It’s The Brain-Altering Drugs Stupid: Addictive Opioids, SSRIs, Anti-Psychotics, Benzodiazepines And Suicidality
“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It is simply too painful to acknowledge — even to ourselves — that we’ve been fooled.” — Carl Sagan, “The Fine Art of Baloney Detection” (February 1, 1987)
This morning, just as I was about to start writing my weekly Duty to Warn column, I glanced through my local paper, the Duluth News-Tribune, and was confronted by a full-page ad on page A3, essentially identical to the one pictured above, except that the News-Tribuneversion didn’t have any Indiana groups on the poster.
The ad was titled “Rallying to Address Opioid Addiction”. The ad likely cost well over a thousand dollars and was paid for by an entity that I had never heard of before called “Rx ALI Minnesota”. Rx ALI is the abbreviation for Rx [i.e., prescription drug] Abuse Leadership Initiative). The group is apparently a fresh new “alliance” of “concerned” corporate entities that were suddenly interested in the opioid crisis that has been affecting all portions of America for decades.
Or maybe the interest of some of this now-seemingly ubiquitous major alliance that is sponsoring the ad all over America has some ulterior motives, such as trying to obscure the guilt that those behind the initiative should be acknowledging. Perhaps there are hidden entities that have been guilty of actually causing the addiction and suicidality crises in the first place are now trying to unjustly be a part of the many altruistic efforts that are going on already.
Pretending to be a part of the solution is easier than admitting that they were a major cause for the crisis in the first place. Big Businesses are notorious for trying to finagle their way into positions of “leadership” when decisions might be made that could affect their share price, shareholder confidence, prestige or corporate survival.
Five days before the full-page RxADI ad appeared in the News-Tribune, there was an opinion piece published that was written by the CEO of CADCA (Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America), one of the ad sponsors seen at the top of the photo image above. The editorial was about dealing with the national opioid crisis. CADCA’s HQ is located in the Washington, DC area, so it was fair to ask what motivated the CEO to specifically write an opinion piece for Duluth readers? In that piece, which was supposedly written specifically for the News-Tribune, CADCA’s CEO named many of the co-sponsors of the ad that was published 5 days later. I knew right away that the proximity of the two items was no coincidence.
So I had to dig further.
Among the 16 named corporate entities that were listed in the ad (only 13 appeared in the Indianapolis poster, I was first noticed the symbol for Pharmaceutical Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) which had been placed in the lower left corner of both the Indiana poster and the Duluth ad. PhRMA is the notorious billion-dollar trade association that represents hundreds of excessively wealthy, politically powerful – and therefore also sociopathic – corporations that are known to have enriched themselves by manufacturing and marketing opioid drugs and a variety of addictive products, in particular, psychiatric drugs.
There is no question that the Big Pharma corporations represented by PhRMA have been, over the past century, major causes of prescription drug addictions, prescription drug over-doses (accidental, intentional, lethal and non-lethal), prescription drug-induced mental ill health, prescription drug-induced physical and mental disabilities, prescription drug-induced shortened lifespans, prescription drug-induced dementia, prescription drug-induced poverty/homelessness (because of prescription drug unaffordability) and prescription drug-induced suicidality. These entities are guilty, guilty, guilty of the many crises that are plaguing the world.
And now they want a seat at the preventive, therapeutic table. Anybody smell a rat?
Immediately below is a partial list of some of the entities that were pictured on the News-Tribune ad that have serious conflicts of interest. They are all hoping that nobody will find out about the existence of the deep-pocketed pharmaceutical corporations that are trying to finagle their way into the efforts of well-meaning groups that are seriously – without any ulterior motives – trying to address the crisis – beyond simply providing plastic bags designed to make easily disposable the unused prescription drugs easier, which is about all that some of these entities are proposing, while patting themselves on the back.
1 – PhARMA, which represents American pharmaceutical manufacturing corporations, is also in partnership with a number of the other groups in both the RxADI Minnesota ad and the RxADI Indiana Everybody with a modicum of bamboozle-resistance should naturally be suspicious of the motives behind every corporation’s (not just Big Pharma’s) marketing schemes. This story should reinforce those suspicions. Every “good deed” that comes from a Big Business corporation needs to be regarded with skepticism.
I checked the websites of the seven most influential groups of the 16 on the Duluth ad for details on their hidden corporate sponsors, the corporate boards of directors, the CEOs and the staffs, and I discovered many conflicts of interest that were listed in the websites, but only after considerable digging.
Following is a partial list of the six groups that had the most to hide. I leave it up to the reader to figure out what is going on, and then warn the altruistic groups to beware of these groups; when they come offering their “help”.
