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NAMI And Big Pharma In Bed Together

Not that long ago the Senate committee investigating unreported funds doctors had received from pharmaceutical companies revealed that the organization, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, for the past 5 years has received 56% of it’s funding from pharmaceutical companies.

Today the New York Times ran an article, Drug makers are advocacy groups biggest donors, on this relationship NAMI has with the pharmaceutical industry. The allegations made in this article go even further.

But according to investigators in Mr. Grassley’s office and documents obtained by The New York Times, drug makers from 2006 to 2008 contributed nearly $23 million to the alliance, about three-quarters of its donations.

With ¾ of the donations NAMI receives coming from drug companies I would call that subsidizing. This situation is more than worrisome. Financially speaking, NAMI is a front for the drug industry.

Due to the actions of Senator Charles Grassley’s committee, and similar to the way Eli Lilly is posting the names of doctors it funds, NAMI is now posting the names of its major donors to its website.

Mr. Fitzpatrick said Mr. Grassley’s scrutiny, which he described as understandable given the attention paid to potential conflicts of interest in medicine, had led his organization to begin posting on its Web site the names of companies that donate $5,000 or more. And he predicted that other patient and disease advocacy groups would be prodded by Mr. Grassley’s investigation to do the same.

Wouldn’t you know it? NAMI lobbies on behalf of drug companies, drug companies that happen to have their own lobbyists.

For years, the alliance has fought states’ legislative efforts to limit doctors’ freedom to prescribe drugs, no matter how expensive, to treat mental illness in patients who rely on government health care programs like Medicaid. Some of these medicines routinely top the list of the most expensive drugs that states buy for their poorest patients.

The article goes on to mention last weeks annual 300$ dollar a plate bash put on by the organization and sponsored by Bristol-Myers Squibb. A researcher from Bristol-Myers Squibb spoke to the audience at this event.

The NY Times has documents showing that drug company executives have also given NAMI direct advice on how to forcefully advocate on issues that affect drug company profits. One such meeting mentioned was with executives from AstraZeneca.

Although Michael Fitzpatrick, the organization’s director, says he hopes to be able to decrease the amount of funding NAMI receives from drug companies, other aspects of this relationship are unlikely to change. This is unfortunate as there are many dangers associated with these pharmaceutical products that are not going to be diminished by NAMI’s continuing cozy relationship with drug manufacturers, drug manufacturers whose aims are by no means altruistic.

Mental Illness Detection Device Tested

Australian researchers are working on developing an electrode ear implant that can be used as a diagnostic tool for serious mental illness.

According to an article, Mental illness diagnosis in just one hour, in The Australian:

Researchers at Monash University have invented an electrode that, when placed in the ear, can detect changing brain patterns as a patient is tilted in different directions. This identifies “bio-markers” for mental illness.

The test takes an hour, compared with the weeks, months and even years sometimes needed to diagnose severe illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

While the technology needs further testing, it could be widely available within five to 10 years, reducing misdiagnosis and allowing better-targeted treatment.

Psychologists are skeptical of the matter claiming to already have tests that can diagnose serious mental illness in 5 to 10 minutes.

The device has been tested on 200 people, and it will be tested on thousands researchers say before it is approved.

I would question the accuracy of any such device. Mental illness screening tests are notorious for their false positive rates. These devices are being tested on mental patients. What if a certain percentage of the non-depressed, non-delusional, and other non-demented people displayed unusual brain wave patterns?

On a more sinister level, what is the true purpose of any such a device if not to aid pharmaceutical companies in selling their psychiatric drugs?

Perhaps these electrodes would be good only for detecting the brain changes that go along with the use of psychiatric drugs. Who knows?

One of the big myths in today’s world is that there are all these untreated mad folk out there that the looney bins haven’t caught up with yet. The mental illness rate swells as our wayward experts go to ever more outrageous lengths to weed out such uncaught looney birds.

