Lawmakers Want to End Big Pharma Recruitment Schemes – Part 2

Evelyn Pringle May 30, 2007

The whole idea of mining for psychiatric drug customers by screening all Americans for mental health disorders came to fruition as the result of the campaign contributions by the pharmaceutical industry, which in large part helped George W Bush take up residence in the White House.

To repay his enormous debt to the industry, on April 29, 2002, Bush paved the way for the implementation of the industry-funded screening programs and the mass drugging-for-profit scheme when he created the New Freedom Commission.

According to Dr Nathaniel Lehrman, former clinical director of Kingsboro Psychiatric Center, in Brooklyn NY, in the paper, The Dangers of Mental Health Screening, It is merely one of the “Bush administration hand-outs to the drug companies, so many of which have changed from legitimate businesses into patent-protected rackets.”

The recruitment of children as customers was a central goal of the industry, and Bush came through in helping meet that goal. The NFC’s final report dated July 22, 2003, called for screening every American child for mental illness, including preschoolers, and said, “schools are in a key position to identify mental health problems early and to provide a link to appropriate services.”

To that end, the report says, every child involved in a government program or is covered by Medicaid will automatically be screened under the following recommendation: “Screening should be implemented upon entry into, and periodically thereafter in, the juvenile justice and child welfare systems, as well as in other settings and populations with known high risk, such as the Medicaid population.”

The report also specifically calls for screening programs to be linked to “state-of-the-art treatments” using “specific medications for specific conditions.” A fact not mentioned is that 95% of the “specific medications” referred to were not FDA approved for treating children and have never been tested as safe and effective with children.

In addition, recent studies have shown that, although the rise in numbers of patients taking psychiatric drugs has skyrocketed over the past decade, there has been no decrease in mental illness. To the contrary, judging by the company sales figures, the man-made epidemic is still spreading like a wildfire.

But worst of all, for all the money spent and the stream of new serious side effect emerging each year, no patients are recovering from their alleged “mental disorders.”

The screening program recommended by Bush’s Commission for use in the public school system was TeenScreen, which created a controversy all across the country when the survey began being administered to students without the knowledge or consent of the parents.

TeenScreen claims it can identify several mental disorders. On March 2, 2004, while trying to drum up federal funding at a Congressional hearing, TeenScreen’s Executive Director, Laurie Flynn, testified that, in the screening process, “youth complete a 10-minute self-administered questionnaire that screens for social phobia, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, major depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and suicidality.”

Critics disagree. “The TeenScreen program is a fraud,” says Dr Lehrman. “It makes ‘mental cases’ rather than finding them by giving youngsters brain-injuring medicines.”

The Citizens Commission for Human Rights points out that “human beings have been bumping and bumbling their way through adolescence for a few hundred thousand years, at least.”

“Now TeenScreen and its allies,” it says, “want to turn that right of passage into a profit center of psychiatrists and their allied pharmaceutical companies,” in the November 2006 report, “TeenScreen: Life Saving Intervention, or Orwellian Nightmares?”

In addition, critics say any label of mental illness will have many life-long adverse effects on these children. They will have problems filling out job applications and applying for insurance when they have to say they were diagnosed mentally ill in childhood.

And this will especially be true for those children who have to reveal that the drugs they were prescribed as a child were atypical antipsychotics used to treat schizophrenia or bipolar disorder leading most people to logically conclude that the person has a life-long mental illness.

The atypicals include Zyprexa, Risperdal, Clozaril, Abilify, Seroquel and Geodon, none of which are FDA approved for any use with children and are only approved for treating schizophrenia and manic episodes of bipolar disorder in adults.

Think about it. What do most people think of when they hear the term schizophrenia? Rightly or wrongly, they envision people who are delusional, hear voices, unpredictable and violent. In other words, the person is at least bizarre and at worst dangerous to be around.

And also, there is no denying that such a label results in stigmatism for life, because when do we ever hear that a person “used to have” schizophrenia or bipolar disorder? By design, the drug companies are setting up children to become life-long customers by having them labeled with the most serious of mental disorders.

For nearly 20 years, the drug makers have been raking in profits by promoting the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressants (SSRIs) which include Zoloft, Prozac, Paxil, Celexa, Lexapro and Luvox, as working better than the older drugs and concealing the association between the drugs and suicidality.

“Parents must be better informed,” according to a report by The Citizens Commission on Human Rights.

“Few, if any, parents faced with the school situation of their child being labeled as ‘mentally ill’ or ‘learning disordered’ and coerced into taking psychiatric drugs, are told that there are many other factors that could be causing the child’s inattention, behavior problems or learning difficulties,” CCHR states.

“Common causes,” the report says, “are poor reading and math skills requiring tutoring, environmental toxins, allergies, nutritional deficiencies, and other easily detectable and treatable physical conditions.”

Special medical doctors can do tests to determine if a person is experiencing an allergic reaction, and diet can also help, the report notes.

Critics who have investigated the TeenScreen program say it is being sold to the public by the funneling of millions of industry dollars through front groups posing as patient advocacy groups. “The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI),” Mr Kramer says, “pushes suicide screening of children nationwide and receives millions in drug money.”

NAMI received $544,500 from Eli Lilly in the first quarter of this year alone, he notes.

The industry definitely gets a lot of bang for the buck when using NAMI and other front groups. Internationally known expert and author of many books on psychotropic drugs, psychiatrist, Dr Peter Breggin, founder of The International Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology (ICSPP), says groups like NAMI hold national meetings that bring together drug advocates to talk directly to consumers.

“They also send out newsletters and other information that praise the drugs,” he says.