2 – The Addiction Policy Forum (APF, with a $17,000,000 annual budget) takes money from the Dublin-based Alkermes Pharmaceutical corporation which manufactures opioid drugs, opioid antagonists and brain-damaging anti-psychotic drugs, including the notoriously neurotoxic, so-called anti-psychotic drug respiridone. APF also takes money from a British drug company called Indivior, which makes a new type of long-lasting antipsychotic drug (actually respiridone) that only requires monthly injections. The CEO of Indivior is on one of the APF’s
3 – CADCA (the Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America) also takes money from Alkermes; Purdue Pharma (the notorious marketer of OxyContin!); Johnson & Johnson(which, among hundreds of other medicinal products, used to aggressively market the highly addictive, so-called childhood “ADHD” drug Concerta (identical to Ritalin), the anti-psychotic drugs Risperdal and Invega and is now marketing the monoclonal antibody drugRemicade, which costs upward of $19,000 a month (which equates to $228,000 per year).
CADCA also takes money from Mallinckrodt PLC which markets the highly addictive opioid drugs Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, Methylphenidate (generic Ritalin) and Dextroamphetamine sulfate. Other drug companies that subsidize CADCA include ENDO, Verde Technologies and Ortho-McNeil (the latter of which markets tramadol, a synthetic opioid).
4 – JUSTUS Health takes money from Janssen, which markets Fentanyl (!), Percodan [an older synthetic opioid] and two anti-psychotics, Haldol and Justus takes money fromJohnson & Johnson (see above) as well as Pfizer, which is the biggest pharmaceutical company in America, and which markets the addictive SSRI so-called antidepressant Zoloft, the dependency-inducing and brain-damaging antipsychotic Geodon and the highly addictive benzodiazepine/tranquilizer Xanax.
5 – The MRHA (Minnesota Rural Health Association) has as its current president, Sue Abderholden, who is Minnesota’s long-term director of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) the notorious national organization that is heavily funded by PhRMA and every Big Pharma corporation in America that makes and markets psychiatric drugs, many of which are highly addictive and brain-altering. NAMI’s Big Pharma corporate sponsors over the years have included Alkermes, TEVA, AstraZeneca ($300,000.00 in 2009 alone) Schering Plough, Dainippon Sumitomo Pharma America, Inc, Vanda Pharmaceuticals, Wyeth, Lundbeck Inc, Otsuka America, Pfizer, Forest Laboratories, Eli Lilly. FOX Broadcasting, Magellan Health Services, Ortho-McNeil Janssen Pharma. and Sanofi-Aventis.
6 – NCL (National Consumers League) which recently promoted a pharmacy organization’s campaign called “Remember to Take Your Medication Month”.
7 – Lakeville Public Safety Foundation (which innocently accepted a $10,000 grant from PhARMA and the Addiction Policy Forum (to promote safe used-prescription drug disposal in the Lakeville, MN area)
I didn’t take the time to check for any conflicts of interest in the smallest sponsoring organizations that were listed in the ad. I believe that veteran’s groups, sheriff’s departments, realtors and the Grange have no ulterior motives like the others and are just altruistically interested in being part of the solution of a largely Big Pharma-induced prescription drug crisis.
It needs to be noted that the current chairman of the PhRMA board of directors is the CEO of Biogen. The chairman-elect is the CEO of Johnson & Johnson and the board treasurer is the CEO of Novartis (marketers of Ritalin, Clozaril and the Ritalin-me-too drug, Focalin (dexmethylphenidate).
The following information about Big Pharma was mostly obtained from the internet, including Wikipedia:
“Antipsychotic drugs are the top-selling class of pharmaceuticals in America, generating annual revenue of about $14.6 billion. Every major company selling the drugs – Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson – has either settled recent government case (under the False Claims Act) for hundreds of millions of dollars (or is currently under investigation for possible health care fraud). Following charges of illegal marketing, two of the settlements set records for the largest criminal fines ever imposed on corporations. One involved Eli Lilly’s antipsychotic Zyprexa and the other involved Pfizer’s Bextra (a Cox-2 inhibitor whose mechanism of action is similar to Merck’s notorious anti-inflammatory drug Vioxx and Pfizer’s Celebrex). In the Bextra case, the government also charged Pfizer with illegally marketing its antipsychotic, Geodon; Pfizersettled that part of the claim for $301 million, without admitting any wrongdoing.
