From the Eugene Register Guard

_The Register-Guard_, Eugene, Oregon, USA

16 March 2008 – Commentary – Guest Viewpoint

http://www.mindfreedom.org/kb/psychiatric-drugs/antipsychotics/
areford-neuroelptics

Antipsychotic drugs are doing harm

By Chuck Areford

[It is essential to note at the outset that suddenly stopping or
reducing psychiatric medications can be hazardous. Adjustments in
medication are best done under the supervision of a medical
professional.]

In the early 1990s, a new class of drugs promised to revolutionize
the treatment of schizophrenia and other mental disorders. Known as
atypical antipsychotics, drugs such as Clozaril, Zyprexa and
Risperdal largely replaced older medications such as Thorazine,
Haldol and Prolixin. Research and advertising sponsored by the
pharmaceutical industry led to the widespread belief that the newer
medications were indisputably safer, more effective and well worth
additional billions of dollars in taxpayer money. Pharmaceutical
profits soared.

Since then, the life expectancy of those treated in community mental
health centers has plunged to an appalling 25 years less than
average. Life expectancy may have fallen by as much as 15 years since
1986. Indications are that the death rate continues to accelerate in
what must be ranked as one of the worst public health disasters in
U.S. history.

The toxicity of antipsychotic medications, also known as
neuroleptics, is thoroughly documented. Atypical antipsychotics
initially seemed less hazardous because they produce fewer movement
disorders. We now know that the newer drugs lead to more
cardiovascular disease, which is by far the leading killer of those
in the public mental health system.

People who need mental health services already suffer from high rates
of cigarette smoking, lack of exercise, substance abuse, poor
nutrition, homelessness and poor access to health care. Adding
medications pours gasoline on a fire. This lethal combination is
almost certainly driving the spiraling death rate.

Advances in brain imaging techniques show that antipsychotic
medications cause brain damage. Animal and human studies link the
drugs to shrinkage of the cerebral cortex, home to the higher
functions. One study of monkeys given either older or newer
neuroleptic medication in doses equivalent to those given humans
showed an 11 percent to 15 percent shrinkage of the left parietal
lobe. Drugs that cause brain damage almost invariably reduce life
expectancy.

Marketing campaigns for atypical antipsychotic drugs target new
groups of patients, including the elderly and children. Public
television recently reported that as many as 1 million children have
been newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and thus may receive
neuroleptic medication. This does not include children treated with
antipsychotics for other disorders.

The damage to developing brains cannot be overemphasized. Years ago,
the Soviet Union was condemned for giving neuroleptic medication to
political dissidents. We now are giving a more lethal form of this
medication to our children. Where is the outcry?

Recent studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine and
elsewhere demonstrate that the newer drugs are no more effective than
the older ones in reducing psychotic symptoms. Patients stop taking
the new drugs at the same high rate as the old ones because they do
not like the way the drugs affect their lives.

While medications are effective in relieving symptoms in the short
run, research indicates that people suffering from psychosis recover
more quickly and completely without medication. Incredibly, one study
showed that those not taking medications had eight times the recovery
rate of those who remained medicated. Research in Finland shows that
immediate psychosocial interventions achieve far better results than
those in this country. It simply makes sense that people recover
better when not treated with medication that causes brain damage and
shortens their lives.

Yet professionals and the public widely believe that it is unethical
to treat serious mental disorders without antipsychotic medication.
The reasons for this are complex, but foremost is the enormous
profitability of the pharmaceutical industry. In the early 1990s, the
top 10 drug companies earned more profit than all the other Fortune
500 companies combined. The sheer volume of money corrupts medical
research, and misinformation is fed to professionals, clients and the
public.

The deplorable conditions at the Oregon State Hospital are,
unfortunately, just one more indication of the failure of psychiatry
as a whole. I know many of the psychiatric professionals in Lane
County, and they are intelligent and compassionate people who want
the best for their clients. There will always be a place for
medication in the treatment of emotional disorders, yet there must be
public acknowledgement that the long-term use of antipsychotic
medication, particularly the atypicals, is a costly mistake. Silence
truly equals death.

The Oregon Department of Addictions and Mental Health has the
responsibility to confront the terrible inadequacies of the current
system and to fund the development of alternatives. We owe this to
the taxpayers, to society and especially to those who suffer from
mental illness.

#

Chuck Areford of Eugene has worked in the public mental health system
for the past 25 years.

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