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Take every negative thought you ever had about the pharmacology industry and multiply it by ten.

Then add every heartbreaking story you’ve ever been told about a friend’s experience going off their psycho meds or a loved one coming down with yet another worsening anxiety disorder, panic attack, major depression, bipolarity or suicide attempt. Top this off with the general rage that comes with having been deceived your whole life by the deliberately false “chemical imbalance of the brain” theory promoted by psycho salesmen, and you will have had a glimpse of the revelation that comes from reading Robert Whitakers’ new book, Anatomy of an Epidemic.

It all starts with observing a simple contradiction. If pharmacology is on the cutting edge of treating mental illness with its vast array of miracle pills and modern diagnoses, then why is mental illness skyrocketing instead of in decline? No respectable doctor could claim to be winning the battle against HIV while infection rates soar. No general could claim to be winning a war while losing strategic ground. No CEO could claim success while closing offices and watching stocks plummet. Yet this inverse relationship between success and reality is exactly where pharmacology finds itself today. Each year, leading pharmacology companies like Eli Lilly (Prozac and Zyprexa) and Pfizer (Xanax and Zoloft) claim record profits (over $20 billion per year on psych meds alone) while American psychosis reaches pandemic levels and mental illness is crowned the leading disability in the West. All the more perplexing is that these corporations’ successes have occurred in the face of mountains of evidence, some of it decades old, that the drugs they sell are doing more harm than good and that they may actually cause the illnesses they claim to treat.

As far back as 1992, Robert Whitaker tells us, the WHO reported long-term success rates for un-medicated schizophrenic patients in the developing world were far better than those of their highly medicated Western counterparts. Though it should have been obvious, few at the time made the connection that the drugs could be a leading cause in worsening of the disease in the West. The same pattern then began to appear in other psycho meds. In 1998 another WHO report showed that clinically depressed patients unexposed to psychotropic drugs were far better off in the long run than those who had taken antidepressants. In 2000, Eli Lilly researchers themselves deduced an even more shocking claim that “long-term outcomes for bipolar patients today are dramatically worse than they were in the pre-drug era, with this deterioration in modern outcomes likely due to the harmful effects of antidepressants and antipsychotics.” This is only the tip of the iceberg Whitaker says. The science has only continued to pile up he says. Today numerous peer-reviewed studies show that antipsychotics used to treat schizophrenics cause the same brain damage as crystal meth – shrinking of the frontal cortex (a virtual lobotomy); that severe cognitive dysfunction similar to schizophrenics occurs in long-term bipolar patients when medicated; that users of benzodiazepines (Ativan) suffer profoundly increased incidents of depression and anxiety; that medicated ADHD patients begin rapid deterioration of function after three years of use and have stunted growth; and most significant, that the American National Institute of Mental Health concluded in 2009 that the leading factor in developing bipolarity is whether or not you have been prescribed a psychotropic drug in your medical history. This revelation aptly explains how bipolarity went from an obscure mental illness only a few decades ago, affecting one in 10,000, to one of the most increasingly diagnosed mental illnesses in America.

“If a society prescribes stimulants to 3.5 million children and adolescents, as is the case in the United States today, it should expect that this practice will create 400,000 bi polar youth,” Whitaker writes.

And these are only some of the undisputable findings.

With all of this ammunition to answer for, you would think that pharmacology companies would be on the run, but in fact they are sitting calmly in control. Eli Lilly’s top seller, Zyprexa, used to treat bipolarity and schizophrenia, has taken in nearly $50 billion since it hit the market in 1996, accounting for a quarter of the company’s profits. Their reps, like Harvard’s Joseph Biederman, the pioneer of child pharmacology and a leading proponent of medicating kids as young as five, are the leading psycho physicians in America and are conveniently on the pharma payroll. And in terms of responding to the critical science like that in the WHO studies, there is no need; psycho drugs have never depended on science in the first place. In fact, many are understandably shocked to find that neuroscientists are no closer today than they were 50 years ago in determining the mechanisms of today’s leading mental conditions. Any findings they do have are almost entirely deductive. It goes like this: If I give you a mania-inducing drug that offers temporary relief from either anxiety or depression, it means that you must be suffering from a depletion of the same drug I just gave you. If this sounds like religious circular reasoning, that’s because it is. In lieu of actual science, what they can do, and do very well, is prescribe drugs to produce desirable behavioral outcomes by altering normative brain chemistry and creating a chemical imbalance.

That the drugs don’t work in the long run isn’t much of a concern to big companies. Psych pushers win their battles in the labs of public opinion not petri dishes. Joel Bakan, author of Childhood Under Siege, writes that in 2009 Eli Lilly had 3,400 doctors on the promotional payroll and that ghostwriters authored the majority of the articles celebrating the benefits of their most successful drugs. He also found that the companies Novartis and Bayer hired college cheerleaders to canvas clinics to promote off-label prescribing of their drugs for conditions they are not licenced to treat, a highly illegal but extremely profitable side of the business. The psycho industry succeeds in convincing the public of the efficacy of their drugs despite the science by “manufacturing doubt,” Bakan says, much like the oil and auto industries do with climate change, by creating non-falsifiable paradigms. When the drugs are criticized as being difficult to get off of, the paid-experts say this is proof that the patient needs the drugs. When the exponential rise in mental illness is pointed out, they say it’s because people have gone undiagnosed, a position which is then reinforced by mental health awareness groups, many funded by the pharmaceutical industry, who conveniently argue that even more awareness of mental health is needed, delivering even more paying customers to the industry. When the trend of turning a patient’s one-off incident of psychosis into an indefinitely medicated chronic illness is mentioned, they take it as proof of the success of their science. When long-term studies reveal disastrous outcomes for patients, they highlight their highly flawed eight-week-only clinical trials showing a handful of severely depressed patients getting better, often eliminating from their findings those who committed suicide while on their drugs during the clinical trials, as Eli Lilly did in the production of Prozac. Finally, when all other defenses fail, pharmacology leaders point to the greatest source of authority in America, the hundreds of thousands of medical professionals and tens of millions of users who couldn’t possibly be wrong. This raises the question: are you one of these millions who couldn’t possibly be wrong?

Darren Fleet won the BCYCNA award for excellence in community news reporting in 2008 and the Canadian Online Publishing Award for Best Article in 2010. He worked as a media trainer for Journalists for Human Rights in Zambia and has travelled throughout Southern Africa, Russia, Europe and East Asia. He is currently an associate editor at Adbusters Magazine.

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