Where does it all end? Where it all began, of course, with an undue alarm being sounded.

Oh, on a more positive note, here is another device on top of electroshock machines, pharmaceutical products, and a growing victim population to make a fortune on.

Big Pharma Paid Doctors In South Florida

Now that Eli Lily is reporting the payments to doctors peddling Eli Lily products, the Sun Sentinel, out of Broward County, just published an article, Doctors’ speeches on brand-name drugs can net thousands, on doctors from south Florida lecturing for drug companies. Bravo Sun Sentinel! Perhaps other newspapers will now follow suit in helping to expose the machinations of these companies and their medically trained sales teams.

She’s (Dr. Donna Holland) one of 24 doctors in Broward and Palm Beach counties who were paid a total of $200,000 in speaking fees from Lilly in the first three months of 2009. Payments made to 3,400 doctors nationwide were disclosed as part of a settlement with the federal government over the company’s illegal marketing practices.

The list casts a spotlight on a widespread, legal but controversial practice of drug and medical companies paying doctors to give speeches about products to other doctors. Critics, including health experts, members of Congress and some doctors, say the speakers may change the drugs they prescribe based on who’s paying them, and the doctors in the audience are exposed to a sales pitch disguised as teaching.

Then there is the issue of ‘off-label’ uses of pharmaceutical products.

Lilly last month disclosed its $22 million in payments in the first quarter of this year to the 3,400 doctors who are called the Lilly faculty. The company paid a $1.4 billion penalty as part of its January settlement with the government. That amount was dwarfed by Pfizer’s $2.3 billion settlement on Sept. 2 for similar violations, which also requires disclosing physician speaking fees. Both cases centered on company actions that illegally promoted drugs for “off-label” uses, those not approved by federal officials.

Some of these doctors are reported to be making tens of thousands of dollars from giving lectures, purportedly educational, for the drug companies. Sometimes the doctor is doing so for more than one drug company. There are obvious conflicts of interest here between a doctor’s concern for his or her patients’ health and a doctor’s financial ties to a drug company. The question is, does the physician care more about the monies he or she receives from a drug company than his or her patients’ health, and would this subsidiary income cause him or her to suppress the truth regarding what was in the best interest of his or her patient to please his or her drug company bosses. Well, the answer is obviously yes, as long as the physician is getting paid to peddle the pharmaceutical company product.

One of the biggest under covered stories of our times concerns the very real and physical damage that is being done to people by some of these psychiatric drugs. When the collusion of the doctors with the pharmaceutical companies in the selling of these products is revealed, maybe we are coming closer to dealing with this tragic set of circumstances. While some of these drugs often do poorly next to a placebo in clinical trials, others are much less benign, and have been shown to cause actual changes in brain structure. This is just one more reason why exposing these doctors ties to the pharmaceutical industry is so much of the moment. When this relationship is revealed, other options, such as safe, holistic, and humane alternatives to conventional psychiatric treatment, have that much more of a chance at success.

Googling ‘Madness’

If you want to know a little bit about the reasoning behind the Mad Pride movement I think I can shed a little light on the matter. I just used the Google search engine to search for news articles on ‘madness’. Very few of the articles that this search turned up had anything whatsoever to do with ‘mental illness’. The situation would be very different had I searched for news articles on ‘mental illness’ or ‘mental health’.

Looking only at the first page, and I’m not, for obvious reasons, going beyond that page. We get only a couple of what could be considered exceptions to our rule, but only a couple, if that. People in the Mad Pride movement know the mainstream media has not covered our movement very well, and this search page is only another example of how very true that fact is.

10 links were turned up.

The 1st link happened ironically to be one of the two exceptions. It was to a review of an Australian production of the Tennessee Williams play A Street Car Named Desire. I’m calling it an exception because the play deals with the hospitalization of Blanch Dubois. Whether she is ‘mentally ill’, or just a rape victim, is not for me to say. Note: this is about a work of drama, and not about the real system per say.

