Psychiatric Drugs: Chemical Warfare on Humans – interview with Robert Whitaker

This morning I chanced across this: interview with Robert Whitaker from 2005 by Terry Messman of It predates Whitaker’s book: Anatomy of an Epidemic and covers wider  scope so it’s interesting to see a glimpse of how he was thinking at this time.

It appears the original is no longer up there at  I found it at Check out too, links below.

Psychiatric Drugs: Chemical Warfare on Humans –  interview with Robert Whitaker

Saturday, August 27, 2005 by: Terry Messman

The following is a Street Spirit interview with Robert Whitaker, author of Mad  In America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the  Mentally Ill. It is reprinted here with permission from the  Street Spirit in Oakland, California. The interview is conducted by Terry  Messman, editor of Street Spirit.

Investigative reporter Robert Whitaker, author of the groundbreaking book Mad In America, is now pursuing a fascinating line of research  into how the mammoth psychiatric drug  industry is endangering the American public by covering up the untold cases of  suffering, anguish and disease caused by the most  widely prescribed antidepressants and  antipsychotic medications.

Whitaker exposes the massive lies and cover-ups that have corrupted the Food  and Drug Administration’s drug review process, and co-opted  research trials in order to spin the results  of drug tests and conceal the serious hazards and even deadly side-effects of  brand-name drugs like Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil and Zyprexa.

The story becomes even more frightening when we look at the aggressive  tactics these giant drug companies have  used to silence prominent critics by defaming them in the press, and by using  their money and power to  have widely respected scientists and eminent medical  researchers fired for daring to point out the hazards and risks of suicide  and premature  death caused by these drugs.

Whitaker starts by debunking the effectiveness of these massively hyped  wonder drugs — antidepressants like Prozac, Zoloft  and Paxil, and the new atypical antipsychotic  drugs like Zyprexa. His research shows how they often are barely more  effective than placebos in treating mental  disorderand depression, despite the glowing adulation they have received in  the mainstream media.

But he goes on to make the startling claim that these new psychiatric  drugs have directly contributed to an alarming new epidemic of drug-induced mental illness. The  very drugs prescribed by physicians to stabilize mental  disorders in fact are inducing pathological changes in brain  chemistry and triggering suicide, manic and psychotic episodes, convulsions,  violence, diabetes, pancreatic failure, metabolic diseases,  and premature death.

Whitaker originally was a highly regarded medical reporter at the Albany  Times Union and also wrote off and on for the Boston  Globe. A series he co-wrote for the Boston Globe on harmful psychiatric research  was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1998. When he began his investigative  research into psychiatric issues, Whitaker was still a believer in the story of  progress that psychiatryhas been  telling the public for decades.

He said, “I absolutely believed the common wisdom that these antipsychotic  drugs actually had improved things and that they had totally revolutionized how  we treated schizophrenia. People  used to be locked away forever, and now maybe things weren’t great, but they  were a lot better. It was a story of progress.”

That story of progress was fraudulent, as Whitaker soon found out when he  gained new insight from his research into torturous psychiatric practices such  as electroshock, lobotomy, insulin coma, and neuroleptic  drugs. Psychiatrists told the public that these techniques “cured” psychosis or  balanced the chemistry of the brain.

But, in reality, the common thread in all these different treatments was the  attempt to suppress “mental illness” by deliberately  damaging the higher functions of the brain.  The stunning truth is that, behind closed doors, the psychiatric establishment  itself labeled these treatments as “brain-damaging therapeutics.”

The first generation  of antipsychotic drugs created a drug-induced brain pathology  by blocking the neurotransmitter dopamine and essentially shutting down many  higher brain functions. In fact, when antipsychotics  such as Thorazine and Haldol were first introduced, psychiatrists  themselves said that these neuroleptic drugs were virtually indistinguishable  from a “chemical lobotomy.”

In recent years, the media have heralded the arrival of so-called designer  drugs like Prozac, Paxil and  Zyprexa that are supposed to be superior and have fewer side  effects than the old tricyclic antidepressants and the first antipsychotics.  Millions of Americans have believed this story and have enriched drug companies  like Eli Lillyby  spending billions of dollars annually to purchase these new medications.

Whitaker’s research into the tragic cases of disease, suffering and early  deaths caused by these drugs shows that millions of consumers have been misled  by a massive campaign of lies, distortions, and bought-and-paid-for drug  trials. Eminent medical researchers who have tried to warn us of the perils  of these drugs have been silenced, intimidated and defamed. In the process, the Food and  Drug Administration has become the lapdog of the giant pharmaceutical  industry, not its watchdog.

Street Spirit interviewed Robert Whitaker about this new “epidemic” of mental disorders, and how the  giant drug companies  have profited from selling drugs that make us sicker.

Street Spirit: Your new line of research indicates that there has been  an enormous rise in the incidence of mental illness in the United  States, despite the seeming advances in a new generation of psychiatric  drugs. Why do you refer to this increase as an epidemic?

Robert Whitaker: Even people like the psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey  wrote a book recently in which he said it looks like we’re having an epidemic of  mental illness. When the National Institute of Mental Health publishes its  figures on the incidence of mental illness, you see these rising numbers of mentally illpeople.  Some recent reports even say that 20 percent of Americans now are mentally ill.

So what I wanted to do was two-fold. I wanted to look into exactly how  dramatic is this increase in mental illness, and particularly severe mental  illness. Part of this rise in the number of people said to be mentally ill is  just definitional. We draw a big wide boundary today and we throw all sorts of  people into that category of mentally ill. So children  who are not sitting neatly enough in their school rooms are said to have attention  deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and we created a new disorder  called social anxiety disorder.

SS: So what used to be called simply shyness or anxiety  in relating to people is now labeled a mental disorder and you supposedly need  an antidepressant like Paxil for social anxiety disorder.

