The Mind Druggers

by MARTHA ROSENBERG

The first week in May brought a new leader in France and new prospects for same sex couples seeking marriage. But at the American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting in Philadelphia, attended by 11,000 psychiatrists, it was the same old same old. Instead of listening to the public outcry about overmedicated children, soldiers, elderly and everyday people watching too many drug ads, the psychiatry group re-affirmed its resolve to pathologize healthy people on behalf of its big brother, Big Pharma.

This is the year the APA puts the finishing touches on DSM-5, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a compendium that determines what treatments insurers will cover, what disorders merit funding as “public health” threats and of course, Pharma marketing and profits. Some question the objectivity of a disorder manual written by those who stand to benefit from an enlarged patient pool and new diseases. Furthering the appearance of self-dealing is the revelation that 57 percent of the DSM-5’s authors have Pharma links.

No kidding. Scheduled presenters at this year’s meeting included former APA president Alan F. Schatzberg, MD and Charles Nemeroff, MD, both investigated by Congress for murky Pharma income. Nemeroff’s  $9.3 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to study depression was suspended, which happens rarely, when the government found out he had simultaneously taken $1.2 million from the antidepressant Paxil manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline, Nemeroff. Oops. But now he is again basking in taxpayer money, recently awarded a $2 million five-year grant from the NIMH to study the “prospective determination of psychobiological risk factors of post-traumatic stress disorder.”  Would should the government hold a grudge?

Schatzberg and Nemeroff are co-editors of the APA-published Textbook of Psychopharmacology whose 2009 edition cites the work of Richard Borison, MD former psychiatry chief at the Augusta Veterans Affairs medical center who was sentenced to 15 years in prison for a $10 million clinical trial fraud.

Also scheduled at the meeting was S. Charles Schulz, MD, who was investigated for financial links to Seroquel maker AstraZeneca which were believed to alter his scientific conclusions.

And, speaking of Seroquel, despite Assistant Secretary of Defense Jonathan Woodson’s recent memo to all military branches about the overprescription of such antipsychotics (which include Risperdal) for PTSD, military figures linked to Seroquel were also scheduled presenters at the APA meeting.

Elspeth Ritchie, MD, who told the Denver Post that Seroquel was “very useful for the treatment of anxiety and combat-related nightmares,” though it was (and is) not approved for such treatment while she was medical director of the army’s Strategic Communications Office in 2008, was a scheduled presenter. Ritchie, who is now chief clinical officer for the District of Columbia’s department of mental health, appeared in an AstraZeneca and Eli Lilly funded webcast for the Massachusetts General Hospital Psychiatry Academy in 2008 in which she lauds the use of “sophisticated” psychiatric medicines “on the battlefield.”[i]

Seroquel, which carries heart warnings and is linked to sudden cardiac death, earned AstraZeneca nearly $6 billion in revenue last year, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. “IMS Health, a healthcare information and services company, said that in the 12 months ending in February of this year, 14.1 million Seroquel prescriptions were written, more than any other antipsychotic,” it reports.

Also participating in the military and PTSD content at the APA meeting was Matthew Friedman, MD, Executive Director of the VA’s National Center for PTSD who reported, “I received an honorarium from AstraZeneca in the past year,” in a 2009 government slide show called “Pharmacological Treatments of PTSD and Comorbid Disorder.” Friedman also served as a Pfizer Visiting Professor at the Medical University of South Carolina College of Medicine last year yet is listed in the APA meeting guide as having no “significant relationships to disclose.” APA officials have not responded to several requests for comment.

The elaborate multi drug “cocktails”  prescribed to troops suffering with PTSD are not just dangerous (having never been tested as combinations) they are capable of making troops with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), signature Iraq/Afghanistan injuries, worse through alterations in brain chemistry and the blood brain barrier.

And APA presenters had another recommendation for quetiapine (Seroquel): a treatment for the nation’s millions of alcoholic and drug addicts, who are next on Pharma’s radar.

Martha Rosenberg’s is an investigative health reporter. Her first book,  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, has just been released by Prometheus books.


Notes. 

[i] “The Returning Veteran: PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury,” Massachusetts General Hospital Psychiatry Academy, May 28, 2008

Will Falk moved to the West Coast from Milwaukee, WI where he was a public defender.

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