“On 2 July 2012, GlaxoSmithKline pleaded guilty to criminal charges and agreed to a $3 billion settlement of the largest health-care fraud case in the U.S. and the largest payment by a drug company. The settlement is related to the company’s illegal promotion of prescription drugs, its failure to report safety data, bribing doctors, and promoting medicines for uses for which they were not licensed. The drugs involved were Paxil, Wellbutrin, Advair, Lamictal and Zofran for off-label, non-covered uses. Those and the drugs Imitrex, Lotronex, Flovent, and Valtrex were involved in kickback schemes.”
To conclude this week’s column, I attach one of my old Preventive Psychiatry E-Newsletters (which I published before my retirement and mainly emailed to my patients). PPEN # 18 concerned prescription drug-induced suicidality.
The article was written by Dr. Ann Blake Tracy, author of Prozac: Panacea or Pandora? – Our Serotonin Nightmare and the original research which she writes about was done by Dr Ari Khan and colleagues. The original papers were first published in 2001, but the important data was ignored by the FDA, the CDC, the NIH, the NIMH, the AMA, the APA, the AAFP, every busy psychiatrist and physician and every Big Pharma corporation that should have been paying attention (if the well-being of patients was really important, that is).
Obviously the corporate elites that decide what research gets proper attention had no interest in the truths mentioned below. The share prices of the manufacturers and marketers of the brain-altering prescription drugs investigated would have been badly impacted if Khan’s research had been given proper publicity. These guilty corporate elites are perpetually trying to escape the punishment that they so richly deserve for their part in America’s addiction and suicide epidemics. Tragically, they have had – and still have – the propaganda power to bamboozle anybody and everybody, especially the mainstream media, major party politicians, the media-addicted public and even physicians and nurses.
Read the following important information strongly linking Big Pharma’s psych drugs to suicide from back in 2002 and weep. Opioids were not examined back then because there was no Fentanyl, oo OsyContin and no Purdue Pharma.
Preventive Psychiatry E-Newsletter # 18
Astonishing 6,500+% Increase in Rates of Completed Suicides from BOTH SSRIs and Atypical Antipsychotics!!
By Dr. Ann Blake Tracy, Executive Director,
International Coalition for Drug Awareness – 9-8-2002
First we had the thalidomide tragedy, then the fen-phen fiasco, then LSD and PCP as prescription drugs, yet none of them begins to compare with the scandal below. Never in the history of the FDA do I recall something as tragic or terrible or as shocking or as criminal as is the following revelation! “Mass murder by prescription” is the only expression that fits.
Blockbuster Study – 68 Times Greater Suicide Risk with Serotonergic Meds!
New research presented at a recent NIH (National Institute of Health) sponsored meeting demonstrates a 68 times greater risk of suicide with the new serotonergic antidepressants (SSRIs) and (the so-called “atypical”) antipsychotics than if a patient never took anything.
These shocking figures of increased suicide risk show that a patient’s chances of suicide jump from 11 out of 100,000 to as much as 718 out of 100,000 if one is taking one of these new SSRI antidepressants (Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Luvox, Celexa) – medications touted to alleviate depressive symptoms and rid one of suicidal tendencies. And the risk is even higher for the new antipsychotics (Zyprexa, Risperdal, Seroquel) – 752 out of 100,000!
Our gratitude for alerting us to this new research goes to Vera Hassner Sharav with the Alliance for Human Research Protection (AHRP). (www.researchprotection.org)
Dr. Arif Khan presented his research at a recent meeting sponsored by the NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health). This was a meeting of the New Clinical Drug Evaluation Unit. The essence of the research was an analysis of the data on the suicide rates for patients who participated in the clinical trials for these new drugs – over 71,604 people were involved. These were the clinical trials where the drugs were tested on the public to see if they were “safe and effective.” This clinical data is then presented to the FDA for approval for marketing of the new compounds.
In his presentation Dr. Khan made note of what we learned long ago when this information was revealed through court documents in SSRI wrongful death cases – that is, that “actively suicidal” patients are excluded from the clinical trials on the SSRI antidepressants. What he found shocking about this is that despite the fact that actively suicidal patients were excluded from these clinical trials, the suicide rate among those taking these medications ABSOLUTELY SKYROCKETED from 11 out of 100,000 to 718 out of 100,000!! (718/11 = 6500% increase in relative risk.)
What is really frightening at this point is the realization that millions of patients are going into withdrawal from these drugs. The rapid or abrupt withdrawal from these antidepressants can produce suicide, mania, seizures, psychotic breaks, etc. at an even greater rate than while on the drugs. Extreme caution MUST be taken.
Here are the suicide rates (for the 5 classes of prescription psychiatric drugs that were analyzed by Khan). Keep in mind as you read through these that the rate of 11 out of 100,000 persons per year is the suicide rate for the population at large.