The 2nd link, Shark Madness on Cape Cod, refers to an article and video about a first tagging of great white sharks in the Atlantic. The 3rd link leads to an article about the actor who played a Dukes of Hazard Sheriff showing up at a stockcar race in North Carolina. The 4th links goes tin foil monsters, perhaps containing eatables that have something to do with gaming. Don’t ask because I don’t know, and I’m not going to take the time to find out either. The 5th link, Full Moon Madness, attaches to an announcement, among other announcements, for a fund raising event for a Science Museum, or to be more precise, The future Earth, Sea & Space Center. The 6th link goes to an article about the ‘madness’ a rugby player displayed, I think. The 7th goes to an article about the ‘madness’ of a certain Chilean Soccer star. The 8th concerns one high school marching band hosting an event for high school marching bands.

The 9th link was the only other exception, and it’s the best of bunch as far as I’m concerned. In this piece poet and author John Burnside writes for Scotland’s Sunday Herald an essay In Praise of Madness. His contention is that a little bit of craziness is an essential ingredient to the creative process. His essay suggests we should get rid of some of the archaic ideas we have with regard to the treatment of mental illness.

TS Szasz expressed this idea best, years ago, in his 1958 essay Psychiatry, Ethics And Criminal Law: “The question may now be raised as to what are the differences, if any, between social nonconformity (or deviation) and mental illness. Leaving technical psychiatric considerations aside for the moment, I shall argue that the difference between these two notions – as expressed for example by the statements “he is wrong” and “he is mentally ill” – does not necessarily lie in any observable facts to which they point, but may consist only of a difference in our attitudes toward our subject. If we take him seriously, consider him to have human rights and dignities, and look upon him as more or less our equal – we then speak of disagreements, deviations, fights, crimes, perhaps even of treason. Should we feel, however, that we cannot communicate with him, that he is somehow “basically” different from us, we shall then be inclined to consider him no longer as an equal but rather as an inferior person; and then we speak of him as being crazy, mentally ill, insane, psychotic, immature, and so forth.”

This is still the case. Anyone who has ever been in a mental hospital knows that, to be considered well, he must construct a narrative that the outside world can take seriously – and to do so, he must discard his own dreams and visions, no matter how vivid, diagnostically accurate or even just plain beautiful they might be. Why? Because our idea of what constitutes madness, whether in the asylum, or buried deep within our own social personae, is symptomatic of a system built on a near-total rejection of the wild mind.

The 10th links leads to an article about the madness that attends the first week of college attendance.

Alright, let’s look at our tally. We’ve got dramatic personas, scientists tagging sharks, a television actor, gamers or something of the sort, philanthropists, a rugby player, a soccer player, marching band members, a poet, and college students. Only one of these people has confessed to being a former mental patient, and that’s John Burnside, the poet and author mentioned previously.

Hmm. Makes a body think, doesn’t it?

Drugged Foster Children, Editorial and Website

The Orlando Sentinel just published an editorial, Doping up our children, on the drugging of Florida’s foster children, and the task force report just released to deal with this dilemma.

These troubling concerns aren’t new to DCF. But in the wake of the withering report, DCF Secretary George Sheldon concedes lapses and vows to heed and fund task-force proposals.

Such accountability is encouraging. But we expected reform before. In 2003, the Statewide Advocacy Council report made similar findings, and concluded, “…unnecessary dispensing of psychotropic medication remains a threat to [foster children]. Until there is more information regarding the safety and efficiency of these drugs, Florida’s foster care children should be monitored closely.”

That report’s proposals were largely ignored. Now, six years later, only swift reforms and a strong mandate to comply with existing rules that govern psychotropic drugs will shelve suspicions that this is déjà vu all over again.

Amen to swift reforms and a strong mandate!

Shortly afterward (Gabriel Myers suicide), Mr. Sheldon convened the Gabriel Myers Work Group to investigate the tragedy. The group’s 26-page report outlined 148 systemic breakdowns in Gabriel’s death.