RW:Exactly. And you need a stimulant like Ritalin for ADHD.

SS: This increases psychiatry’s clients, but doesn’t it also increase  the number of people that giant pharmaceutical  companiescan sell their psychiatric drugs to?

RW: Absolutely. So part of what we’re seeing is nothing more than the  creation of a larger market for drugs. If you think about it, as long as we draw  as big a circle as possible, and expand the boundaries of mental illness,  psychiatry can have more clients and sell more drugs. So there’s a built-in  economic incentive to define mental illness in as broad terms as possible, and  to find ordinary, distressing emotionsor behaviors that  some people may not like and label them as mental illness.

SS:Your research also shows that there is a real increase in people  who have a severe mental disorder. Now, this seems counterintuitive, but is it  true that you believe much of this increase is caused by the overuse of some of  the new generations of psychiatric drugs?

RW:Yes, exactly. I looked at the number of the so-called severely  disabled mentally ill — people who aren’t working or who are somehow  dysfunctional because of mental illness. So I wanted to chart through history  the percentage of the population who are considered the disabled mentally ill.

Now, by 1903, we see that roughly 1 out of every 500 people in the United  States is hospitalized for mental illness. By 1955, at the start of the modern  era of psychiatric drugs, roughly one out of every 300 people was disabled by  mental illness. Now, let’s go to 1987, the end of the first generation of  antipsychotic drugs; and from 1987 forward we get the modern psychiatric drugs.  From 1955 to 1987, during this first era of psychiatric drugs — the  antipsychotic drugs Thorazine and Haldol and the tricyclic antidepressants (such  as Elavil and Anafranil) — we saw the number of disabled mentally ill increase  four-fold, to the point where roughly one out of every 75 persons are deemed  disabled mentally ill.

Now, there was a shift in how we cared for the disabled mentally ill between  1955 and 1987. In 1955, we were hospitalizing them. Then, by 1987, we had gone  through social change, and we were now placing people in shelters, nursing  homes, and some sort of community care, and gave them either SSI or SSDI  payments for mental disability. In 1987, we started getting these supposedly  better, second-generation psychiatric drugs like Prozac and the other selective serotonin re-uptake  inhibitor (SSRI)  antidepressants. Shortly after that, we get the new, atypical antipsychotic  drugs like Zyprexa (olanzapine), Clozaril and Risperdal.

What’s happened since 1987? Well, the disability rate has continued to  increase until it’s now one in every 50 Americans. Think about that: One in  every 50 Americans disabled by mental illness today. And it’s still increasing.  The number of mentally disabled people in the United States has been increasing  at the rate of 150,000 people per year since 1987. That’s an increase every day  over the last 17 years of 410 people per day newly disabled by mental illness.

SS:So that leads to the obvious question. If psychiatry has  introduced these so-called wonder drugs like Prozac and Zoloft and Zyprexa, why  is the incidence of mental illness going up dramatically?

RW:That’s exactly it. This is a scientific question. We have a form  of care where we’re using these drugs in an ever more expansive manner, and  supposedly we have better drugs and they’re the cornerstone of our care, so we  should see decreasing disability rates. That’s what your expectation would be.

Instead, from 1987 until the present, we saw an increase in the number of  mentally disabled people from 3.3 million people to 5.7 million people in the  United States. In that time, our spending on psychiatric drugs increased to an  amazing degree. Combined spending on antipsychotic drugs and antidepressants  jumped from around $500 million in 1986 to nearly $20 billion in 2004. So we  raise the question: Is the use of these drugs somehow actually fueling this  increase in the number of the disabled mentally ill?

When you look at the research literature, you find a clear pattern of  outcomes with all these drugs — you see it with the antipsychotics, the  antidepressants, the anti-anxiety drugs and the stimulants like Ritalin used to  treat ADHD. All these drugs may curb a target symptom slightly more effectively  than a placebo does for a  short period of time, say six weeks. An antidepressant may ameliorate the  symptoms of depression  better than a placebo over the short term.

What you find with every class of these psychiatric drugs is a worsening of  the target symptom of depression or psychosis or anxiety over the long term,  compared to placebo-treated patients. So even on the  target symptoms, there’s  greater chronicity and greater severity of symptoms. And you see a fairly  significant percentage of patients where new and more severe psychiatric  symptoms are triggered by the drugitself.

SS:New psychiatric symptoms created by the very drugs people are told  will help them recover?

RW: Absolutely. The most obvious case is with the antidepressants. A  certain percentage of people placed on the SSRIs  because they have some form of depression will suffer either a manic or  psychotic attack — drug-induced. This is well recognized. So now, instead of  just dealing with depression, they’re dealing with mania or psychotic symptoms.  And once they have a drug-induced manic episode, what happens? They go to an  emergency room, and at that point they’re newly diagnosed. They’re now said to  be bipolar and they’re given an antipsychotic to go along with the  antidepressant; and, at that point, they’re moving down the path to chronic  disability.

SS: Modern psychiatry claims that these psychiatric drugs correct  pathological brain chemistry. Is there any evidence  to back up their claim that abnormal brain chemistry is the culprit in  schizophrenia and depression?

RW:This is the key thing everyone needs to understand. It really is  the answer that unlocks this mystery of why the drugs would have this long-term  problematic effect. Start with schizophrenia. They hypothesize that these drugs  work by correcting an imbalance of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain.

The theory was that people with schizophrenia had overactive dopamine  systems; and these drugs, by blocking dopamine in the brain, fixed that chemical  imbalance. Therefore, you get the metaphor that they’re like insulin is for diabetes; they’re fixing an  abnormality. With the antidepressants, the theory was that people with  depression had too low levels of serotonin; the drugs upped the levels of  serotonin in the brain and therefore they’re balancing the brain chemistry.