1) 752 suicides per 100,000 for those treated with atypical antipsychotics–risperidone (Risperdal), olanzapine (Zyprexa), and quetiapine (Seroquel); (752/11 = 6800% relative risk increase).
2) 718 per 100, 000 for those treated with the SSRIs – Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Luvox, Celexa); (718/11 = 6500% relative risk increase) (See the American Journal of Psychiatry article for the analysis of suicidality and antidepressant drugs at: Khan A, Khan S, Kolts R, Brown WA. “Suicide rates in clinical trials of SSRIs, other antidepressants, and placebo: analysis of FDA reports,” Am J Psychiatry 2003;160: 790-2.)
3) 425 per 100,000 for those treated for “social anxiety disorder” with nefazodone (Serzone), mirtazapine (Remeron), and bupropion (Wellbutrin/Zyban); (425/11 = 3800% relative risk increase).
4) 136 per 100,000 for those treated for panic disorder–with benzodiazepine alprazolam (Xanax); (136/11 = 1200% relative risk increase).
5) 105 per 100, 000 persons for those treated for obsessive-compulsive disorder with anticonvulsant valproate (Depakote). (105/11 = 950% relative risk increase).
These figures clearly speak for themselves. A massive number of wrongful death suits will obviously follow, but at least loved ones will know why they have lost those who meant so much to them via such tragic circumstances.
Keep in mind as you read through this data that the new “atypical” anti-psychotics listed here are basically a combination of the older anti-psychotics and the SSRIs. They too have a strong effect upon serotonin levels, (actually blocking serotonin receptor sites as well as dopamine receptor sites – Ed note).
Also the most likely reason researchers saw an even higher rate of suicide in placebo cases with the anti-psychotics is that these patients were likely being abruptly discontinued from their older anti-psychotics for the clinical trials. This abrupt withdrawal can cause suicidal depression.
Dr. Ann Blake Tracy, Executive Director, International Coalition for Drug Awareness
www.drugawareness.org and author of Prozac: Panacea or Pandora? – Our Serotonin Nightmare (800-280-0730)
No Credible Evidence for Anti-Suicidal Effect from Psychotropic Drugs
Carl Sherman, Contributing Writer to Clinical Psychiatry News Online
BOCA RATON, FLA. – Psychotropic therapy did not appear to have a marked impact on suicide risk, examination of a large database indicated-in fact, no class of medication had much more or less effect than placebo, Dr. Arif Khan said at a meeting of the New Clinical Drug Evaluation Unit sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health.
Overall, attempted and completed suicides among patients with diverse psychiatric conditions are substantially more frequent than had been expected, the analysis suggested.
“Given that suicide is such a complex behavior … we have to ask if medication is the only way to [approach] it,” said Dr. Khan of Northwest Clinical Research Center, Bellevue, Wash.
The conventional response to suicidality in psychiatry is pharmacotherapy. The assumption that this will be beneficial “is never challenged much,” Dr. Khan said, and raises ethical questions about clinical trials, such as whether patients assigned to placebo may be exposed to increased mortality risk. Some observers, on the other hand, have suggested that psychotropics may themselves increase the risk of suicide.
In fact, the only biologic treatments for which there are many data on this score are ECT and lithium, which have been shown to reduce suicidality. More limited data support a similar effect for clozapine.
Dr. Khan reported an analysis of clinical trial data for drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration between 1985 and 2000. This included suicide and attempted suicide rates for more than 71,604 patients treated with the atypical antipsychotics risperidone (Risperdal), olanzapine (Zyprexa), and quetiapine (Seroquel); all the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Luvox, Celexa; nefazodone (Serzone), mirtazapine (Remeron), and bupropion (Wellbutrin/Zyban); the benzodiazepine alprazolam (Xanax; and the anticonvulsant valproate (Depakote).
One striking finding was the elevated rate of completed suicides for patients during these trials. Compared with the rate of 11/100,000 persons per year for the population at large, the rates of completed suicide were 752/100,000 persons per year for those in anti-psychotic trials; 718 in antidepressant trials; 425 in trials of medication for social anxiety disorder; 136 for panic disorder; and 105 for obsessive-compulsive disorder.
This was particularly surprising in light of the attempt, in most clinical trials, to exclude patients who are actively suicidal, Dr. Khan said.
Figures on attempted suicide found similarly increased risk. The figures implied that 5% of patients who enroll in anti-psychotic trials will attempt suicide in the following year; 3.7% of those in antidepressant trials will make an attempt; and 1.2% of those in trials of medication for anxiety disorders will attempt suicide.