What is going on here, and why is this important?

In Florida, 15.2 percent of foster kids take at least one psychotropic drug, compared with a 5 percent rate among the general population.

Emphasis added.

The editorial ends with George Shelton, Secretary of the DCF, claiming that Florida got off easy before, and that whatever reforms are instituted this time need to be real. The editor agrees saying, if not, another tragedy is likely to occur.

Reforms, yes. More importantly, lower that 15.2% rate of foster kids on drugs.

A In Memory of Gabriel Myers website has been set up where this editorial and other articles on the subject of the drugging of foster children in Florida can easily be accessed. You can visit this website by clicking the hyperlink below:

In Memory of Gabriel Myers

Florida Gay Couple Adoption Ban Challenged

Florida has a ban on adoption by gay couples going back to 1977 when former Miss America contestant Anita Bryant was actively campaigning against gay rights in America. Those of you who have been around for a little while might remember when this was going on. Well, now there is a case progressing through the courts to contest this ban on gay adoption.

North Miami resident Frank Martin Gill took in two foster children 5 years ago. He says he would be devastated should the state took away his children. Mr. Gill is an openly gay man. He recently attended the appellate argument in court over the future of his adoptive sons. Last November Judge Cindy Lederman ruled in favor of Mr. Gill calling the ban “irrational”. This is the ruling that the state is appealing.

As reported in an article entitled In Fla. Adoption Case, State Argues Gays Prone to Mental Illness, Breakups on the Law.com website:

Deputy Solicitor General Timothy Osterhaus, who argued for DCF, said, “We do not.” [think the children would be better off without Mr. Gill.]

But Osterhaus maintains gays as a group can be excluded based on higher rates of domestic violence, psychiatric disorders and breakups.

He argued the law is valid under a rational basis legal test, which Lederman rejected.

All of the conditions it has been claimed gays are more prone to the DCF screens prospective adoptive parents for anyway.

Apparently Frank Martin Gills parenting skills aren’t being questioned. He may indeed be an excellent parent. The state is arguing that this kind of state sanctioned bias has a rational basis.

The state has the nation’s most restrictive ban on gay adoption. The Florida law has withstood several constitutional attacks at both the state and federal level. A number of other states allow single gay people to adopt children but not partners in a same-sex relationship.

The time for a change in law is long overdue. The constitutional rights of gays and lesbians need to be restored and respected in the state of Florida. Prejudice is prejudice, and gay people can make as good, if not better, parents than anybody else. Self fulfilling negative prophesies regarding social groups vanish in the real world when individual members of those groups are given the chances for success such individuals deserve.

Are gays and lesbians more prone to mental illness than other groups of people? Does this kind of propensity indicate a genetic link between sexual orientation and mental illness? As you can see, questions remain to which I have an easy answer. Namely, no. Get rid of discrimination and the other matters, being an offshoot of that phenomenon, will take care of themselves.

Mad Pride On ABCs Primetime Outsiders

or Jousting The Jabberwocky

ABC had a news show, Primetime Outsiders, on the Mad Pride movement last night. Unfortunately, in their zeal to present opposing viewpoints, they played the violence card. Perhaps they imagined they were presenting a more balanced show in doing so. I certainly don’t think this is the case. The show in so doing was pandering to the worst sensationalistic tastes of its audience. Where violence and mental illness are concerned this is often the case. This was supposedly a show about the Mad Pride movement. ABC did not have to place a little landmine in the center of it, and make it a show about violence, too, but that’s what they did.

I had a similar experience not too long ago when I was trying to conduct a symposium on our need for alternatives to conventional mental health treatment. In the discussion that followed the presentation a mental health professional managed to divert attention away from some of the main points I was making by using an example from among her clients. She mentioned some man who had paranoid delusions and carried a gun. Those things happen. I had made the point that recovery rates for people who suffered from serious mental illnesses are twice as high in the developing world as they are in the developed world and, therefore, the recovery rates in developed countries could be improved a great deal. This example was distracting attention away from those points I was making. It was as if we would have to do something about violence before we could raise the recovery rates in this country. I don’t think so. That’s merely finding another lame excuse not to do anything. When you don’t do anything you’re excusing unworkable policies and practices.