First of all, those theories never arose from investigations into what was  actually happening to people. Rather, they would find out that antipsychotics  blocked dopamine and so they theorized that people had overactive dopamine  systems. Same with the antidepressants. They found that antidepressants upped  the levels of serotonin; therefore, they theorized that people with depression  must have low levels of serotonin.

But here is the thing that one wishes all of America  would know and wishes psychiatry would come clean on: They’ve never been able to  find that people with schizophrenia have overactive dopamine systems. They’ve  never been able to find that people with depression have underactive serotonin  systems. They’ve never found consistently that any of these disorders are  associated with any chemical imbalance in the brain. The story that people with  mental disorders have known chemical imbalances — that’s a lie. We don’t know  that at all. It’s just something that they say to help sell the drugs and help  sell the biological model of mental disorders.

But the kicker is this. We do know, in fact, that these drugs perturb how  these chemical messengers work in the brain. The real paradigm is: People  diagnosed with mental disorders have no known problem with their  neurotransmitter systems; and these drugs perturb the normal function of  neurotransmitters.

SS:So rather than fixing a chemical imbalance, these widely  prescribed drugs distort the brain chemistry and make it pathological.

RW:Absolutely. Stephen Hyman, a well-known neuroscientist and the  former director of the National Institute of Mental Health, wrote a paper in  1996 that looked at how psychiatric drugs affect the brain. He wrote that all  these drugs create perturbations in neurotransmitter functions. And he notes  that the brain, in response to this drug from the outside, alters its normal  functions and goes through a series of compensatory adaptations.

In other words, it tries to adapt to the fact that an antipsychotic drug is  blocking normal dopamine functions. Or in the case of antidepressants, it tries  to compensate for the fact that you’re blocking a normal reuptake of serotonin.  The way it does this is to adapt in the opposite way. So, if you’re blocking  dopamine in the brain, the brain tries to put out more dopamine and it actually  increases the number of dopamine receptors. So a person placed on antipsychotic  drugs will end up with an abnormally high number of dopamine receptors in the  brain.

If you give someone an antidepressant, and that tries to keep serotonin  levels too high in the brain, it does exactly the opposite. It stops producing  as much serotonin as it normally does and it reduces the number of serotonin  receptors in the brain. So someone who is on an antidepressant, after a time  ends up with an abnormally low level of serotonin receptors in the brain. And  here’s what Hyman concluded about this: After these changes  happened, the patient’s brain is functioning in a way that is “qualitatively as  well as quantitatively different from the normal state.” So what Stephen Hyman,  former head of the NIMH, has done is present a paradigm for how these drugs  affect the brain that shows that they’re inducing a pathological state.

SS: So the paradox is there’s no evidence for modern psychiatry’s  claim that there is any pathological biochemical imbalance in the brain that causesmental illness, but if  you treat people with these new wonder drugs, that is what creates a  pathological imbalance?

RW: Yes, these drugs disrupt normal brain chemistry. That’s the real  paradox here. And the real tragedy is, that even as we peddle these drugs as  chemical balancers, chemical fixers, in truth we’re doing precisely the  opposite. We’re taking a brain that has no known abnormal brain chemistry, and  by placing people on the drugs, we’re perturbing that normal chemistry. Here’s  how Barry Jacobs, a Princeton neuroscientist, describes what happens to a person  given an SSRI antidepressant. “These drugs,” he said, “alter the level of  synaptic transmission beyond the physiologic range achieved under normal  environmental biological conditions. Thus, any  behavioral or physiologic change produced under these conditions might more  appropriately be considered pathologic rather than reflective of the normal  biological role of serotonin.”

SS: One of the SSRI antidepressants that’s widely believed to be a  wonder drug is Prozac. Yet your research found that the Food and Drug  Administration (FDA) received  more adverse reports about Prozac than any other drug. What sort of ill effects  were people reporting?

RW:First of all, with Prozac and the SSRIs that followed, their level  of efficacy was always of a very minor sort. In all the clinical trials of the  antidepressants, roughly 41 percent of the patients got better in the short term  versus 31 percent of the patients on placebo. Now just one other caveat on that.  If you use an active placebo in these trials — an active placebo causes a  physiologic change with no benefit, like a dry mouth — any difference in  outcome between the antidepressant and placebo virtually disappears.

SS: Weren’t the early drug tests  of Prozac so unpromising that they had to manipulate test results to get FDA  approval at all?

RW: What happened with Prozac is a fascinating story. Right from the  beginning, they noticed only very marginal efficacy over placebo; and they  noticed that they had some problems with suicide.  There were increased suicidal responses compared to placebo. In other words, the  drugs was agitating people and making people suicidal who hadn’t been suicidal  before. They were getting manic responses in people who hadn’t been manic  before. They were getting psychotic episodes in people who hadn’t been psychotic  before. So you were seeing these very problematic side effects even at the same  time that you were seeing very modest efficacy, if any, over placebo in  ameliorating depression.

Basically, what Eli Lilly (Prozac’s manufacturer) had to do was cover up the  psychosis, cover up the mania; and, in that manner, it was able to get these  drugs approved. One FDA reviewer even warned that Prozac appeared to be a  dangerous drug, but it was approved anyway.  We’re seemingly finding all this  out only now: “Oh, Prozac can cause suicidal impulses and all these SSRIs may  increase the risk of  suicide.” The point is, that wasn’t anything new. That data was there from  the very first trial. You had people in Germany saying, “I think this is a  dangerous drug.”

SS:Even back in the late 1980s, they already knew?

RW: Before the late 1980s — in the early ’80s, before Prozac gets  approved. Basically what Eli Lilly had to do was cover up that risk  of mania and psychosis, cover up that some people were becoming suicidal because  they were getting this nervous agitation from Prozac. That’s the only way it got  approved.