“Sometimes,” he adds, “they actively suppress viewpoints that are critical of drugs, for example, by discouraging the media from airing opposing viewpoints.”

According to Mr Kramer, the TeenScreen advisory board also has major ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

Psychiatrist David Shaffer, who is credited with the development of the TeenScreen survey, is a paid consultant for GlaxoSmithKline on the matter of Paxil and adolescent suicide and has served as an expert witness in lawsuits against plaintiffs injured by pharmaceutical products on behalf of Hoffman la Roche and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals.

In January 2004, Shaffer co-authored a report in the Journal of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology that claimed, “SSRI antidepressants do not increase the risk of suicidal thinking or suicide attempts in youth.”

By design, the report coincided with the scheduled FDA advisory committee hearings on the issue of whether SSRI use was associated with suicidality in children, and all authors but one had extensive ties to the industry. In the end, the panel ignored Shaffer’s bogus study and determined that a black box warning should be added to SSRI labels.

A few months later, on December 9, 2004, ABC’s Prime Time Live revealed that at least 100 children in the US had committed suicide while taking these new antidepressants and many more had attempted suicide.

The fact that SSRIs cause violence in some people was also concealed by the drug makers for years. As far back as November 2002, Fox News reported that 7 of the 12 teens involved in school shootings were either taking SSRIs or stimulants or were experiencing the withdrawal effects from the drugs and that the possible drug use by the other 5 shooters was unknown at the time because their medical records were sealed. Columbine shooter Eric Harris was on Luvox.

Critics say it’s no coincidence that TeenScreen leader Laurie Flynn was the CEO of NAMI for 16 years before she was promoted to head TeenScreen.

Under Flynn, CCHR reports, NAMI became a virtual marketing arm of the industry, stating in its Guidelines for the Relationship between NAMI and the Campaign’s Founding Sponsors: “Providers, health plans, and pharmaceutical companies want to grow their markets and to increase their share of the market…NAMI will cooperate with these entities to grow the market by making persons aware of the issues involving severe brain disorders…and by helping persons to adhere to their treatment plans.”

An Indiana mother, Teresa Rhodes, has created an online petition against TeenScreen after her 15-year-old daughter, Chelsea, was screened at school without parental consent and was falsely labeled with not one but 2 mental illnesses, obsessive-compulsive disorder and social anxiety disorder. People wishing to sign the petition can do so by clicking on this link http://www.petitiononline.com/TScreen/petition.html.

Mr Kramer says the petition is an excellent way to educate people about TeenScreen because it conveys many of the facts about mental health screening and can be printed off and presented to school board members and local, state and federal legislators.

Activist Vince Boehm has been advocating against screening and the drugging of children for more years than he would like to count. However, he got especially upset recently while watching a discussion on TV about the positive business outlook for the sale of psychiatric drugs to children.

“I was listening to the Bloomberg Business Channel recently,” he says, “and caught an interview with a drug company sales executive.”

“He was talking about how his market share for psychiatric drugs was booming in the pediatric market,” he recalled.

“Then I thought about the children,” Vince said and screamed at the TV, “You jackass! (I actually used a somewhat stronger expletive), these are not ‘market shares’ they are kids!”

According to Laurie Yorke, “Pandora’s Box is an understatement when it comes to mental health screening.”

Laurie is a Registered Nurse whose son was labeled mentally ill and prescribed Paxil and experienced a severe withdrawal syndrome when he stopped taking the drug.

“I think one thing that is never mentioned with TeenScreen,” she states, “is how is the school going to handle a child who has been labeled?”

“What if a child is diagnosed with an ‘anxiety disorder,’ she points out. “Is the school prepared to provide home instruction, smaller classrooms, or whatever is required to educate that child?”

“I bring this up,” she notes, “because Ryan’s school denied his withdrawal from Paxil, accused me of ‘working the system’ and attacked my reputation to all who would listen and finally withdrew his home instruction.”

As a result, Laurie says, her son withdrew from high school altogether. “If this is how they treat someone who is ‘labeled,'” she asks, “how are they going to provide an education for all of those who are being labeled because of TeenScreen?”

In addition, she points out, “how are they going to handle all the children suffering from adverse effects from a drug that they have been prescribed as a result of TeenScreen?”

On May 17, 2007, Laurie testified at a hearing in support of a New Jersey legislative bill that requires physicians and other prescribers to obtain informed consent from parents or guardians of minors who are prescribed psychotropic medication with “black box warnings,” to include informing the parent or guardian of all the potential adverse events associated with the drug.

The bill specifies that a physician or other authorized prescriber who prescribes a medication in violation of this act shall be subject to disciplinary action by the State Board of Medical Examiners. The bill was approved by the State Assembly’s Consumer Affairs Committee.

Before allowing children to take SSRIs, Mr Kramer recommends that at the very least, everyone should get educated on the black box warning which states: “Antidepressants increase the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior in children and adolescents.”

“This FDA warning alone,” he notes, “should be a wake-up call for any true suicide prevention effort.”

The Alliance for Human Research Protection is taking activism a step further by kicking off a campaign urging restrictions on off-label use of all drugs that carry black box warnings.

“Inasmuch as these drugs are deemed by the FDA to carry life-threatening risks of harm,” says AHRP director Vera Hassner Sharav, “their use should be restricted and off-label prescribing of these drugs should be off-limits!”

Bush’s plan for screening the nation’s roughly 36 million senior citizens is set up through the “Positive Aging Act of 2005.” The Act provides federal tax dollars for community-based outreach teams to hunt down the elderly wherever they can be found whether it be at senior citizen centers, adult day care programs, or assisted living facilities.

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