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Easier Access To Psych Drugs Increases Costs

One would get the impression that psychiatric drugs were as safe as candy from reading Judi Evan’s opinion piece in Tuesday’s Gainesville Sun, Restrictive Access is a major cost for mental illness. The access she is writing about is to psychiatric drugs. This is only the first of a number of assumptions Mrs. Evans is making in her article. Among these assumptions is the assumption that psychiatric drugs are the best and the only treatment for people in mental health care. This is simply not the case. Drug maintenance, in fact, can actually impede the process of recovery from a serious mental illness.

Judi Evans, the author of this opinion piece, is the executive director of the National Association for the Mentally Ill in Florida, or NAMI Florida. This is the same NAMI that, as reported to a senate committee investigating the financial ties of certain psychiatrists to pharmaceutical companies, received 56% of its funding from the pharmaceutical industry in the period 2005-2009. This doesn’t answer the question as to whether these drugs are safe or not. Certainly, if these drugs aren’t safe, access to them should be restricted.

It has been known since the 1970s that long term use of some psychiatric drugs causes a neurological condition, a movement disorder, known as Tardive Dyskinesia. Monkeys in research have shown a decrease of brain tissue in those animals given psychiatric drugs paralleling the damage seen in MRI scans and autopsies of mental patients, and often attributed to the disease itself. The newer drugs, developed to have less negative effects than the original drugs, have been shown to cause metabolic changes that contribute to the average age at death for a mental health consumer being 25 years younger than that of the average member of the general population.

If, as Judi Evans says, a years worth of medications costs $3,800, then a yearly $3,800 can be saved every time a non-drug approach to mental health treatment is employed. Foster children in Florida have been prescribed psychiatric drugs at a much higher rate than children outside of foster care. Psychiatric drugs used on elderly nursing home residents with dementia and Alzheimer’s have been known to cause strokes, seizures, and even cut short their remaining days on this planet. These certainly don’t sound like good reasons for allowing unlimited access to these substances.

When there are no controls on these drugs, more people are going to ‘maintained’ on them, and more people are going to be therefore damaged by them. There are other approaches to mental health care that have actually proven equally, if not more, effective for some people that don’t involve the use of these drugs. If, as Mrs. Evans suggests, “no one size fits all”, then those other sizes must include approaches to treatment that don’t involve the use of psychotropic drugs. These non-drug approaches to mental health are all too seldom applied now. We certainly don’t need more children, more senior citizens, and more peoples in general taking these drugs than we have at present, and we don’t need any more people damaged by these drugs, but that is exactly what we are going to get if less restricted access to psychiatric drugs is permitted.

Given the cost of the drugs, the cost of long term care, and medical expenses incurred from health conditions developed due to the of taking these drugs, all a result of practically unrestricted access to psychiatric drugs, more restrictive access would bring this cost down rather than increase it. Psychiatric drugs are not the magic bullets they are so often cracked up to be. Judi Evans has it wrong in some of her basic premises about mental health treatment. If you want to save money, health, and lives, you employ treatments that don’t always involve the use of these powerful psychiatric drugs. The tragic human toll involved in using them as indiscriminately as we do now has hardly been calculated. We certainly don’t need to increase this burden of cost on everyone by discouraging safer and more effective approaches to treatment, but that is exactly what less restricted access in effect would manage to accomplish.