There were various ways they did the cover-up. One was just to simply remove  reports of psychosis from some of the data. They also went back and recoded some  of the trial results. Let’s say someone had a manic episode or a psychotic  episode; instead of putting that down, they would just put down a return of  depression, and that sort of thing. So there was a basic need to hide these risksright from the beginning,  and that’s what was done.

So Prozac gets approved in 1987, and it’s launched in this amazing PR  campaign. The pill itself is featured on the cover of several magazines! It’s  like the Pill of the Year [laughs]. And it’s said to be so much safer: a wonder  drug. We have doctors  saying, “Oh, the real problem with this drug is that we can now create whatever  personality we want. We’re just so skilled with these drugs that if you want to  be happy all the time, take your pill!”

That was complete nonsense. The drugs were barely better than placebo at  alleviating depressive symptoms over the short term. You had all these problems;  yet we were touting these drugs, saying, “Oh, the powers of psychiatry are such  that we can give you the mind you want — a designer personality!” It was  absolutely obscene. Meanwhile, which drug, after being launched, quickly became  the most complained about drug in America? Prozac!

SS:What were the level of complaints when Prozac hit the market?

RW: In this county, we have Medwatch, a reporting system in which we  report adverse  events about psychiatric drugs to the  FDA. By the way, the FDA tries to keep these adverse reports from the  public. So, instead of the FDA making these easily available to the public. so  you can know about the dangers of the drugs, it’s very hard to get these  reports.

Within one decade, there were 39,000 adverse reports about Prozac that were  sent to Medwatch. The number of adverse events sent to Medwatch is thought to  represent only one percent of the actual number of such events. So, if we get  39,000 adverse eventreports  about Prozac, the number of people who have actually suffered such problems is  estimated to be 100 times as many, or roughly four million people. This makes  Prozac the most complained about drug in America, by far. There were more  adverse event reports received about Prozac in its first two years on the market  than had been reported on the leading tricyclic antidepressant in 20 years.

Remember, Prozac is pitched to the American public as this wonderfully safe  drug, and yet what are people complaining about? Mania, psychotic depression,  nervousness, anxiety, agitation, hostility,  hallucinations, memory  loss, tremors, impotence, convulsions, insomnia, nausea, suicidal impulses. It’s  a wide range of serious symptoms.

And here’s the kicker. It wasn’t just Prozac. Once we got the other SSRIs on  the market, like Zoloft and Paxil, by 1994, four SSRI antidepressants were among  the top 20 most complained about drugs on the FDA’s Medwatch list. In other  words, every one of these drugs brought to market started triggering this range  of adverse events. And these were not minor things. When you talk about mania,  hallucinations, psychotic depression, these are serious adverse events.

Prozac was pitched to the American public as a wonder drug. It was featured  on the covers of magazines as so safe, and as a sign of our wonderful ability to  effect the brain just as we want it. In truth, the reports were showing it could  trigger a lot of dangerous events, including suicide and psychosis.

The FDA was being warned about this. They were getting a flood of adverse  event reports, and the public was never told about this for the longest period  of time. It took a decade for the FDA to begin to acknowledge the increased  suicides and the violence  it can trigger in some people. It just shows how the FDA betrayed the American  people. This is a classic example. They betrayed their responsibility to act  as a watchdog for the American people. Instead they acted as an agency that  covered up harm and risk with these drugs.

SS: In light of the FDA’s failure to warn us about Prozac, what about  their recent negligence on the issue of the risk of suicide in children given  antidepressants like Paxil? Weren’t England’s mental  health officials far better than their American counterparts in the FDA in  warning about the dangers of suicidal attempts when antidepressants are given to youth?

RW: Yes. The children’s story is unbelievably tragic. It’s also a  really sordid story. Let’s go back a little to see what happened to children and  antidepressants. Prozac comes to market in 1987. By the early 1990s, the  pharmaceutical companies making these drugs are saying, “How do we expand the  market for antidepressants?” Because that’s what drug companies do — they want  to get to an ever-larger number of people. They saw they had an untapped market  in kids. So let’s start  peddling the drugs to kids. And they were successful. Since 1990, the use of  antidepressants in kids went up something like seven-fold. They began  prescribing them willy-nilly.

Now, whenever they did pediatric trials of antidepressants, they found that  the drugs were no more effective on the target symptom of depression than  placebo. This happened again and again in the pediatric drug trials of  antidepressants. So, what that tells you is there is no real therapeutic  rationale for the drugs because in this population of kids, the drugs don’t even  curb the target symptoms over the short term any better than placebo; and yet  they were causing all sorts of adverse events.

For example, in one trial, 75 percent of youth treated with antidepressants  suffered an adverse event of some kind. In one study by the University of  Pittsburgh, 23 percent of children treated with an SSRI developed mania or  manic-like symptoms; an additional 19 percent developed drug-induced hostility.  The clinical results were telling you that you didn’t get any benefit on  depression; and you could cause all sorts of real problems in kids — mania,  hostility, psychosis, and you may even stir suicide. In other words, don’t use  these drugs, right? It was absolutely covered up.

SS:How was it covered up?

RW:We had psychiatrists — some of those obviously getting money from  the drug companies — saying the kids are under-treated and they’re at risk of  suicide and how could we possibly treat kids without these pills and what a  tragedy it would be if we couldn’t use these antidepressants.

Finally, a prominent researcher in England, David Healy, started doing his  own research on the ability of these drugs to stir suicide. He also managed to  get access to some of the trial results and he blew the whistle. He first blew  the whistle in England and he presented this data to the review authorities  there. And they saw that it looks like these drugs are increasing the risk of  suicide and there are really no signs of benefits  on the target symptoms of depression. So they began to move there to warn  doctors not to prescribe these drugs to youth.

What happens in the United States? Well, it’s only after there’s a lot of  pressure put on the FDA that they even hold a hearing. The FDA sort of downplays  the risk of these drugs. They’re slow to even put black box warnings on them.  Why? Aren’t kids lives worth protecting? If we know that we have a  scientifically shown risk that these drugs increase suicide, shouldn’t you at  least warn about it? But the FDA was even digging in its heels about putting  that black box  warningon the drugs.

