When an associate professor of pharmacology at Georgetown University, Dr. Fugh
Berman, was asked by two students if they should take a powerful antipsychotic
to help them sleep, she was outraged. The young people had not even been given
such simple advice as “drink less coffee and drink less alcohol.”
In fact, there is a frightening trend to use dangerous antipsychotic drugs not for
treating a psychotic disorder, but for off-label use. What are some of these
ailments for which atypical antipsychotics are used? Drugs in this class like
Seroquel, Zyprexa and Abilify are more and more frequently prescribed for
anxiety, ADD, insomnia and (most horrifying of all) behavioral problems with
toddlers. Is there a parent among us who got through the “terrible twos”
without a behavioral problem with our 2-4 year old children?
Plying a baby with an atypical antipsychotic drug has become a medically sanctioned
child abuse. And some of the most vulnerable young children, those in foster
care, are treated with antipsychotic drugs more often even than those diagnosed
with a psychotic disorder.
Why are we suddenly a nation with a psychotic disorder in every other family? Or
barring that, a nation who must treat every emotional ups and downs with a psychiatric
The answer, as one may suspect, is found by following the money trail.
Antipsychotic drugs equaled $16 billion in sales in 2010. This statistic comes
from IMS Health, whose business it is to track drug trends in the health care
industry. Antipsychotic drugs have sometimes even out-sold cholesterol
In a nine year time period, between 2001 and 2010, the use of these drugs
increased more than 169 percent. And the cost of using these drugs can run as
high as $500 per month.
Even Dr. Allen Frances ,who was the head of the task force that contributed to the
writing of psychiatry’s bible, (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual),
admitted that the atypical antipsychotics are overused and oversold. He says
they are used recklessly, with little regard for their serious side effects.
The physical side effects from these drugs are enormously uncomfortable and
even dangerous. Rapid weight gain up to 40 pounds is common. Type 2 diabetes,
permanent facial tics and even breast development in boys have been reported.
Although some may think we are now a nation full of unfortunates brimming with psychotic disorders, this is actually due to “diagnosis creep.” Marcia Angell who was
formerly the editor-in-chief of The New England Journal of Medicine
remarks that there is an expansion of the boundaries defining mental illness to
include more people. This, of course, is making pharmaceutical companies very
rich at the expense of our Nation’s citizenry.