> A Search For Answers
A Search For Answers
During my taper I found that I had a lot of time and my hands. Moreover, I was struggling with the consequences of withdrawing from a drug which my body had come to be dependent on. I was experiencing numerous unpleasant side effects
The Good Samaritan by Vincent Van Gogh
which were likely to continue for an indefinite period. My main concern as a result of this was to ensure that I did not become depressed again. So I asked myself two questions: How did I become depressed? And how can I ensure that it does not happen again?
In order to come up with answers I had to look back over my life. In 1980 and 1981 I had been depressed before. On this occasion it was the result of a sinus condition which had suddenly started after taking the nasal spray, Tobispray, intermittently for two and a half years from 1977 to 1980. So I had already been poorly served by pharmaceutical companies and doctors in my life. The condition causes a constant drip of mucus down my throat. I have had it ever since April 1980 and it irritates me all the time.
I remember when Tobispray was first prescribed for me. I had had an irritated sinus for some time, maybe as a result of being a teacher and being constantly exposed to chalk dust. On the first occasion I saw him, the doctor sent me for X-rays. When I met him the second time, he mulled over sending me to a specialist or prescribing Tobispray. He seemed particularly enamoured with the spray. He had a sample nasal spray device which he pressed. A thin cloud resulted. He suggested I take the spray. Shortly after I moved house and attended a different clinic. I was prescribed the spray sometimes even without an appointment over the next couple of years. As none of the doctors I saw raised any concerns and I did not pay much attention to the warning in the leaflet which came with the packet that rebound congestion could result from its use, I kept taking it.
When the nasal condition did start, I met a specialist who said to me that he did not like nasal sprays. After numerous visits to the outpatients of a public hospital and an operation, the condition had not changed. On my last visit to the outpatients a young doctor told me that there was nothing more they could do for me. I would have to learn to live with the condition. There would be good days and bad days.
I was a young man at the time who had only just got married. I was devastated by this. Shortly after I descended into a depression during which I repeatedly cried. I did manage, however, to keep working and playing sport. Eventually I came to terms with the condition and recovered from this bout of depression. However, I always felt cheated. At first the doctors denied that the spray could have caused the problem but gradually I became convinced that it had. Tobispray has since been taken off the market. When I talked to my local GP about it, he expressed the view that Tobispray was even worse than benzodiazepines: at least one can recover from them.
So I developed the view that my deep concern about my back had been the result of my fear that this problem would be permanent just like the nasal condition. Now, I decided, I must not let myself fall into that trap again.
During this first experience of depression I was referred to a psychiatrist. We spent an hour together. At the end of our meeting he prescribed a red oval-shaped tablet which he told me was an anti-depressant. I took it for a couple of weeks. I remember that I was intensely suspicious about it. Moreover, it gave me a dry mouth. So I stopped taking it.
In 1981 I did not expose myself to the long term side-effects of psychiatric drugs. Moreover, in any case, I recovered without their “assistance”. Now that I knew how dire the consequences of taking mind altering drugs were for me, I think I had a lucky break all those years ago.
Needless to say then I was not going to use anti-depressants to get me through the taper which some people do and which Professor Ashton says can help.
Still I was interested in the drugs I had taken especially benzodiazepines so I decided to search the Internet to find out about them. This was how I found Professor Ashton’s manual and the support groups which helped me so much throughout my taper and beyond. However, I also discovered a lot of disturbing information about benzodiazepines and anti-psychotics.
Benzo.org.uk was the most useful site in my endeavours to find out about benzodiazepines. The site contains many frightening accounts of how benzodiazepines have destroyed people’s lives. One which stood out was Barry Haslam’s story which can be found at http://www.benzo.org.uk/barry.htm I was amazed by how much Valium equivalent his body had to deal with each day whilst he was being prescribed these drugs. It is a great tribute to his determination that not only has he withdrawn from these drugs but that today is campaigning to raise awareness about the devastating impact the continued over-prescribing of benzodiazepines is having in the United Kingdom.
Thanks to the benzodiazepine support forum, TRAP, I came into contact with Josh from England who has fighting to withdraw from benzodiazepines in an orderly and appropriate manner. Throughout his life he has been prescribed these drugs. Recently when he moved house, he went to a GP expecting to have his prescription renewed. Instead thanks to a new direction by medical authorities in the UK he was told that he was to come off these drugs in a very short time. The BBC interviewed Josh as part of a programme on the issues associated with the over-prescription of benzodiazepines. An article about this can be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-14299501 If you wish to listen to the programme, there is a link to it at the bottom of the article.
Wikipedia was useful in assisting me to find the information I wanted about some of the SSRI anti-depressants and other drugs I had been prescribed. In some cases, I simply satisfied myself with that information and moved on. However, when I read the damage which anti-psychotics can inflict, I decided to keep searching. In the process I found frightening stories of the horrific impact of these drugs. One of the most disturbing was the death of a little girl, Rebecca Riley, in Massachusetts in 2006 after she had been prescribed a range of drugs including Seroquel for bipolar disorder. A link to an article on this story is http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-18560_162-3308525-2.html I also discovered that an ABC current affairs show in the United States has produced a series of programmes on the use of psychiatric drugs for foster children. The link is http://abcnews.go.com/Health/mind-altering-psych-drugs-year/story?id=15066848
Moreover, I was aghast that these drugs continue to be prescribed for a range of conditions many of which appear to be “off label” i.e. for purposes other than they were originally designed. Indeed, it is evident that atypical anti-psychotics are being used as a convenient way to subdue agitated patients in aged care facilities in both the United States and the United Kingdom. Here are two links to articles which deal with the inappropriate prescribing of these drugs: http://bangordailynews.com/2012/03/14/health/risky-antipsychotic-drugs-prescribed-recklessly-for-unapproved-uses/ and http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-13698487
I was also interested to see if there were any examples of litigation against pharmaceutical companies such as Eli Lilly, the manufacturers of Zyprexa. Within a few minutes I found a New York Times stories on this drug. Here are some of the links: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/17/business/17drug.html?pagewanted=all and http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/06/business/06zyprexa.html and http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/31/business/31drug.html
Now that I had found this information about psychiatric drugs, I was interested to find out more about tests which had been conducted in relation to them and what psychiatrists had said about their efficacy.
