective than Cipramil in treating depression”.  Lundbeck appealed, but lost.

The Las Vegas Review Journal has a partially skeptical article about antidepressants.  The skeptical part doesn't start until about two-thirds of the way through the article, but the author does a decent job at summarizing the objections against the use of antidepressants:

“The Emperor's New Drugs” is what psychologist Irving Kirsch of the University of Connecticut calls SSRI antidepressants in a July 2002 issue of Prevention & Treatment.

He claims the new antidepressants are about 20 percent more effective than the inert placebo drugs against which they are compared.

Kirsch analyzed all the antidepressant medication data in the FDA's data base on the six most widely used drugs approved between 1987 and 1999.  The data base covers all studies on the drugs, not just published studies.  Drug makers routinely fail to play up results of studies that are inconclusive or unflattering to their products.

[Psychologist David] Antonuccio at the Nevada School of Medicine is another critic of SSRIs.

He cites a study that showed 12 weeks of psychotherapy was more effective than 12 weeks of antidepressants at treating depression.  Therapy can equip a patient to deal with future life experiences, too – with no side effects, Antonuccio adds.  Patients who got therapy were half as likely to relapse as counterparts who only took medication, the study found.

The Australian version of MSNBC has an article about the withdrawal that patients can experience when they stop using antidepressants:

Arapax, an anti-depressant drug sold overseas as Seroxat and Paxil, has been linked to addiction, severe withdrawal problems and a suicide-murder involving four people, it's been revealed.

The BBC Panorama program, shown on ABC television's Four Corners, said Seroxat, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, was the second most popular anti-depressant in the United Kingdom behind Prozac.

The program said a London hospital's national information service for people taking psychiatric medicine had found that having trouble coming off Seroxat was the number one complaint from callers.

“Doctors, too, report far more withdrawal problems from patients on Seroxat than on any other drug,” the program said.

One doctor on the program said patients stopping Seroxat would soon become anxious and may feel unsteady and unsafe on their feet.

“Often people experience electric shock sensations.  They may also have a fever and feel generally unwell.  They may also experience mood changes or nightmares, for example,” the doctor said.