SS:If Prozac is the nation’s most complained about drug, if Paxil is  shown to be a suicide risk for youth, how do these antidepressants continue to  have a reputation as near-magic cures for depression? And why did the FDA failed  to warn us about Paxil and Prozac for such a long time?

RW: There’s a couple reasons for that. The FDA’s funding changed in  the 1990s. An act was passed in which a lot of the FDA’s funding came from the drug industry: the  PDUFA Act, or Prescription Drug User Fee Act. Basically, when drug companies  applied for FDA approval they had to pay a fee. Those fees became what is  funding a large portion of the FDA’s review of drug applications.

So all of a sudden, the funding is coming from the drug industry;  it’s no longer coming from the people. As that act comes up for renewal,  basically the drug lobbyists are telling the FDA that their job is no longer to  be critically analyzing drugs, but to approve drugs quickly. And that was part  of Newt Gingrich’s thing: Your job is to get these drugs to market. Start  partnering with the drug industry and facilitating drug development. We lost  this idea that the FDA had a watchdog role.

Also, in a human way, a lot of people who work for the FDA leave there and  end up going to work for the drug companies. The old joke is that the FDA is  sort of like a showcase for a future job in the drug industry. You go there, you  work awhile, then you go off into the drug industry. Well, if that’s the  progression that people make, in essence they’re making good old boy network  connections, so they’re not going to be so harsh on the drug companies. So,  that’s what really happened in the 1990s. The FDA was given new marching orders.  The orders were: “Facilitate getting drugs to market. Don’t be too critical.  And, in fact, if you want to keep your funding, which was coming now from the  drug industry, make sure you take these lessons to heart.”

SS: So the giant pharmaceutical companies have a vast amount of powerto cook the results of  drug tests and make researchers and even the FDA itself bow to their will?

RW: The FDA, in essence, was kneecapped in the early 1990s, and we  really saw it with the psychiatric drugs. The FDA became a lapdog for the  pharmaceutical industry, not a watchdog.  It’s only now that this has become  common knowledge. We have Marcia Angell, the former editor of the New England  Journal of Medicine, write a book in which she says that the FDA became a  lapdog. It’s basically now well recognized that you had this decline and fall.  As the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, the most prestigious  medical journal we have, Marcia Angell is someone who was at the very heart of  American medicine, and  she concluded that the FDA let down the American people. And she lost her job at  the New England Journal of Medicine for starting to criticize pharmaceutical  companies.

She was the editor of the journal in the late 1990s and there was a  corresponding doctor named  Thomas Bodenheimer who decided to write an article about how you couldn’t even  trust what was published in the medical journals anymore because of all the  spinning of results.  So they did an investigation  about how the pharmaceutical companies are funding all the research and spinning  the trial results, so you can no longer really trust what you read in scientific  journals. They pointed out that when they tried to get an expert to review the  scientific literature related to antidepressants, they basically couldn’t find  someone who hadn’t taken money from the drug companies.

Now, the New England Journal of Medicine is published by the Massachusetts  Medical Society which publishes a lot of other journals, and they get a lot of  pharmaceutical advertising. So what  happens after that article appears by Thomas Bodenheimer and an accompanying  editorial by Marcia Angell about the sorry state of American medicine because of  this? They both lose their jobs! She’s gone and so is Thomas Bodenheimer. Think  about this. We have the leading medical journal firing people, letting them go,  because they dared to criticize the dishonest science  and the dishonest process that was poisoning the scientific literature.

So we have the FDA that’s acting as lapdogs. You can’t trust the scientific  literature. All this shows how the American public was betrayed and didn’t know  about all the problems with these drugs and why it was kept from them. It has to  do with money, prestige and old boy networks.

SS:It also has to do with the silencing of critics. Eli Lilly uses  the media to trumpet Prozac’s benefits and gives perks to doctors to attend  conferences to hear about its benefits, and buys off researchers. But don’t they  also use their power and money to silence their critics?

RW:An example is Dr. Joseph Glenmullen, a psychiatrist who also works  for Harvard University Health Services, and who wrote a book called Prozac  Backlash to warn about the dangers of Prozac. He’s finding that the drugs are  being overused and cause severe side effects. He even raises questions about  long-term memory problems with the drugs and cognitive dysfunction. Well, Eli  Lilly then mounted a public relations campaign to try to discredit him. They  sent out notices to the media questioning his affiliation with Harvard Medical  School, etc. It was all about silencing the critics.

If you sing the tune that the drug companies want, at the very top levels,  you get paid a lot of money to fly around and give presentations about the  wonders of the drugs. And those who come, and don’t ask any embarrassing  questions, get the lobster dinners and maybe they get a little honorarium for  attending this educational meeting. So if you want to be part of this gravy  train, you can. You sing the wonders of the drug, and you don’t talk about their  nasty side effects, and you can get a nice payment as one of their guest  speakers, as one of their experts.

But if you’re one of the ones saying, “What about the mania, what about the  psychosis?” — they do silence you. Look at what happened to David Healy. Healy  is even the best example. David Healy has this sterling reputation in England.  He’s written several books on the history of psychopharmacology. He’s like the  former Secretary of the Psychopharmacology Association over there. He gets  offered a job at the University of Toronto to head up their psychiatry  department. So while he’s waiting to assume that position at the University of  Toronto, he goes to Toronto and delivers a talk on the elevated risk of suicide  with Prozac and some of the other SSRIs. By the time he’s back home,  the job offer has been rescinded.

Now does Eli Lilly donate some money to the University of Toronto?  Absolutely. So, to answer your question, yes, Eli Lilly silences dissenters as  well.

