How Big Pharma and the Psychiatric Establishment Drugged Up Our Kids
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Kids who start out with psychiatric diagnoses are not only lifers—they are expensive lifers usually shuttled into government programs that will pay for psychiatric drug “cocktails” that can approach $2,000 a month. What private insurer would pay $323 for an atypical antipsychotic like Zyprexa ®, Geodon ®, or Risperdal ®, when a “typical” antipsychotic costs only about $40? 8
Not all medical professionals agree with the slapdash cocktails. Panelists at the 2010 American Psychiatric Association (APA) meeting assailed Pharma for such “seat of the pants” drug combinations and called the industry nothing but a “marketing organization.” 9In a symposium about comparative drug effectiveness, a Canadian doctor castigated the FDA’s Jing Zhang, who had served as a panelist at the symposium, for his agency’s approval of drugs for “competitive reasons” rather than for patient health or effectiveness. 10Research presented at the 2010 APA meeting also questioned the psychiatric cocktails. When twenty-four patients on combinations of Seroquel, Zyprexa, and other antipsychotics were reduced to only one drug, there was no worsening of symptoms or increased hospitalizations (except in one case), and patients’ waist circumferences and triglycerides improved (a large waist circumference and high levels of triglycerides [fat] in the blood heighten one’s risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular diseases). 11The drug cocktails were not working and were making patients worse by creating new medical problems.
But pediatric psychopharmacology is a billion-dollar business that sustains Pharma, Pharma investors on Wall Street, doctors, researchers, medical centers, clinical research organizations, medical journals, Pharma’s PR and ghostwriting firms, pharmacy benefits managers, and the FDA itself—which judges its value on how many drugs it approves. The only losers are kids given a probable life sentence of expensive and dangerous drugs, the families of these children, and the taxpayers and insured persons who pay for the drugs.
The father of pediatric psychopharmacology, Harvard child psychiatrist Joseph Biederman, is often called Joseph “Risperdal” Biederman, because he is credited with ballooning the diagnosis of bipolar disorder in children by as much as fortyfold. 12In 2008, Biederman, a prolific author who has written five hundred scientific articles and seventy book chapters, was investigated by Congress for allegedly accepting Pharma money he didn’t disclose, and he agreed to suspend his industry-related activities. 13After a three-year investigation, Harvard “threw the book” at Biederman and two other professors: they were required to “refrain from all paid industry-sponsored outside activities for one year and comply with a two-year monitoring period afterward, during which they must obtain approval from the Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital before engaging in any paid activities.” What a deterrent. They also face a “delay of consideration for promotion or advancement.” 14
When it comes to grandiosity, Biederman seems a lot like the three-year- old who ran out in traffic. He not only served as the head of the Johnson & Johnson Center for the Study of Pediatric Psychopathology at Massachusetts General Hospital, whose stated goal was to “move forward the commercial goals of J. & J.”—the facility was his idea! 15 According to court-obtained documents, Biederman approached J. & J. with the money-making scheme. 16Biederman also promised the drug maker that upcoming studies of its popular child antipsychotic Risperdal would “support the safety and effectiveness of risperidone [Risperdal] in this age group.” 17
The Johnson & Johnson Center for the Study of Pediatric Psychopathology netted a cool $700,000 in one year of operation, according to published reports, but a spokesman for Harvard Medical School said Harvard isn’t involved with Johnson & Johnson Center, even though the hospital where it operates, Massachusetts General, is a Harvard teaching hospital. “Harvard Medical School does not ‘own’ any of its teaching hospitals,” he told Bloomberg News. “While we are affiliated with them through academic appointments, all teaching hospitals are individually governed.” 18