If there is one thing that we have been conditioned to cling to more than anything, it is our sanity. We fear conditions that deteriorate our ability to remember or think clearly, we safeguard our brains from difficult emotions.
Where there is fear, there is inevitably a way to monger and generate profit from gullible and desperate populations. The pharmaceutical industry rakes in more revenue than any other industry in the United States and is no stranger to billion-dollar malpractice fines. When mental health became a mainstream issue, the industry made an unthinkable amount of money by introducing medications as the quintessential treatment to any problem under the sun.
Why do they do it? The answer is simple: money. Psycho-pharmaceuticals are the most profitable sector of the entire pharmaceutical industry; Antipsychotics alone generate 14.6 billion dollars in profit a year. How they do it, however, is much more complex and corrupt.
Perhaps the most disturbing statistic of the industry is the extremely excessive prescription of second-generation antipsychotic drugs, particularly to young people in mental institutions and correctional facilities. These medications, which are approved to treat bipolar disorder and schizophrenia exclusively, are handed out to 44% of depressed patients and 45% of residents with ADHD in youth residential rehabilitation centers.
The systematic misuse of atypical antipsychotics is even bleaker for incarcerated youth. In an exposé about the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), it was found that “Overall, in 24 months, the department bought 326,081 tablets of Seroquel, Abilify, Risperdal and other antipsychotic drugs for use in state-operated jails and homes for children… That’s enough to hand out 446 pills a day, seven days a week, for two years in a row, to kids in jails and programs that can hold no more than 2,300 boys and girls on a given day.” Furthermore, they were often prescribed these medications for conditions such as sleeplessness and anxiety, which has not been tested nor recommended as an appropriate use of antipsychotics, particularly those that are second-generation.
That being said, why is the pharmaceutical industry to blame? Is it not the negligence of physicians and healthcare providers who over-prescribe medication in the first place that cause the excess of antipsychotic medication to circulate among America’s most vulnerable populations? In some cases, negligence and careless over-prescription of antipsychotic medication due to their reputation as a fix-it-all drug is to blame. But take the juvenile justice system as a poignant example: there were 52 psychiatrists hired to evaluate children in the juvenile justice system by the DJJ. One third of them, seventeen to be exact, received payments from pharmaceutical companies. These seventeen psychiatrists wrote 54% of the antipsychotic prescriptions for the entire Florida DJJ.
While the misuse of antipsychotics has only recently garnered national attention, similar systematic over-prescription of stimulants made to treat Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has been prevalent since the late 1900’s. Advertising is the culprit in this case, as loosened restrictions on advertising controlled substances led to glamorized advertising of amphetamine medications resulted in a falsely idyllic reputation.
After medication has been sold to parents and patients, physicians are the final frontier. After all, patients can only buy what their physicians buy into. As previously explored when talking about antipsychotic medications, doctors are at fault much of the time for over-prescription due to their association with drug companies. While this is still true with stimulants, many physicians are not paid off by the drug companies directly, instead they are ignorant to the dangers due to misleading information.
Doctors and psychiatrists are often influenced by other psychiatrists who are paid off by the pharmaceutical industry to present the drugs to groups of people as having maximum efficacy and minimum side effects, regardless of the truth. For example, Dr. William Dodson, a psychiatrist, recently gave a speech to a group of about one-hundred other psychiatrists explaining the importance of using stimulants to treat ADD not only in childhood, but lifelong in order to avoid shortcomings in the future. In one year alone, he received 45,000 dollars from the pharmaceutical industry for speaking appearances
It is an endless cycle of influence; the pharmaceutical companies influence doctors or organizations with profit, those doctors go on to influence other medical professionals by word-of-mouth, and those physicians or psychiatrists prescribe stimulants knowing only about the fallacious information fed to them.
The only combat that civilians have against Big Pharma is awareness of themselves, awareness of the wrongdoings of the industry, and a desire to understand the corruption. For mental and physical conditions alike, we are an over-medicated nation. Our brains are all we have that is truly and fully our own. What do we have left if we allow companies to capitalize upon that?
Photo Courtesy of UnDepress