Friday, May 27, 2005

Drugging Kids Is Extremely Profitable

George W. Bush loves the word Freedom (the actual concept, maybe not so much). After September 11, he solemnly informed Americans that they (religious nuts from Saudi Arabia, mostly) 'hate us for our freedom'. When France opposed (along with most of the World) our ill-advised invasion of Iraq, 'French Fries' became 'Freedom Fries', and 'French Toast' became 'Freedom Toast'. Lately, he likes to remind us that 'Freedom Is On The March'.

Freedom was on the march April 29, 2002, when George W. Bush established the New Freedom Commission (NFC). What the Commission actually did was make recommendations about mental health care in the U.S. How it is distributed, and more importantly, how drug company execs can feed off the American taxpayer, much like their country club buddies at Halliburton do.

Evelyn Pringle writes about so-called two model programs for this future direction in mental health care, Teen Screen and TMAP (Texas Medication Algorithm Project), in an article for the Online Journal. In addition to being full of interesting information and background, the article mentions The Integrity in Science Database, which keeps track of which companies are funding which researchers. Thanks to that site, after seeing a Psychiatrist on CNN talking about a great the new drug from Pfizer is, you can go find out how much money they got from Pfizer last year.

Back to the programs, though. In case there is any doubt that the transfer of money from the Federal Budget to Pharma profits is the primary aim, consider:

The original TMAP list of drugs for adults included Risperdal, Zyprexa, Seroqual, Geodone, Depakote, Paxil, Zoloft, Celexa, Wellbutron, Zyban, Remeron, Serzone, Effexor, Buspar, Adderall and Prozac.

The decision to adopt TMAP brought with it the mandate to use the recommended drugs on all patients in the state system. A doctor cannot choose a generic drug until at least two, often three, drugs on the list have failed. And even then the doctor must set down his or her rationale in writing, and assume liability for deviating from the TMAP list.

It gets worse. Apparently when they decided to expand the program to children, too, some wise people (or, obstructionists, as they are sometimes called) suggested making sure the drugs being used for adults were appropriate for kids. You can probably guess what happened:

The panel soon decided a survey was unnecessary and said the same drugs being used on adults could be used on children. There were no studies or clinical trials whatsoever to support this consensus.

How could the drug companies pull this off? Because the members of the panel were on the take. For instance, one member of the panel was Graham Emslie, MD, professor and chairman of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, University of Texas Medical Center.

The Integrity in Science Project tracks drug company money to researchers and lists Emslie as: "Consultant to GlaxoSmithKline, Forest, and Pfizer. Receives research support from Eli Lilly, Organon, RepliGen, and Wyeth-Ayerst. Member of the speaker's bureau for McNeil. ('Experience in the use of SSRIs and other antidepressants in children and teens')"

In light of recent concerns about the effect of Paxil (June of 2003, the FDA issued a warning that Paxil should not be prescribed to persons under 18) and other anti-depressants on children, this seems at best ill-advised. Also depressing is the extent to which drugs are used as chemical restraints by foster programs:

a reporter for the Columbus Dispatch in Ohio investigated the matter. He discovered that, in July 2004, 31 percent of children ages 6 to 18 in foster and group homes were on mental health medications. And 22 percent of the children in detention were on psychiatric drugs as of January 2005, with many on five or more. See the April 25, 2005 Columbus Dispatch.

The article is highly recommended. It ends on a hopeful note, in Bush's brother's state, Florida:

But it's not going so well in Florida. Anti-child-drugging advocate Ken Kramer has led the fight to prevent TeenScreen from getting into schools in several counties in Florida. In Pinellas Country he urged parents to send e-mails to the school board and voice their objections to the program. The board received more than 700 e-mails.

Kramer won the battle in two large counties. According to the Jan 26, Tampa Tribune, Pinellas County School Board members refused to subject students to suicide screenings, quashing any hope of introducing a controversial mental health plan in two of Florida's largest school districts.

To protect its students from issues of privacy and wrongful labeling, the Pinellas County School Board voted 6–1 to bar TeenScreen's suicide questionnaire program, the PR Web reported on Jan 30.


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