Does the pharmaceutical industry influence doctor diagnosis of mental illness? (Part 1 of 2)

As I have come to read more and more about you and of course spend some time on your blog I find that you have an edge that enables you to provide a different take on mental illness Natalie.

One thing that stands out and on which I would like to get your feedback centers on the reference to 1 in 4 people living with mental illness.

Specifically I have been covering the pharmaceutical industry extensively over the past few years in both articles and on my radio show.

One post that stands out referenced the fact that in 2006 close to $7 billion (which represented the single largest expenditure through Medicaid that year) in anti-psychotic drugs was prescribed to patients – many of whom were children between the ages of 3 and 17 years old.

Here is the question . . . it is clear that between the above statistics and the significant amount of off-label marketing done by pharmaceutical companies that it is in their interest for people to be diagnosed with an illness.

Does this mean that the 1 in 4 finding is potentially skewed to reflect pharmaceutical industry interest as opposed to reflecting an actual situation.

After all, doctors and their prescribing practice is likely influenced by big pharma.

What do you think?

By the way, here is the link to the above referenced article titled “Antipsychotic Prescriptions . . . for Children: Is the Medicaid Story Today’s Version of Go Ask Alice? (UPDATE for 2011)

The following is a question that I posted to Natalie Jeanne Champagne’s blog Healthy Place: Recovering From Mental Illness in which she states “If one in four people, at some point in their lives, live with mental illness we are in large company. Albeit probably not happy company, but company nonetheless.”

What prompted my query was a comment made by Andy Behrman during a recent interview when he suggested that the pharmaceutical industry’s focus is on driving sales as opposed to treating people with an illness.  For those who may not be familiar with Behrman, he is the author of the book Electroboy; A Memoir of Mania that is slated to become a major motion picture in 2013.

A few days after the show, I  came across an article that indicated that a study was championing Seroquel – a powerful anti-psychotic drug used to treat Bipolar Disorder, as a cure for the fear of public speaking and social phobia.

The study, which was the result of a collaborative effort between the University of Minnesota and AstraZeneca (who is the drug’s creator), clearly sets off a number of alarms.  Similar to the sentiment expressed by the Ruth Stafford Peale axiom of finding a need and filling it, the company appears to be creating a need or illness and filling it . . . with a prescription of Seroquel.

There are a number of serious questions this raises besides the obvious ones regarding a cash grab.

For example, what impact do this broadening of the drug’s use have on doctor diagnosis of mental illness?  Even more interesting is how does this affect treatment and recovery of people who actually suffer from a mental illness within the framework or context of traditional diagnosis?

Think about this last point for a moment . . . if mental illness becomes normalized in terms of encompassing more of the populace, then are we not redefining the boundaries for what is in fact good mental health – and the responsibilities this implies?

As a result, does the at times defiant outcry from those suffering from (or claiming to) suffer from a mental illness, that they are not alone because many people are part of the struggle, provide a platform of justification that hinders as opposes to helping the treatment process.  After all, some may reason that if half the people I know are on Seroquel or for that matter any other anti-psychotic drug, maybe I am not really as ill as I think I am.

The danger of course is that those who truly do deal with a mental illness are often times in denial and less likely to stay on a prescribed medication, while those who use the drugs as an escape are likely to become regular paying customers.

In Part 2 of this series I will examine these as well as the other possible implications of an industry whose apparent main objective is not to cure but to perpetually treat.


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