September 27, 2012

Inside Psychiatry: Anxiety Over Antipsychotic Drugs

By Dr. Peter Breggin

Writing in the New York Times, Richard A. Friedman, a professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College in Manhattan, points out:

You will never guess what the fifth and sixth best-selling prescription drugs are in the United States, so I’ll just tell you: Abilify and Seroquel, two powerful antipsychotics. In 2011 alone, they and other antipsychotic drugs were prescribed to 3.1 million Americans at a cost of $18.2 billion, a 13 percent increase over the previous year, according to the market research firm IMS Health.

Others drugs in this group of so-called atypical or second-generation antipsychotic drugs include Risperdal, Zyprexa, Geodon, Invega, and now Latuda.

Friedman goes on to observe:

It was also soon discovered that the second-generation antipsychotic drugs had serious side effects of their own, namely a risk of increased blood sugar, elevated lipids and cholesterol, and weight gain. They can also cause a potentially irreversible movement disorder called tardive dyskinesia, though the risk is thought to be significantly lower than with the older antipsychotic drugs.

Notice he says that the risk of tardive dyskinesia is “thought” to be significantly lower. In reality, the very study that he cites in his column, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) sponsored CATIE study, did not find that the newer antipsychotics were safer in this regard.

Friedman correctly laments that these dangerous drugs, proven no more effective and no safer than the older ones, are being given off-label to individuals with much less severe psychiatric problems than psychosis: “But now, unbelievably, these powerful medications are prescribed for conditions as varied as very mild mood disorders, everyday anxiety, insomnia and even mild emotional discomfort.”

How can an establishment psychiatrist dare to make such devastating criticisms? He covers himself at the end with this obligatory tag line: “Let’s be clear: The new atypical antipsychotic drugs are effective and safe.” Then he calls them lifesaving.

The reality is that all of these drugs are nonspecific lobotomizing agents that disrupt biochemical neurotransmission to the frontal lobes. I examine these effects in my book: Brain Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry, Second Edition. They achieve their effect by making people indifferent and apathetic toward their own suffering and toward life itself, in the extreme creating a grossly apparent zombie effect. A number of studies, summarized in my new book, Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal, also indicate that they may shorten the lifespan by many years in some patient populations.

Friedman is right that by any standards these drugs are overprescribed. But he leaves out two groups that are especially vulnerable to abuse by these chemical agents: the elderly and children.

In nursing homes throughout North America, antipsychotic drugs are given wholesale to patients in order to lower the costs of confining them, in particular by reducing the need for staff to meet the needs of these chemically-lobotomized individuals. Elders are placed at risk of many adverse effects and an early, hastened death due to the off-label prescription of antipsychotic drugs.

Children throughout America are being given these drugs for everything from insomnia to ADHD. Some of these children are developing horrific side adverse effects, including gynecomastia in preadolescent boys and girls who develop breasts indistinguishable from those of adult women. Sometimes these breasts grow back after surgical removal, despite stopping the medications. Steve Sheller, an attorney in Philadelphia, is pursuing numerous cases of gynecomastia and has described many cases to me. In addition, boys are developing premature puberty, like one of my patients is, at age 7.

The FDA has approved the use of some of these newer antipsychotics for a variety of purposes in children, including irritability associated with autism and bipolar disorder. It is time to stop this epidemic of pharmacological child abuse.

Attorney Sheller is circulating a petition that we endorse, asking the FDA to revoke approval of the prescribing of antipsychotic drugs to children. Mr. Sheller states in the petition:

We hereby petition the Food and Drug Administration (hereinafter “FDA”), pursuant to the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act … to immediately revoke the pediatric indication for Risperdal®, all generic version of risperidone, and Invega (an extended release and injectable medication which includes the same primary active metabolite as Risperdal) unless and until the long-term safety of the drug can be demonstrated, or in the alternative to immediately require that labeling for Risperdal® and all generic versions of risperidone include a black box warning on the lack of sufficient safety data.

We urge concerned professionals and laypersons to sign the petition to the FDA. Each of us, as alarmed physicians, psychiatrists, therapists, counselors, educators, attorneys and citizens, needs to add our voice to this formal appeal to stop the wholesale over-drugging of one of the most vulnerable populations of our society — our children. By supporting this petition and encouraging the FDA to take action, we also protect children every place in the world because as America goes with psychiatric drugs, so goes the world. You can go right now to the official government website to add your voice to protect children against the chemical assault of these powerful and dangerous chemical agents.

Originally published in The Huffington Post.