Suicide rates were higher, in the trials taken as a whole, for patients who were assigned to placebo than to the investigational drug (1,750/100,000 persons per year vs. 710/100,000 persons per year). But because participants were exposed to placebo for far less time than to the drugs (a mean of 33 days vs. 148 days), this could not be assumed to indicate an anti-suicidal effect of medication, he said. (The most likely reason researchers saw an even higher rate of suicide in placebo with the anti-psychotics is that these patients were likely being abruptly discontinued from their older anti-psychotics for the clinical trials. This abrupt withdrawal can cause suicidal depression. – Ann Blake Tracy)
In the case of trials for depression and anxiety disorders, suicide rates were in fact higher among those who received the investigational drug than placebo, Dr. Khan said.
The high rates of suicide among patients studied might suggest an “iceberg effect” in the general population. The numbers that come to light under the close scrutiny of the clinical trial situation indicate the extent to which attempted and completed suicides are concealed or mislabeled in the community, Dr. Khan speculated.
Dr Gary G. Kohls is a retired family physician from Duluth, MN, USA. Since his retirement from his holistic mental health practice he has been writing his weekly Duty to Warn column for the Duluth Reader, northeast Minnesota’s alternative newsweekly magazine. His columns, which are re-published around the world, deal with the dangers of American fascism, corporatism, militarism, racism, malnutrition, Big Pharma’s over-drugging and Big Vaccine’s over-vaccination agendas, as well as other movements that threaten human health, the environment, democracy, civility and the sustainability of all life on earth. Many of his columns have been archived at a number of websites, including http://duluthreader.com/search?search_term=Duty+to+Warn&p=2; http://www.globalresearch.ca/author/gary-g-kohls; http://freepress.org/geographic-scope/national; and https://www.transcend.org/tms/search/?q=gary+kohls+articles
Originally posted at: http://freepress.org/geographic-scope/national
Author: Gary G. Kohls, MD
Benzodiazepines (BZDs), the group of central nervous system depressants known to create feelings of calm, sleep and drowsiness, are under fire for findings that suggest they may lead to cancer. This means that the likes of Valium, Xanax, Klonopin, and a host of other psychoactives, are playing a role in chipping away at people’s health, putting them at risk for one of the most life-threatening diseases around.
The finding comes from experts who engaged in a longitudinal population-based case-control study in which information was assessed from the Taiwan National Health Insurance database. The goal was to determine any association between use of BZDs and cancer risk in people who were 20 years of age or older.
Unsurprisingly, but still terribly saddening, they found that the answer was a very likely “yes.”
The psych med-cancer link
According to the published study entitled, Is Long-term Use of Benzodiazepine a Risk for Cancer?, there’s a correlation between BZDs and specific cancers. The study notes that it was observed “… that benzodiazepines exposure increased the overall cancer risk up to 21%, specifically for brain 98%, colorectal 25%, lung 10%, esophagus 59%, prostate 36%, bladder 39%, liver 18%, pancreas 41% and other cancers 27%.”
While they suggest that, “therapeutic effectiveness of BZDs should be monitored closely for long-term users” in order to fully understand the scope of the implications, the experts don’t shy away from the likelihood that the use of such drugs poses cancer-causing threats. They write that “… we assume that risk of cancers could be associated with individual BZD, which might have some relationship only with particular cancers etiology need to be identified.”
The mind-altering drugs most of us don’t need, but are prescribed anyway
Unfortunately, many of us are walking around with a variety of psychoactives in our systems, popping pills like it’s going out of style. In fact, it’s all part of a vicious cycle in which doctors prescribe psych meds to people who – in many cases – don’t even need them. At the same time, such medical experts enjoy the perks that come with Big Pharma bribes, in the form of cash, decadent meals and fancy vacations.
So, while your health is put in jeopardy, some doctors literally laugh all the way to the bank. It’s of grave concern that this behavior continues; doctors who do this are playing a role in the approximately 5 million deaths that have occurred in the West just in the past decade alone – and it’s all due to unnecessarily prescribing psych medications to people who don’t really need them in the first place.
Not only are such drugs linked to certain cancers, as the aforementioned study shows, but they’re also associated with suicides and other worrisome issues.
In addition to cancer, psych meds linked to suicides, mass shootings
The British Medical Journal found that antidepressant drugs increase the risk of suicide and aggressive behavior; although this was especially so in people under the age of 18, the finding involved all age groups. A total of 70 trials were assessed to examine the safety and effectiveness of the most common antidepressants available to consumers, and it was found that such medications put the under-18 age group at double the risk of suicide.