My suspicions are that anytime the Mad Pride movement gets into the mainstream media this playing of the violence card is going to come up. The news media, worried about its viewer ratings, wants blood and gore. Sex and violence sell, and if you don’t have one, they want the other. I’m already buckling down in preparation for another foray by studying those stats pertaining to mental illness and violence. It’s an unfair situation, but as people have put it before, whoever said life was fair. I urge other psychiatric survivors and mental health consumers in the Mad Pride movement to do the same. This is simply realism. Moves must be anticipated. They are not going to use the violence card on exponents of compliant behavior, but they are going to blame violence on advocates who embrace noncompliance, or in other words, other paths besides that of chemical maintenance. The set of people labeled with serious mental illnesses is that other category that they still cannot seem to integrate into the set that includes all homo sapiens. Deal with it.

Panel Report On Drugging Foster Children

A welfare-expert panel report on the drugging of Florida’s foster children is expected to be released later this month according to a news story in the Miami Herald. This report says authorities all too often rely on powerful psychiatric drugs, and seldom help these foster children really deal with issues related to trauma.

According to the article:

The use of psychiatric drugs among children in state care is widespread.

Records updated by DCF last week show that, among children in state care aged 6-12, more than 22 percent are being given psychiatric drugs.

Almost one-third of the adolescents aged 13 to 17 are on psychiatric drugs, the updated records say.

Among the adolescents, close to four in 10 children in licensed foster care are on such drugs.

The smallest percentage of adolescents taking psychiatric drugs, 12 percent, live with relatives or family friends.

One of the findings of the panel was that the state has failed to implement recommendations from former taskforces that have studied child deaths or psychiatric drug use among foster children. The Department of Children and Families has failed to even assign “accountability” or “responsibility” to anybody for the implementation of such recommendations.

One can’t help but agree with what lawyer and child advocate Andrea Moore says on the subject.

“Let’s just hope they don’t put this on a shelf and ignore it like all the other reports,” Moore said.

British Doctors Fear “Mental Illness” Label

A survey of British medical doctors, according to an Associated Press article, suggests that doctors fear the stigma of mental illness labeling.

Only one in five doctors would seek advice from colleagues or other health professionals if they developed a mental illness, a new survey has revealed.

Three-quarters (73%) said they were most likely to speak to family or friends while only 13% would speak to professional or governmental organizations and just 7% would talk to colleagues.

A further 7% said they would tell nobody, according to the poll by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP).

The study, published in the journal Clinical Medicine, found that a third (33%) of non-psychiatric doctors said worries about career implications would affect their decision to disclose their illness.

Three in 10 (30%) said they would be influenced by professional integrity and one in five (20%) said they were worried about the stigma of having a mental health problem.

Questionnaires were posted to 3,512 doctors in Birmingham and 2,462 (70%) replied – 677 consultants, 542 GPs, 441 senior house officers, 273 specialist registrars and 529 others. Six out of 10 (60%) said that, if they required inpatient treatment, they would choose either a local or distant private facility, while a further fifth (19%) said they would opt for NHS care but away from their local area. More than half (51%) said their decision was influenced by fears over confidentiality.

Doctors, it seems, can be subject to mental illness labeling themselves.

Dr Alfred White, speaking on behalf of the research team, said: “Doctors who are reluctant to seek professional advice for mental health issues may be putting themselves, and possibly also their patients, at risk.

“Doctors suffer higher levels of depression and substance misuse as well as higher rates of suicide than the general population. The apparent lack of confidence in the current system protecting doctors’ confidentiality may exacerbate these trends.”