This is an example of what I found by googling “Xanax testing by pharmaceutical companies”:
Now consider how the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approve these drugs. The drug companies themselves are responsible for conducting drug trials and reporting the results to the FDA. Drugs like Prozac, Xanax and others, although prescribed to millions of people on a long-term basis, are approved by the FDA based on test results with as few as 100 subjects taking the drug for as little as four weeks. Internationally known psychiatrist and author Peter Breggin has long been an outspoken critic of this process. In his books Toxic Psychiatry and Talking Back to Prozac he describes in detail the serious flaws in these studies and in the drug approval process itself.
Breggin reports that Xanax, originally purported to be a safe, nonaddicting, antianxiety drug, was tested on 226 subjects for a period of eight weeks. In reading the actual research report he found that the drug company counted only the first four weeks of the study. The drug company discarded results from subsequent weeks, which showed that in a comparison between subjects receiving the drug and those receiving a placebo (sugar pill), the drug subjects experienced “severe withdrawal and rebound reactions, including an increase in anxiety and in phobic responses, plus a 350 percent greater number of panic attacks.” Xanax has since been proven to be highly addicting and associated with death when combined with alcohol or other sedatives.”
If you would like to read more, go to http://www.magical-living.com/the_drugging_of_america.html
In addition I was interested to see what psychiatrists in Melbourne are saying about psychiatric drugs. Therefore I Googled the name of a senior psychiatrist in this city, Professor Nicholas A. Keks of Monash University. I came up with an article by him entitled “Are atypical anti-psychotics Advantageous? – the case for”. In this piece Professor Keks states that both typical and atypical anti-psychotics can cause adverse effects. He recommends the use of atypical anti-psychotics in preference to the older typical forms of the drug because they are in his view more efficacious in the treatment of serious psychiatric conditions. If you wish to look at the article, it can be found at http://www.australianprescriber.com/magazine/27/6/146/9/
Having read this I was disturbed that an atypical anti-psychotic- which Professor Keks concedes has the potential to cause serious problems for someone taking it- was, in the first instance, prescribed for me in this city for what does not seem to me in retrospect to have been such a serious condition. Moreover, the drug is being prescribed every day for conditions other than schizophrenia and severe bipolar disorder. Indeed, as my own experience attests it is regularly prescribed when a patient is suspected of having bipolar disorder.
Much later on in 2011 I was given a link by a member of TRAP to Robert Whitaker’s excellent book entitled “An Anatomy of an Epidemic” which explores the history of psychiatry and poses the question: why is that there are more mentally ill people per head of population now in the United States than before the development of psychiatric drugs. By using case studies he demonstrates the impact of SSRI anti-depressants, benzodiazepines and atypical anti-psychotics on the lives of individuals. In the process he debunks the theory that mental illness is caused by chemical imbalances.
I was so impressed with his line of argument that I wrote an email to him and attached my story. This is his reply:
Thank you so much for taking the time to write. I wish that I could say that your journey through the drug-treatment system was an anomaly, or rare, but as the members of the Australian Patients Association can attest, it is all too common.
I think the work of patient groups, and the writings by people like yourself, are tremendously important. People who have been prescribed the drugs are telling a very different story than the doctors, and their voices need to be heard.
I hope that your writings are read widely, and hope that you continue to do what you can to make your story known.
All the best,
On another occasion when I was looking around the Internet, I came across a video from the Adverse Psychiatric Side Effects Conference in London in 2008 at which Professor Ashton and the author of “The Myth of the Chemical Cure”, Dr Joanna Moncrieff, spoke. The video can be found at http://vimeo.com/4914839
The most memorable point that Professor Ashton made during this session was that people should take the same approach to their doctors as they would to their car mechanics. They should ask questions and only accept treatment once they are assured that it was safe to do so.
As I was listening to Dr Moncrieff, I became more and more interested. Indeed, I found out more about her book as a result. Moreover, soon afterwards when an article on the DSM5 appeared in “The Sunday Age” in December last year I felt it was appropriate to submit a letter-to-the-editor summarising her views. It was published. Here it is:
Dr Joanna Moncrieff, the author of “The Myth of the Chemical Cure”, states that the proposition that mental health problems are caused by a chemical imbalance is unproven. She argues that the medical profession tends to treat patients with psychiatric drugs which target specific receptors without regard to their impact on other parts of the body. Indeed, she suggests that “many people might choose to avoid taking drugs if they could” if they were told that our understanding of the brain is such that we don’t know how these drugs work, that they may feel better as a result of taking them but that they could be subjected to unpleasant and sometimes serious side-effects. Therefore with the addition of even more conditions in DSM5 (Psychiatry bible ‘turns sorrow into sickness’ 4/12) it is easy to agree with Dr Moncrieff’s viewpoint that: “People need to make up their own minds about whether taking psychoactive drugs is a useful way to manage emotional problems. To do this responsibly, however, doctors and patients need much more information about the nature of psychiatric drugs and the effects they produce.”