My guest tonight is Robert Whitaker. He's the author of a new book, Anatomy of an Epidemic, and also the author of Mad in America. He's a writer who has covered articles on the mentally ill and pharmaceutical industry, he's garnered national awards including a George Polk award for medical writing and a National Association of Science Writer Award for best magazine article. He's written for the Boston Globe, and he was named a finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in 1998. Welcome to the show Robert.
Thanks to Tsara Shelton for help with transcript editing.
Rob: This is the Rob Kall Bottom Up Future Health Radio Show, WNJC 1360 AM Washington Township, sponsored by futurehealth.org and opednews.com.
My guest tonight is a return visitor, Robert Whitaker. He's the author of Anatomy of an Epidemic, and the author of Mad in America. This is a book that I think is really important that reveals information about psychiatry and psychiatric medications that I think every person in America ought to know about and seriously consider before taking medication.
Welcome to the show again.
RW: Thanks for having me Rob, I really appreciate it.
Rob: It's a pleasure. So we spoke a couple of weeks ago about some of the findings that what I kind of summarized is that psychiatry has basically sold us a bill of goods that these are medications that are safe and effective and what your book shows, revealing a lot of research...long term research and history, is that the medication is anything but safe and often...and generally found to be not effective in the long run.
RW: Yes, I mean, I think the big...the long term story with psychiatric medications is that they increase the risk that you will become chronically ill. In other words, plagued by chronic psychiatric symptoms, whether it be depression or mood swings, or even psychotic symptoms depending on which class of drugs we're talking about -- that's number one; two -- you do see, you know, often sort of physical problems related to use of the drugs, particularly the benzodiazepines and the antipsychotics -- that can be pretty disabling. And you do see varying degrees of cognitive decline with the different psychiatric medications, again, most pronounced with the benzodiazepines and the antipsychotics, but you see it somewhat with the SSRIs; and then we have this problem that is cropping up especially in people who take...not just cropping up, it's appearing big time especially in people who take cocktails....of early death -- people are dying very early on these medications now. So it is a...when you look long term, what happens to patients in the aggregate as opposed to short term, you get a very different view of the merits of this paradigm of care. And once you do look long term, you really say that we as a society need to rethink this paradigm of care in a very, sort of, fundamental profound way.
RW: Oh how, I missed that. Yeah, I mean this is such a big question and there are some groups that have contacted me after reading Anatomy and saying -- wow, we have to rethink it and they're, sort of, now talking among themselves, and this includes providers and all....how do we rethink it? And here's part of the problem, psychiatry and actually the pharmaceutical companies, the powers that be have been really effective in selling this story, as you said in your opening about selling us a bill of goods, and selling us a story that these drugs fix known brain diseases -- that's number one -- and therefore standard of care, people who are in the business are almost legally obligated to use these medications, both over the short term and then often over the long term as well. So we have this belief system in place and really a legal system in terms of the standards of care that make reform really, really difficult. And then the other reason that reform is so difficult is that -- and I do write about this in Anatomy of an Epidemic -- is that we do have this storytelling partnership that is formed in the United States, been around now for more than 20 years, in which you have pharmaceutical companies giving money to, you know, doctors/psychiatrists at, you know, very prestigious medical schools to be their speakers, advisors and consultants. Well, since there is that money flow, of course they're going to tell a certain type of story that is beneficial to the sale of these drugs; and then you also have basically pharmaceutical companies funding, you know, a powerful group like the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and they become a powerful voice reinforcing the common wisdom. So we have these mechanisms driven by money that help create societal beliefs; and so the question is how do we, sort of, get beyond that corporate influence to find out what the science really tell us? Because the real how is, we need to know the scientific literature so we can say that we've been sold a bill of goods, and then once you see that scientific literature, then you'll say -- oh, we need to change things, we need to adopt a new approach -- but the problem is the storytelling force in society is so extraordinarily strong.
Rob: Now you've said before on our previous interview that you put the biggest blame on the instructors -- the people who take the money from the pharmaceutical companies who are the professionals in the field.
RW: Right, I do because they're the voice that, in essence, has the...you know that we as a society trust...we trust physicians to tell us what is, you know, what the science is telling us and to test these drugs accurately, and if they find problems, to communicate that to us; and that has not happened in this field. So within...as psychiatry came up with long term outcome studies that didn't support the paradigm of care, they didn't publicize those studies. We know, in fact, that the medical literature is pretty poisoned because they didn't publish negative studies, they spun results, they biased trials by design...we're finding all that out now, it's becoming increasingly clear. And then in addition, psychiatrists who are being paid to be these speakers and advisors in their comments to newspapers and magazines, they would just say nonsense half the time -- they would exaggerate things...the medical literature was bad enough...and then they would spin things another step in their comments to the press. So yes, I blame academic psychiatry at this high level because in my opinion, in our society that's who we're supposed to trust -- it's physicians at prestigious medical schools...their obligation is supposed to be to us, to people, to patients, and unfortunately what you see here is they've been bought out, and in essence, they're giving their fidelity to these pharmaceutical companies and to this marketing of psychiatric drugs. So yes, this is who I do blame and I think this is at the core of the problem.
Rob: Alright now, where I wanted to go today was to talk about specifically drugs that are being prescribed for children.