Mental Health Inc: How Corruption, Lax Oversight and Failed Reforms Endanger Our Most Vulnerable Citizens

A new book exposes the greed and cronyism behind some of Big Pharma's worst excesses.

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An excellent new book by Art Levine exposes how "indifferent professional associations, pharmaceutical-subsidized patient advocacy groups and government regulators that either push a drug-industry agenda or fail to halt what amounts to an epidemic of behavioral health malpractice” enable Pharma's worst excesses.

Toddlers drugged with psychiatric medication? Elderly in nursing homes dosed to make them manageable? Soldiers and veterans driven to suicide from their medication? Mental patients given drugs that cause diabetes and extreme obesity and lead to more dangerous drugs? It's all there in Mental Health, Inc: How Corruption, Lax Oversight and Failed Reforms Endanger our Most Vulnerable Citizens, including psychiatric drugs that should never have been approved to begin with and "religious" youth treatment centers that abuse the young people in their care.

Greed explains much of the behavioral health malpractice Levine cites, but not all of it. Certainly Pharma-funded doctors oblige with prescriptions, and certainly Pharma-funded medical associations oblige with Pharma-friendly guidelines including describing "pre" disease states that create more drug customers. Certainly drug treatment centers are among Pharma's most treasured customers especially as the opioid epidemic––which Pharma started––grows.

But cronyism––the revolving door between industry and government––is also a big factor. One example is Kerry Weems, a former Medicare official who joined Rechnitz' TwinMed who Medicare regulates, writes Levine. Other examples of the effects of the government/industry revolving door include former CDC director Julie Gerberding, who went on to head Merck vaccines; former Texas governor Rick Perry, who recommended state-wide inoculation of all 11- and 12-year-old girls with Merck's Gardasil vaccine after his chief of staff left to work at Merck; and Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, who left government for industry. 

Mental Health, Inc. does an outstanding job of exposing a key player in the $220 billion-a-year behavior health field: the formerly Bain Capital-owned CRC Health, now Acadia Healthcare, the nation’s largest provider of addiction treatment services. Levine chronicles at least six, gory and preventable deaths at Acadia's Sierra Tucson facility leading readers to wonder why the facility––or even the chain––is still in business and why the responsible parties have not been sentenced or jailed.

Also shocking in Mental Health, Inc. is the American Association Of Retired Persons' silence on the well-known and well-documented drug abuse of people in nursing homes––AARP's constituency. "Licensing deals with United Healthcare allow it, indirectly, to rake in a share of federal spending on antipsychotics," Levine says of the group, which has 38 million members.

Despite "bought" medical institutions, prescribers and government regulators which result in over-diagnosis, overmedication and overtreatment of Americans with dangerous and expensive psychiatric drugs, Mental Health, Inc. offers hope.

Non-drug, non-medical models for mental problems do exist and they work, writes Levine. Two promising groups addressing PTSD, depression, anxiety and drug abuse in the military population without drugs are War Fighter Advance and Operation Tohidu. Hopefully they will become models for other populations.

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Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter and the author of "Born With a Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp the Public Health (Random House)."