Use of BZDs is even linked to the surge in mass shootings that seem to be occurring just about every other day. Surely, it’s not just a coincidence that the amount of prescriptions tripled between 1996 and 2013, while the number of overdoses quadrupled – quadrupled! – during that same time. What else has been happening though the years? You guessed it – a ridiculous number of mass shootings and acts of violence, in which it’s often discovered that the person or people involved were taking mind-altering psych meds.
“We found that the death rate from overdoses involving benzodiazepines, also known as ‘benzos,’ has increased more than four-fold since 1996 — a public health problem that has gone under the radar,” says Dr. Marcus Bachhuber of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
Such easy access to dangerous meds – which is intensified by the ease with which they’re prescribed – poses a serious threat to our health. Drugs designed to assuage our feelings of anxiety and depression are repeatedly shown to raise suicide rates and aggressive behaviors, play a role in mass shootings, and even contribute to the likes of brain, lung and liver cancers, to name just a few.
Sources for this article include:
In 2012, Medicare’s massive prescription drug program didn’t spend a penny on popular tranquilizers such as Valium, Xanax and Ativan.
The following year, it doled out more than $377 million for the drugs.
The Doctors and Drugs in Medicare Part D
Our Prescriber Checkup tool has been updated with 2013 data from Medicare, including controlled substance prescribing for each provider. Explore the app
While it might appear that an epidemic of anxiety swept the nation’s Medicare enrollees, the spike actually reflects a failed policy initiative by Congress.
More than a decade ago, when lawmakers created Medicare’s drug program, called Part D, they decided not to pay for anti-anxiety medications. Some of these drugs, known as benzodiazepines, had been linked to abuse and an increased risk of falls and fractures among the elderly, who make up most of the Medicare population.
But doctors didn’t stop prescribing the drugs to Medicare enrollees. Patients just found other ways to pay for them. When Congress later reversed the payment policy under pressure from patient groups and medical societies, it swiftly became clear that a huge swath of Medicare’s patients were already using the drugs despite the lack of coverage.
In 2013, the year Medicare started covering benzodiazepines, it paid for nearly 40 million prescriptions, a ProPublica analysis of recently released federal data shows. Generic versions of the drugs — alprazolam (which goes by the trade name of Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan) and clonazepam (Klonopin) — were among the top 32 most-prescribed medications in Medicare Part D that year.
And it appears these were not new prescriptions.
IMS Health, a healthcare analytics company that tracks drug sales nationwide, logged only a tiny increase in all benzodiazepine prescriptions, including those covered by Medicare, from 2012 to 2013. That probably means Medicare paid mostly for refills of existing prescriptions, said Michael Kleinrock, director of research for the IMS Institute.
That millions of seniors are taking Xanax, Ativan and other tranquilizers represents a very real safety concern, said Dr. Brent Forester, a geriatric psychiatrist at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass.
The drugs are popular because they are fast-acting — working quickly, for example, to quell debilitating panic attacks. But they can be habit-forming and disorienting and their effects last longer in older patients. For that reason, the American Geriatrics Society discourages their use in seniors for agitation, insomnia or delirium. The group says they may be appropriate to treat seizure disorders, severe anxiety, withdrawal and in end-of-life care.
Forester said he and others who specialize in geriatric psychiatry don’t use benzodiazepines as a “first-, second- or third-line treatment because we see more of the downside than the good side.”
Some geriatric psychiatrists worry that doctors may have turned to the drugs in place of antipsychotic medications to sedate patients with conditions such as dementia. In the past several years, Medicare has pushed to reduce the use of antipsychotics, particularly in nursing homes, because of strong warnings about their risks.
In 2013, Medicare covered more prescriptions for benzodiazepines than for antipsychotics.
“At the end of the day,” Forester said, “in terms of risk, the risk with benzodiazepines seems so much worse to me … There’s significant danger and there’s no spotlight.”
A spokeswoman at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services declined to answer questions about Medicare’s suddenly soaring tab for benzodiazepines.
Some doctors who ranked among Medicare’s top prescribers of the drugs said any risks were outweighed by their benefits.
Fall River, Mass., psychiatrist Claude Curran wrote more than 11,700 prescriptions for benzodiazepines (including refills) in 2013, ranking him behind only four other doctors, all from Puerto Rico. He said the drugs worked well for his patients, many of whom are trying to kick addictions to narcotics but struggle with anxiety and depression.
“First of all, they’re reliable,” he said. “Second of all, they’re cheap because they’re all generic … They tickle the brain in the same way alcohol does.”
