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Stop Suicide By Helping Big Pharma, Says Shady Suicide Prevention Group

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Next month, hundreds across the country will participate in “Out of the Darkness” walks to raise awareness about suicide and to support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).

AFSP and similar groups like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Active Minds claim there are “stigmas” and “barriers” to treatment for mental illness and there is not enough “awareness.” Two facts are missing in their messaging.

First, with as much as a fourth of some U.S. populations on antidepressants and ubiquitous quizzes and ads for them, there is neither a lack of “awareness” ––or are the drugs working. Why are suicides at an all time high at the same time psychoactive drug use is at an all time high?

Secondly, the groups are funded by Pharma to increase drug use and are widely considered unethical front groups, also called astroturf.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, founded in 1987, is steeped in Pharma money. In 2008, AFSP merged with the Suicide Prevention Action Network USA or SPAN which had announced in 2004 that “SPAN USA’s efforts to develop and expand its suicide survivor network received a major boost with a recent grant from Eli Lilly and Company Foundation,” and “The foundation generously provided funding to support training, education and collaborative opportunities for SPAN USA’s existing network and enable further expansion into all 50 states.” No lack of transparency there.

In AFSP’s 2009 report, its leading donors were Pharma companies and it attributes a new screening project to “funding from Eli Lilly and Co., Janssen, Solvay Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals.” It also credits Eli Lilly for printing its brochures. No lack of transparency there, either.

In 2011, AFSP appointed psychiatrist Charles Nemeroff president of the organization until his troubles began. Nemeroff became the subject of a congressional inquiry and was found to have so much unreported Pharma income, the $9.3 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to study depression that he managed was suspended, which happens rarely. He left Emory University in disgrace.

A 1999 textbook written by Nemeroff and his colleague Alan Schatzberg was found, in 2010, to be written and funded by GlaxoSmithKline. Both Nemeroff and Schatzberg remain at AFSP and are termed “leaders.”

AFSP’s 2012 annual report reveals a $100,000 donation from Forest Laboratories, and donations from Eli Lilly, Pfizer and five other Pharma companies.

“AFSP also boasts the honor of having a former president – David Shaffer – who was responsible for leading the development of the now somewhat infamous TeenScreen,” writes Mad in America. “TeenScreen is a controversial tool that Marcia Angell (Harvard Professor and former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine)…described as, “just a way to put more people on prescription drugs.

The now defunct TeenScreen which screened young people for early signs of depression had “ties to the pharmaceutical industry,” reported the Scientific American.

Screening and intervention are widely accepted now to be nothing but sales tools—even to the mainstream medical establishment. In “How We Do Harm,” Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical and scientific officer of the American Cancer Society and an oncologist, devotes a chapter to how prostate screening is often done just for money sometimes with disastrous and deadly results.

AFSP’s annual report names Pharma companies Sunovion, Janssen, Forest, Pfizer and Otsuka America Pharmaceuticals as financial donors. AFSP also named Phil Satow, former Forest executive, to its Project 2025 Advisory Committee. Satow has worked for many Pharma companies and is co-founder and board chair of the very pro-drug JED Foundation.

Preventing Suicides or Causing Them?

While SSRIs can be useful in some depressions, they can also cause suicide–a fact written clearly on all their package inserts. In 2005, after meeting with parents whose children killed themselves on the drugs and public health officials, the FDA attached the following “Black Box” warning to SSRI antidepressants.

Antidepressants increased the risk compared to placebo of suicidal thinking and behavior (suicidality) in children, adolescents, and young adults in short-term studies of major depressive disorder (MDD) and other psychiatric disorders. Anyone considering the use of PAXIL [one SSRI] or any other antidepressant in a child, adolescent, or young adult must balance this risk with the clinical need. Patients of all ages who are started on antidepressant therapy should be monitored appropriately and observed closely for clinical worsening, suicidality, or unusual changes in behavior. Families and caregivers should be advised of the need for close observation and communication with the prescriber.

One chilling demonstration of the danger to young adults is seen in the military where SSRI use and suicides have reached astounding proportions. More than a third of the deaths were in soldiers who never deployed so combat stress was not a factor.

Both NAMI and Active Minds swoop down on campuses after suicides to suggest that not enough antidepressants are being prescribed–despite the clear dangers posed for that age group and sometimes without knowing if the victim was already on the pushed drugs. To remove the fabricated stigma to mental problems, Pharma funded groups visit public schools to suggest more young people should be on drugs. They even produce posters with the message that mental illness is “cool.” Their efforts may not help the young people but they sure help Pharma.

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Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).

CounterPunch Magazine


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