It’s not often you hear one of psychiatry’s own speak out so vehemently against the establishment’s ‘dangerously close’ relationship with the pharmaceutical industry. But, that’s exactly what Dr. David Healy, a psychiatrist from Ireland, does.
In a Time Healthland article published this week, Dr Healy, “likened psychiatry’s attitude toward its faltering legitimacy to the Vatican’s widely derided response to its child-sex-abuse scandal by priests — essentially that psychiatry is brushing off justifiable concerns as hype instead of dealing with the source of the problem.” If that statement sounds harsh, well, it is. But, before you dismiss them as merely the words of a hater, remember that for most of his career, Healy has held the view that Prozac and SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) can lead tosuicide and has been critical of the amount of ghost writing in the current scientific literature. Healy’s views led to what has been termed “The Toronto Affair” which was, at its core, a debate about academic freedom.
Last week, Healy spoke at an American Psychiatric Association’s conference session on Conflicts of Interest. Which was sort of a coup since his views are so brutally honest and therefore controversial, that several of his colleagues once tried to have his medical license revoked.
Before we delve more into what Healy imparted to his audience, here is a statistic from the Healthland article that bears mentioning:
In 2004 alone, pharmaceutical companies spent about $58 billion on marketing, 87% of which was aimed squarely at the roughly 800,000 Americans with the power to prescribe drugs. The money was spent mainly on free drug samples and sales visits to doctors’ offices…
Now, let’s refocus on psychiatry alone and take the conversation one stop further.
Healy told his colleagues, “I’m going to argue that we need you to be biased. We want you to be biased by treatments that work,. I don’t mind if you’re my doctor and you’ve given talks for industry. My concern is not that you’ve been paid by industry, but that you’ve been fooled by industry. The key conflict is whether people are hiding data from you.” (Italics are mine.)
Healy went on to discuss how drug companies have repeatedly concealed important information about the risks of their medications, whether by hiring ghostwriters to spin the results of scientific studies and then getting renowned experts to put their names on the published papers; by employing tricks in clinical trials like using inadequate doses of comparison medications to make the company’s own drug look better; or by simply keeping unfavorable data out of the public domain.
Example? Data from clinical trials of the drug Zyprexa was hidden. “None of them mentioned [that the drug could cause] diabetes or [had] the highest suicide rate in clinical-trial history,” he said.
Referring back to the issue of antidepressants possibly raising suicide risk, Healy was asked whether a psychiatrist should just stop prescribing antidepressants. Healy responded, “No.”
Medical treatment is poison, and the art of medicine is trying to find the right dose.