SS:What is the story behind the secret settlement between Eli Lilly  and the survivors who sued the company after Joseph Wesbecker shot 20 coworkers  after being put on Prozac?

RW:During this trial in which Eli Lilly was being sued, the judge was  going to allow some very damaging evidence showing wrongdoing by Eli Lilly in a  previous instance. The judge said, “Go ahead and introduce this at the trial.”  But next thing you know, they don’t introduce this; and in fact, all of a  sudden, the plaintiffs no longer are presenting very damaging evidence to make  their case. So the judge wonders why they are not presenting their best case  anymore. He smells a rat. He suspects Eli Lilly has settled with the plaintiffs  secretly and the deal is that, as part of this settlement, the plaintiffs will  go ahead with a sham trial so that Eli Lilly will win the trial. Then Eli Lilly  can claim, “See our drug doesn’t cause people to become violent.”

And, indeed, that’s what happened. Eli Lilly felt it was going to lose this  trial. They went to the plaintiffs and said they would give them a lot of money.  They agreed to go ahead and settle the case, but had the plaintiffs go ahead  with the trial. That way Eli Lilly can publicly claim that they won the trial  and Prozac doesn’t cause harm.

SS:How did this even come out into the light of day?

RW:We would never have known about this except for two things. One,  believe it or not, the judge, in essence, appealed the decision in his own  court. He said, “I smell a rat.” And through that, he found out that there was  this secret settlement and that it was a sham proceeding that continued on. He  said it was one of the worst violations of the integrity of the legal process  that he’d ever seen. And second, an English journalist named John Cornwell wrote  a book called Power to Harm: Mind, Medicine, and Murder on Trial. He wrote about  this case, and yet in the United States, we got almost no news about this secret  settlement and this whole perversion of the legal process. It was an English  journalist who was exposing this story.

My point here is this: They silence people like Marcia Angell. They pervert  the scientific process. They pervert the legal process. They pervert the FDA  drug review process. It’s everywhere! And that’s how we as a society end up  believing in these psychiatric drugs. You asked the question a while back, “Why  do we still believe in Prozac?” One of the reasons is that the story about  Prozac is, in effect, maintained. It’s publicly maintained because we do all  this silencing along all these lines.

The other thing to remember is that some people on Prozac do feel better.  That’s true. That shows up, just in the same way that some people on placebos  feel better. And those are the stories that get repeated: “Oh, I took Prozac and  I’m feeling better.” It’s that select group that does better that becomes the  story that is told out there, and the story that the public hears. So that’s why  we continued to believe in the story of these wonder drugs that are very safe in  spite of all this messy stuff that gets covered up.

SS: Let’s now move from the antidepressants like Prozac to consider  another new group of supposed wonder drugs — the new antipsychotic drugs. You  write that long-term use of antipsychotic drugs — both the original neuroleptic  drugs like Thorazine and Haldol and the newer atypicals like Zyprexa and  Risperdal — cause pathological changes in the brain that can lead  to a worsening of the symptoms of mental illness. What changes in brain  chemistry result from the antipsychotics, and how can that lead to the most  frightening prospect you describe — chronic mental illness that is locked in by  these drugs?

RW:This is a line of research that goes across 40 years. This problem  of chronic illness shows up time and time again in the research literature. This  biological mechanism is somewhat well understood now. The antipsychotics  profoundly block dopamine receptors. They block 70-90 percent of the dopamine  receptors in the brain. In return, the brain sprouts about 50 percent extra  dopamine receptors. It tries to become extra sensitive.

So in essence you’ve created an imbalance in the dopamine system in the  brain. It’s almost like, on one hand, you’ve got the accelerator down — that’s  the extra dopamine receptors. And the drug is the brake trying to block this.  But if you release that brake, if you abruptly go off the drugs, you now do have  a dopamine system that’s overactive. You have too many dopamine receptors. And  what happens? People that go abruptly off of the drug, do tend to have severe  relapses.

SS:So people that have been treated with these antipsychotic drugs  have a far greater tendency to relapse, and have new episodes of mental illness,  as opposed to people who have had other kinds of non-drug therapies?

RW: Absolutely, and that was understood by 1979, that you were  actually increasing the underlying biological vulnerability to the psychosis.  And by the way, we sort of understood that if you muck with the dopamine system,  that you could cause some symptoms of psychosis with amphetamines.  So if you give someone amphetamines enough, they’re at increased risk of  psychosis. This is well known. And what do amphetamines do? They release  dopamine. So there is a biological reason why, if you’re mucking up the dopamine  system, you’re increasing the risk of psychosis. That’s in essence what these  antipsychotic drugs do, they muck up the dopamine system.

Here’s just one real powerful study on this: Researchers with the University  of Pittsburgh in the 1990s took people newly diagnosed with schizophrenia, and  they started taking MRI pictures of the brains  of these people. So we get a picture of their brains at the moment of diagnosis,  and then we prepare pictures over the next 18 months to see how those brains  change. Now during this 18 months, they are being prescribed antipsychotic  medications, and what did the researchers report? They reported that, over this  18-month period, the drugs caused an enlargement of the basal ganglia, an area  of the brain that uses dopamine. In other words, it creates a visible change in  morphology, a change in the size of an area of the brain, and that’s abnormal.  That’s number one. So we have an antipsychotic drug causing an abnormality in  the brain.

Now here’s the kicker. They found that as that enlargement occurred, it was  associated with a worsening of the psychotic symptoms, a worsening of negative  symptoms. So here you actually have, with modern technology, a very powerful  study. By imaging the brain, we see how an outside agent comes in, disrupts  normal chemistry, causes an abnormal enlargement of the basal ganglia, and that  enlargement causes a worsening of the very symptoms it’s supposed to treat. Now  that’s actually, in essence, a story of a disease process — an outside agent  causes abnormality, causes symptoms…

SS: But in this case, the outside agent that triggers the disease  process is the supposed cure  for the disease! The psychiatric drug is the disease-causing agent.

