New and Disproved

August 4, 2009 at 1:02 pm

According to an LA Times article, research in Finland confirms what many already know too well–that the second generation of antipsychotic medications touted as a new, improved and safer option are killing people at alarming rates, significantly higher than their predecessors. This study was limited to clozapine (Clorazil), a drug largely phased out of use in America as the newer round came into prominence. Researchers found that compared to patients using clozapine, those using the newer drugs, known as atypical antipsychotics, were more likely to die an early death.

Patients taking Seroquel (also known as quetiapine) were 41% more likely to die prematurely; those taking Risperdal (risperidone) were 34% more likely to die early; those taking Zyprexa (olanzapine) were 13% more likely to die early.

Those are some startling statistics considering how widely used those particular drugs are, especially in America. Atypical antipsychotics were developed and introduced for use with people diagnosed with schizophrenia but many have been approved for everything from bipolar disorder and the newly invented pediatric bipolar disorder and as an add-on treatment for depression.

In 2008, 50 million prescriptions for antipsychotic drugs — overwhelmingly the newer ones — were filled. The FDA is now considering whether to allow Seroquel to be prescribed for treatment-resistant depression, and to older children diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

Britol-Myers Sqibb’s standout atypical Abilify, for which you may have seen direct-to-consumer ads, is experiencing dramatically improved sales since it’s FDA approval for “treatment resistant depression” and that’s what it really comes down to–sales. There is only one reason a host of new drugs are being pushed despite these studies while older drugs are being swept aside or abandoned as dangerous in comparison–money. By law, when a drug is around long enough it’s opened up for production by other companies as a generic substitute. When that happens the formerly singular producer and marketing machine for a drug needs a new and again exclusive product. A drug is often deemed unsafe or ineffective only when it fails to increase profits.

This is not to say any of the atypicals are safe. They are all very powerful and commonly harmful but we should be questioning how matters of marketing are allowed to supersede matters of safety and efficacy. The FDA does little to stem the tide of companies making billions of dollars from increasingly deadly drugs. While it is bad enough that there is an under-informed or blatantly misinformed public we must also be aware that it is no small number of people that are being forced to take these drugs. Many in this country are given a diagnosis and a prescription without a choice in either. There are toddlers in this country on Risperdal thanks to the new pediatric bipolar diagnosis and reports continue to come in regarding their off-label use in other areas of mental health concern.

The one thing Americans love to buy more than anything is an idea and corporations love to sell them. Big pharma makes billions of dollars selling us the idea that new equals improved, effective and safe. We want the name brand for everything. That’s how we know it works, right? They also make big money because you don’t normally see these studies and as pharma money continues to sponsor your favorite tv shows, don’t expect an expose´ on the tv news magazines. If you are willing to buy into the unproven idea that a drug can fix a troubled mind, at least don’t buy into the disproved idea that a new one can do it better. For those of you who are fortunate enough to choose whether to take drugs and which, inform yourself and choose wisely.  For those who are not afforded that choice, help is on the way. There are people fighting hard for your survival.

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