Without benzodiazepines, he added, patients in recovery often need higher doses of methadone, which carries significant risks of its own. “Anyone who’s ever had a panic attack is sympathetic to the use of the benzos,” Curran said. “Anyone who has never had a panic attack doesn’t understand it.”
Medicare Part D Totals by the Numbers, 2013
The vast majority of Curran’s Medicare patients were younger than 65 and qualified for coverage based on a disability. Disabled patients made up about a quarter of Part D’s 35 million enrollees in 2013, but used benzodiazepines disproportionately, accounting for about half of all prescriptions.
Miami psychiatrist Rigoberto Rodriguez also ranked high among Medicare prescribers of benzodiazepines, writing 9,900 prescriptions in 2013, but most of his patients were seniors. Many, he said, are Cuban immigrants who experienced traumas that left them with lingering anxiety, and they have been taking the drugs for years.
Rodriguez readily acknowledged the risks of the drugs for elderly users — recently, researchers found that the longer a person took benzodiazepines, the higher his or her risk of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. The drugs’ labels say they are generally for short-term use but many patients take them for years.
Rodriguez said he has been working to reduce his benzodiazepine prescriptions in light of emerging research. He expects that when Medicare releases data for 2014 and 2015, his totals will be lower.
Prescribing Benzodiazepines and Narcotics
Below are the states with the most doctors who prescribed at least 1,000 prescriptions of both benzodiazepines and narcotics. Experts say combining the two increase the risk of overdoses.
|State||# of Doctors|
(Charles Ornstein and Ryann Grochowski Jones, ProPublica)
“This is fresh information coming out in the last couple years … telling us that benzos are probably not good and you should try to avoid them,” Rodriguez said. “I totally agree with that.”
Roberto Hernando, another Miami psychiatrist who wrote high numbers of benzodiazepine prescriptions in 2013, said he intends to review his prescribing after a reporter told him his totals.
“Some people may need it; some people may not,” he said. “You’re bringing to my attention something that I wasn’t even aware of.”
When Congress created Medicare’s drug program in 2003, there wasn’t much discussion about whether it should cover benzodiazepines.
They were on a larger list of drugs excluded for coverage, along with barbiturates, fertility drugs, and drugs for weight loss and cosmetic purposes. The list mirrored one from a law years earlier allowing states to voluntarily exclude certain drugs from Medicaid programs for the poor. (Medicare now also pays for barbiturates.)
Andrew Sperling, director of federal legislative advocacy for National Alliance on Mental Illness, said it’s unclear why Congress made the exclusions mandatory for Medicare when they had only been voluntary for Medicaid. He believes it was a drafting error.
IMS Health data suggests that while the Medicare ban was in effect, seniors and disabled patients paid for benzodiazepines in other ways. Many paid out of pocket for the relatively inexpensive drugs, which can cost less than $10 for a 30-day supply. Some, particularly those with disabilities, qualified for state Medicaid programs, which continued to cover the drugs even though they didn’t have to. Another set of patients chose Medicare Advantage plans that offered the drugs as an added benefit.
Dr. Michael Ong, an associate professor at UCLA, co-authored a 2012 paper concluding that many patients continued using benzodiazepines after Congress banned coverage in Medicare Part D and that some turned to more powerful psychiatric drugs.
Below are the most-prescribed benzodiazepines in 2013 in Medicare’s prescription drug program.
|Drug name||More popularly known as||# of Claims|
(Charles Ornstein and Ryann Grochowski Jones, ProPublica)
“Just mandating something and saying we’re not going to pay for the benzodiazepines is probably not the right type of policy solution to change the behaviors of both the providers who are providing these medications and also the patients who are using them,” Ong said.
A worrisome aspect of the newly released data is that some doctors appear to be prescribing benzodiazepines and narcotic painkillers to the same patients, increasing the risk of misuse and overdose. The drugs, paired together, can depress breathing.
ProPublica found that this pattern was most common in southeastern states, which struggle with opioid abuse and overdoses. In 2013, 158 doctors in Florida wrote at least 1,000 prescriptions each for opioids and for benzodiazepines, tops in the nation. Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee also had unusually high numbers of doctors who often prescribed both narcotics and benzodiazepines. The data does not indicate if the prescriptions were given to the same patients, although that prospect worries experts.
Dr. Leonard J. Paulozzi, a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, co-authored an analysis showing that benzodiazepines were involved in about 30 percent of the fatal narcotic overdoses that occurred nationwide in 2010.
“It increases the possibility of overdoses,” he said.
Look up the drugs your doctor prescribes with our Prescriber Checkup tool.