The problem with stigma, as some mental health professionals would have it, is that it would prevent people perceived as needing help from getting the help those people are perceived as needing. This is also the rationale behind ‘mental health screening’. I don’t happen to share this view. I think that there is prejudice attached to mental health treatment, sure, but that encouraging people to seek treatment only increases the number of people facing that prejudice.

The percentage of people in mental health treatment has been going up since the dawn of the twentieth century. When the percentage of people labeled mentally ill goes up, rather than down, at substantial levels, that’s when we call the mental health system broken. Encouraging people to seek treatment is not a way to fix that broken system.

We don’t need more people in mental health treatment; we need fewer people in mental health treatment. When the system works, people recover from their mental health issues, and they leave mental health treatment. When the system doesn’t work, they don’t leave that mental health system, and the number of people labeled mentally ill continues to escalate.

Whining need not become a lifestyle. When the line between the mentally ill and the mentally well is exceedingly thin, maybe it is better not to seek treatment. Aren’t there more than enough emotional invalids in this world who just can’t deal with the ordinary ups and downs of daily life!? Children grow up to become adults, if they are lucky, even when some of those adults choose to pursue a career in medicine. Extending that childhood longer than is necessary for a large proportion of their population perhaps isn’t the best policy for any nation to pursue. I don’t see it as a good direction anyway.

More Florida Foster Children on Psychiatric Drugs

The drugging of Florida’s foster children is again in the news. As a story out of Tallahassee reports:

And while the number of foster children reported to be taking the medicines has risen from 2,669 in early June to 3,100 in numbers released Thursday, the proportion doing so without consent has dropped steeply, from 16.2 percent to 6.1 percent.

Whoa! Something is wrong here. Wasn’t the law enacted behind this study because the percentage of children in foster care on psychiatric drugs was so much higher than the percentage of children in general on psychiatric drugs? Now we read that although consent has been attained in more cases that figure has actually risen.

State figures show 488 children in the agency’s 19-county Northeast Region – which includes Duval, Clay, Nassau, St. Johns, Flagler and Baker counties – are taking the medicines. In June, about 22 children – about 5 percent of those taking the drugs at the time – did not have consent; that number is now 18 children, about 3.7 percent.

Procedures are being followed a little more closely, but this is only in order to come more closely in line with the law. Also, while these procedures are being followed more closely, court orders are being favored over parental consent.

Much of the shift, though, has taken place by obtaining consent from courts. For example, 46 percent of children in the Northeast Region taking the drugs in June had consent from parents, with 44.8 percent taking the medicines under a court order.

According to Thursday’s figures, 42.3 percent of children using the drugs are now doing so with parental consent, with court orders now accounting for about 53.1 percent of children being treated.

Statewide, the proportion of children taking drugs under court order has risen from 43.4 percent in June to 51.1 percent now.

We are talking about children less than 6 years of age. Advocates are, of course, worried about the obvious question; given the severe physical and emotional impact some of these psychiatric drugs can have on the persons using them, how informed is the consent being given to use these powerful drugs on children?

Any procedural change made for the protection of Florida’s foster children has to be more than a matter of mere bureaucratic reshuffling if it is to be truly effective. If judges collude with Mental Health workers in the drugging of foster children, while skirting the authority of parents and guardians, the very serious issue from which the situation arose in the first place is not being dealt with.

A task force examining the use of drugs on Florida’s foster children will soon be issuing a report. Hopefully, out of this report, protections will be instituted that can lower the percentage of Florida’s foster children on psychiatric drugs rather than increasing that percentage.

As can be seen here, it is more than a matter of simply following procedures to come in line with a law that was previously being broken. If the law cannot serve the purpose for which it was intended, to lower the number of foster children on psychiatric drugs, maybe further legislation needs to be enacted that will result in the achievement of that aim.

There are other things, after all, to be done with children besides labeling them troubled, and giving them powerful and potentially harmful psychiatric drugs.