Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Does Pschiatry Overmedicate?

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Does Pschiatry Overmedicate?

Article excerpt

PHILADELPHIA - When Robert Whitaker's book, which questioned the extensive and long-term use of medications in psychiatry, was published in 2010, doctors treated him like a "heretic," he said.

So it has been something of a vindication that people like William Dubin, chair of psychiatry at the Temple University School of Medicine, have started inviting him to speak to their peers and students.

"It can, of course, be tense. It can be difficult," he said. "On the other hand, increasingly, the receptions have been more open- minded, and I think, actually, psychiatry is trying to rethink their use of medications."

At Mr. Dubin's request, Mr. Whitaker spoke earlier this month to medical students and psychiatry residents at Temple University Hospital's Episcopal Campus about that book, "Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America."

Mr. Whitaker, a former reporter who has written four books, spoke for an hour without slides - the machine wasn't working - or notes in a chapel next to the hospital.

Mr. Dubin read the book eight months ago after his brother, also a psychiatrist, recommended it. Mr. Dubin asked his residents to read it too.

"I think he has an important message," Mr. Dubin said. "We teach a lot of his principles." He agrees that psychiatrists often overmedicate. He thinks insurance companies should get more of the blame than Mr. Whitaker gave them. He called their financial incentives "pernicious."

Mr. Whitaker said he became intrigued by the apparent increase in psychiatric disability despite the widespread use of psychiatric medications. The number of adults receiving federal disability payments because of mental illness rose from 1.25 million in 1987 to four million in 2007. Much of that was because of an increase in mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder.

Mr. Whitaker wondered, "How do psychiatric medications shape lives over the long term?"

He conceded that many factors might affect disability rates and that the numbers were not proof that medications were at fault. …

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