RW:That’s exactly right. It’s a stunning, damning finding. It’s the  sort of finding you would say, “Oh Christ, we should be doing something  different.” Do you know what those researchers got new grants for, after they  reported that?

SS: No, what? You’d guess they got funding to carry out these same studieson other classes of  psychiatric drugs.

RW:They got a grant to develop an implant, a brain implant, that  would deliver drugs like Haldol on a continual basis! A grant to develop a drug  delivery implant so you could implant this in the brains of people with  schizophrenia and then they wouldn’t even have a chance not to take the drugs!

SS:Unbelievable. Designing an implant to provide a constant dose of a  drug that they had just discovered causes pathology in the brain chemistry.

RW:Right, they had just found that they’re causing a worsening of  symptoms! So why would you go on to a design a permanent implant? Because that’s  where the money was.  And no one wanted to deal with this horrible finding of an  enlargement of the basal ganglia caused by the drugs, and that is associated  with the worsening of symptoms. No one wanted to deal with the fact that when  you look at people medicated on antipsychotics, you start to see a shrinking of  the frontal lobes. No one wants to talk about that either. They stopped that  research.

SS:What other side effects are caused by prolonged use of these  antipsychotic drugs?

RW: Oh, you get tardive dyskinesia, a permanent brain dysfunction; and  akathisia, which is this incredible nervous agitation. You’re just never  comfortable. You want to sit but you can’t sit. It’s like you’re crawling out of  your own skin. And it’s  associated with violence, suicide and all sorts of horrible things.

SS:Those kinds of side-effects were notorious with the first  generation of antipsychotic drugs, like Thorazine, Haldol and Stelazine. But,  just as with Prozac, so many people are still touting the new generation of  atypical antipsychotics — Zyprexa, Clozaril and Risperdal — as wonder drugs  that control mental illness with far fewer side effects. Is that true? What have  you found?

RW:No, it’s just complete nonsense. In fact, I think the newer drugs  will eventually be seen as more dangerous than the old drugs, if that’s  possible. As you know, the standard neuroleptics like Thorazine and Haldol have  had quite a litany of harm with the tardive dyskinesia and all.  So when we got  the new atypical drugs, they were touted as so much safer. But with these new  atypicals, you get all sorts of metabolic dysfunctions.

Let’s talk about Zyprexa. It has a different profile. So it may not cause as  much tardive dyskinesia. It may not cause as many Parkinsonian symptoms. But it  causes a whole range of new symptoms. So, for example, it’s more likely to cause  diabetes. It’s more likely to cause pancreatic disorders. It’s more likely to  cause obesity and appetite-disregulation disorders.

In fact, researchers in Ireland reported in 2003 that since the introduction  of the atypical antipsychotics, the death  rateamong people with schizophrenia has doubled. They have done death rates  of people treated with standard neuroleptics and then they compare that with  death rates of people treated with atypical antipsychotics, and it doubles. It  doubles! It didn’t reduce harm. In fact, in their seven-year study, 25 of the 72  patients died.

SS:What were the causes of death?

RW: All sorts of physical illnesses, and that’s part of the point.  You’re getting respiratory problems, you’re getting people dying of incredibly  high cholesterol counts, heart problems, diabetes. With olanzapine (Zyprexa),  one of the problems is that you’re really screwing up the core metabolic system.  That’s why you get these huge weight gains, and you get the diabetes. Zyprexa  basically disrupts the machine that we are that processes food  and extracts energy from that food. So this very fundamental thing that we  humans do is disrupted, and at some point you just see all these pancreatic  problems, faulty glucose regulation, diabetes, etc. That’s really a sign that  you’re mucking with something very fundamental to life.

SS: There’s supposedly an alarming increase in mental illness being  diagnosed in children. Millions are diagnosed with depression, bipolar and  psychotic symptoms, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and social anxiety  disorder. Is this explosive new prevalence of mental illness among children a  real increase, or is it a marketing campaign that  enriches the psychiatric drug industry, a bonanza for the pharmaceutical  corporations?RW: You’re touching on something now that is a tragic  scandal of monumental proportions. I talk sometimes to college  classes, psychology classes. You cannot believe the percentage of youth who have  been told they were mentally ill as kids, that something was wrong with them.  It’s absolutely phenomenal. It’s absolutely cruel to be telling kids that they  have these broken brains and mental illnesses.

There’s two things that are happening here. One, of course, is that it’s  complete nonsense. As you remember as a kid, you have too much energy or you  behave sometimes in not altogether appropriate ways, and you do have these  extremes of emotions, especially during your teenage years. Both children and  teenagers can be very emotional. So one thing that’s going on is that they take childhoodbehaviors and  start defining behaviors they don’t like as pathological. They start defining  emotions that are uncomfortable as pathological. So part of what we’re doing is  pathologizing childhood with straight-out definition stuff. We’re pathologizing  poverty among kids.

For example, if you’re a foster kid, and maybe you drew a bad straw in the  lottery of life and are born into a dysfunctional family  and you get put into foster care, do you know what happens today? You pretty  likely are going to get diagnosed with a mental disorder, and you’re going to be  placed on a psychiatric drug. In Massachusetts, it’s something like 60 to 70  percent of kids in foster care are now on psychiatric drugs. These kids aren’t  mentally ill! They got a raw deal in life. They ended up in a foster home, which  means they were in a bad family situation, and what does our society do? They  say: “You have a defective brain.” It’s not that society was bad and you didn’t  get a fair deal. No, the kid has a defective brain and has to be put on this  drug. It’s absolutely criminal.