Does the habitual use of antidepressants do more harm than good to many patients? Absolutely, says one expert in a new British Medical Journal report. Moreover, he says that the federal Food and Drug Administration might even be hiding the truth about antidepressant lethality.
In his portion of the report, Peter C. Gotzsche, a professor at the Nordic Cochrane Centre in Denmark, said that nearly all psychotropic drug use could be ended today without deleterious effects, adding that such “drugs are responsible for the deaths of more than half a million people aged 65 and older each year in the Western world.”
Gotzsche, author of the 2013 book Deadly Medicines and Organized Crime: How Big Pharma Has Corrupted Healthcare, further notes in the BMJ that “randomized trials that have been conducted do not properly evaluate the drugs’ effects.” He adds, “Almost all of them are biased because they included patients already taking another psychiatric drug.”
Hiding or fabricating data about harmful side effects
The FDA’s data is incomplete at best and intentionally skewed at worst, he insisted:
Under-reporting of deaths in industry funded trials is another major flaw. Based on some of the randomised trials that were included in a meta-analysis of 100,000 patients by the US Food and Drug Administration, I have estimated that there are likely to have been 15 times more suicides among people taking antidepressants than reported by the FDA – for example, there were 14 suicides in 9,956 patients in trials with fluoxetine and paroxetine, whereas the FDA had only five suicides in 52,960 patients, partly because the FDA only included events up to 24 hours after patients stopped taking the drug.
He said that he was most concerned about three classes of drugs: antipsychotics, benzodiazepines and antidepressants, saying they are responsible for 3,693 deaths a year in Denmark alone. When scaling up that figure in relation to the U.S. and European Union together, he estimated that 539,000 people die every year because of the medications.
“Given their lack of benefit, I estimate we could stop almost all psychotropic drugs without causing harm – by dropping all antidepressants, ADHD drugs, and dementia drugs (as the small effects are probably the result of unblinding bias) and using only a fraction of the antipsychotics and benzodiazepines we currently use,” Gotzsche wrote.
“This would lead to healthier and more long lived populations. Because psychotropic drugs are immensely harmful when used long-term, they should almost exclusively be used in acute situations and always with a firm plan for tapering off, which can be difficult for many patients,” he added.
Gotzsche’s views were disputed in the same BMJ piece by Allan Young, professor of mood disorders at King’s College London, and psychiatric patient John Crace.
“More than a fifth of all health-related disability is caused by mental ill health, studies suggest, and people with poor mental health often have poor physical health and poorer (long-term) outcomes in both aspects of health,” they wrote.
They also insisted that psychiatric drugs are “rigorously examined for efficacy and safety, before and after regulatory approval.”
Pushing kids to suicide
However, as NaturalNews has documented over the years, the ill effects of these very drugs are apparent to anyone with an open mind. Here are just a few of those stories:
In 2011, we reported that the mainstream national psychiatric organizations colluded with Big Pharma to create what had grown to a $20-billion-a-year psychotropic drug empire, a push that began in earnest in 1987.
“The story that people with mental disorders have known chemical imbalances, that’s a lie. We don’t know that at all. It’s just something that they say to help sell the drugs and help sell the biological model of mental disorders,” we quoted veteran investigative reporter and author of Mad in America, Robert Whitaker, as saying in an earlier interview.
In 2013, we reported on a study that suggested higher teen suicide rates were tied to an increase in the prescribing of psychotropic drugs.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s Psychiatry, found that 1 in 25 teens attempts suicide in the U.S., and the suicide attempts were tied to the increased use of psychotropic drugs in many of those cases.
The same year, we also reported that a pair of additional studies found psychotropic drugs increased the risk of diabetes threefold and caused a 20-fold increase in attempted suicides.
“The diabetes study, conducted by researchers from the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, TN, between 1996 and 2007, focused on children and young adults between ages 6 and 24 who were enrolled in Tennessee’s Medicaid program,” we reported.
The second statistic came from an historic review, “Lifetime Suicide Rates in Treated Schizophrenia: and 1994-1998 Cohorts Compared.” As the largest study ever to address suicide in schizophrenia patients, it reports disturbing facts about anti-psychotic drugs, which would be better termed “psychotic drugs.”
In a chapter in his 2013 book, Gotzsche revealed how Big Pharma companies like GlaxoSmithKline covered up the harmful effects of their psychotropic and antidepressant medications, such as pushing teens into suicide with “happy pills.”
Article Source: http://www.naturalnews.com/049767_Big_Pharma_antidepressants_suicides.html
Author: J. D. Heyes