THE PSYCHO-PHARMACEUTICAL INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX: As Profits from Mental Illness Grow, We See More of It

By Levine, Bruce E. | CCPA Monitor, May 2008 | Go to article overview

THE PSYCHO-PHARMACEUTICAL INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX: As Profits from Mental Illness Grow, We See More of It


Levine, Bruce E., CCPA Monitor


In Eugene Jarecki's documentary film Why We Fight, about the U.S. military-industrial complex, U.S. foreign policy critic Chalmers Johnson says, "I guarantee you that, when war becomes that profitable, you are going to see more of it."

Similarly, as mental illness has become extremely profitable, we are seeing more of it.

The New York Times reported a few months ago: "The number of American children and adolescents treated for bipolar disorder increased 40-fold from 1984 to 2003... Drug makers and company-sponsored psychiatrists have been encouraging doctors to look for the disorder." (Bipolar Illness Soars as a Diagnosis for the Young.)

Not too long ago, a child who was irritable, moody, and distracted was considered a "handful." By the 1980s, that child was said to have a "behavioural disorder," and today [in Canada as well as the U.S.], such a child is being diagnosed as "bipolar" and "psychotic"-and prescribed expensive anti-psychotic drugs.

Bloomberg News also reported recently that "the expanded use of bipolar as a pediatric diagnosis has made children the fastest-growing part of the $11.5 billion U.S. market for anti-psychotic drugs."

Psychopathologizing young people is not the only reason for the dramatic rise in sales of such anti-psychotic drugs as Eli Lilly's Zyprexa and Johnson & Johnson's Risperdal (each, in recent years, grossing annually from $3 to $4 billion). Much of Big Pharma's anti-psychotic boom is attributable to generous U.S. government agencies, especially Medicaid. The Medicaid gravy train has been fuelled up by Big Pharma corruption so over-the-top that it has been the subject of recent media exposures.

The Associated Press, last August, reported: "A groundbreaking Minnesota law is shining a rare light into the big money that drug companies spend on members of state advisory panels who help select which drugs are used in Medicaid programs for the poor and disabled." Those advisory panels-dominated by physicians-have great influence over the $28 billion spent annually by Medicaid on drugs, but only Minnesota, Vermont and Maine require drug companies to report monies paid to physicians. The AP article focused on John E. Simon, a psychiatrist on the Minnesota advisory panel since 2004, who received $489,000 from Eli Lilly between 1998 and 2006. The top drugs paid for by Minnesota Medicaid, according to the AP article, have been anti-psychotic drugs, especially Eli Lilly's Zyprexa.

With the advent of Eli Lilly's serotonin-enhancer Prozac at the end of 1987, the general public and doctors were bombarded by a multi-billion-dollar marketing blitz proclaiming that depression is caused by a deficiency of serotonin that could be corrected by Prozac (and later by other serotonin-enhancer antidepressants such as Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa, Lexapro, and Luvox). Between 1987 and 1997, the percentage of people in outpatient treatment for depression more than tripled.

Of those in treatment, the percentage prescribed medication almost doubled. In 1985, the total annual sales of all antidepressants in the U.S. was approximately $240 million, while today it is approximately $12 billion. In 2006, the American Journal of Psychiatry reported that the percentage of adults with major depression in 1991 was 3.33%, but by 2001 the percentage had more than doubled to 7.06%.

The serotonin-deficiency theory of depression was so successfully marketed that it was news to many people when a Newsweek cover story last year, "Men and Depression," mentioned that scientists now reject the theory that depression is caused by low levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, told Newsweek that "a depressed brain is not necessarily underproducing something."

The demise of the serotonin-deficiency theory of depression shouldn't have been news in 2007 because as early as 1998 the American Medical Association had cast doubt on the link between serotonin levels and depressive illness, pointing out that many depressed people have "too much serotonin," not too little.

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