Let’s talk about bipolar disorder among kids. As one doctor said, that used  to be so rare as to be almost nonexistent. Now we’re seeing it all over. Bipolar  is exploding among kids. Well, partly you could say that we’re just slapping  that label on kids more often; but in fact, there is something real going on.  Here’s what’s happening. You take kids and put them on an antidepressant —  which we never used to do — or you put them on a stimulant like Ritalin.  Stimulants can cause mania; stimulants can cause psychosis.

SS:And antidepressants can also cause mania, as you pointed out.

RW:Exactly, so the kid ends up with a drug-induced manic or psychotic  episode. Once they have that, the doctor at the emergency room doesn’t say, “Oh,  he’s suffering from a drug-induced episode.” He says he’s bipolar.

SS:Then they give him a whole new drug for the mental disorder caused  by the first drug.

RW:Yeah, they give him an antipsychotic drug; and now he’s on a  cocktail of drugs, and he’s on a path to becoming disabled for life. That’s an  example of how we’re absolutely making kids sick.

SS: It’s like society or their schools  are trying to make them manageable and they end up putting them on a chemical  roller coaster against their will.


SS: There’s an astonishing number of kids being given Ritalin to cure  hyperactivity. But what 10-year-old boy in a confined school setting isn’t  hyperactive? You write that the effect of Ritalin on the dopamine system is very  similar to cocaineand  amphetamines.

RW:Ritalin is methylphenidate. Now methylphenidate affects the brain  in exactly the same way as cocaine. They both block a molecule that is involved  in the reuptake of dopamine.

SS:So they both increase the dopamine levels in the brain?

RW:Exactly. And they do it with a similar degree of potency. So  methylphenidate is very similar to cocaine. Now, one difference is whether  you’re snorting it or if it’s in a pill. That partly changes how quickly it’s  metabolized. But still, it basically affects the brain in the same way. Now,  methylphenidate was used in research studies to deliberately stir psychosis in  schizophrenics. Because they knew that you could take a person with a tendency  towards psychosis, give them methylphenidate, and cause psychosis. We also knew  that amphetamines, like methylphenidate, could cause psychosis in people who had  never been psychotic before.

So think about this. We’re giving a drug to kids that is known to have the  possibility of stirring psychosis. Now, the odd thing about methylphenidate and  amphetamines is that, in kids, they sort of have a counterintuitive effect. What  does speed do in adults? It makes them more jittery and hyperactive. For  whatever reasons, in kids amphetamines will actually still their movements; it  will actually keep them in their chairs and make them more focused. So you’ve  got kids in boring schools. The boys are not paying attention and they’re  diagnosed with ADHD and put on a drug that is known to stir psychosis. The next  thing you know, a fair number of them are not doing well by the time they’re 15,  16, 17. Some of those kids talk about how when you’re on these drugs for the  long term, you start feeling like a zombie; you don’t feel like yourself.

SS:Hollowed-out, blunted emotions. And this is being done to millions  of kids.

RW:Millions of kids! Think about what we’re doing. We’re robbing kids  of their right to be kids, their right to grow, their right to experience their  full range of emotions, and their right to experience the world in its full hue  of colors. That’s what growing up is, that’s what being alive is! And we’re  robbing kids of their right to be. It’s so criminal. And we’re talking about  millions of kids who have been affected this way. There are some colleges where  something like 40 to 50 percent of the kids arrive with a psychiatric  prescription.

SS:It looks like a huge social-control mechanism. Society gives kids  Ritalin and antidepressants to subdue them and make them conform. On the one  hand, it’s all about social control and conformity. But it also has a huge  marketing payoff.

RW:You’re right, it creates customers for the drugs, and hopefully  lifelong customers. That’s what they’re told, aren’t they? They’re told they are  going to be on these drugs for life. And next thing they know, they’re on two or  three or four drugs. It’s brilliant from the capitalist point of view. It does  serve some social-control function. But you take a kid, and you turn them into a  customer, and hopefully a lifelong customer. It’s brilliant.

We now spend more on antidepressants in this country than the Gross National  Product of mid-sized countries like Jordan. It’s just amazing amounts of money.  The amount of money we spend on psychiatric drugs in this country is more than  the Gross National Product of two-thirds of the world’s countries. It’s just  this incredibly lucrative paradigm of the mind that you can fix chemical  imbalances in the brain with these drugs. It works so well from a capitalistic  point of view for Eli Lilly. When Prozac came to market, Eli Lilly’s value on  Wall Street, its capitalization, was around 2 billion dollars. By the year 2000,  the time when Prozac was its number-one drug, its capitalization reached 80  billion dollars — a forty-fold increase.

So that’s what you really have to look at if you want to see why drug  companies have pursued this vision with such determination. It brings billions  of dollars in wealth in terms of increased stock prices to the owners and  managers of those companies. It also benefits the psychiatric establishment that  gets behind the drugs; they do well by this. There’s a lot of money flowing in  the direction of those that will embrace this form of care. There’s  advertisements that enrich the media. It’s all a big gravy train.

Unfortunately, the cost is dishonesty in our scientific literature, the  corruption of the FDA, and the absolute harm done to children in this country  drawn into this system, and an increase of 150,000 newly disabled people every  year in the United States for the last 17 years. That’s an incredible record of  harm done.

SS:Everyone gets rich — the drug companies, the psychiatrists, the  researchers, the advertising agencies — and the clients get drugged out of  their minds and damaged for life.

RW: And you know what’s interesting? No one says that the mental health of the American people  is getting better. Instead, everyone says we have this increasing problem They  blame it on the stresses of modern life or something like that, and they don’t  want to look at the fact that we’re creating mental illness.

Original at NaturalNews:


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3 Responses to Psychiatric Drugs: Chemical Warfare on Humans – interview with Robert Whitaker

  1. susan c whelan says:

    This was a very interesting, helpful article. Thanks for re-publishing it.


  2. Jenny Alexander says:

    For my money, these drugs prevent processes which are actually moving us towards balance and wholeness. Interesting post. I like this blog!


Comments are closed.