Managing Editor's Note: Here's yet another updated version of this post by Adriana Gamondes. Last May we told you that there was a new hire by Autism Speaks of a Pfizer Executive. This week AS made an announcement from the UK: Unprecedented Academic-Industry Collaboration Seeks New Drugs and Novel Treatments for Autism. In January 2011 Vanity Fair ran an article that said "Prescription drugs kill some 200,000 Americans every year. Will that number go up, now that most clinical trials are conducted overseas—on sick Russians, homeless Poles, and slum-dwelling Chinese—in places where regulation is virtually nonexistent, the F.D.A. doesn’t reach, and “mistakes” can end up in pauper’s graves? The authors investigate the globalization of the pharmaceutical industry, and the U.S. Government’s failure to rein in a lethal profit machine." The Guardian UK ran America's fatal addiction to prescription drugs Misuse of legal medications kills more US citizens than die in car crashes. The cost in dollars, let alone lives, compels action last June.
By Adriana Gamondes
What if the pharmaceutical industry had a formula for projected drug profits from a massive rise in autism? A formula such as: PY=P×Y
And what if the same industry simultaneously rewarded scientists, media companies and organizations which disseminate the concept that there is no autism epidemic, that the rise is “false”, that the numbers have always been with us, but that there’s just increased diagnosis due to increased clinical and public recognition of autism? And what if this industry went on a massive campaign to proselytize the dangers of any treatment method—or any scientific authority— which threatened PY=P×Y?
Profiting from something while claiming it doesn’t exist is nothing new. According to some historians, the myth of the flat earth was perpetuated by the Phoenicians to prevent maritime trade rivals from voyaging to England to mine tin. Tin, which seems to have been scarce in ancient Canaan, was an essential ingredient to bronze; bronze was the essence of military power and trade at the time. Advantage in the tin trade gave the Phoenicians untold power. As long as the lie held, Phoenician fleets regularly made mining expeditions north, trading freely with the natives of the British Isles—while neighboring states feared plummeting off the edge of the world if they dared to sail through the Straits of Gibraltar.
For the analogy, imagine the existence of the epidemic as “England”; autism recovery treatments as the “Straits of Gibraltar”; and maybe psychopharmaceutical drug profits as “tin”.
The epidemic-based profit formula actually exists. It was published in a 2003 study for Eli Lilly by researchers Robert and Julia Gerlai (HERE). From the study: Autism: a large unmet medical need and complex research problem
The question whether the epidemic status of ASD is due to true increase of incidence of the disease or simply its better detection and diagnosis is debated. Nevertheless, according to a most recent report to the legislature on the principal findings from the epidemiology of autism in California, the M.I.N.D. institute has confirmed that the increase of incidence is real and cannot be attributed to changes in diagnostic criteria or misclassification. Autism was estimated to have a frequency of more than 1 in 500 children, while more recent studies found its prevalence as high as 1 in 150 (for examples, see; also see CDC website HERE). Researchers, private (e.g., Alliance for Autism Research), and government (e.g., National Institutes of Health, USA) agencies have recognized the enormous need. As a result, funding for research has significantly increased. Surprisingly, however, autism is still not among the neurological or neuropsychiatric diseases onto which large pharmaceutical research companies traditionally focus. This is unfortunate as ASD represents a significant unmet medical need with an enormous market size. Consider the following: ASD may be diagnosed as early as 2–3 years of age. Some even argue that successful diagnosis may be made at 8-12 months HERE) Autistic persons can live a normal life span. The market size can thus be calculated as follows:
where PY is the number of “patient years,” P is the number of patients and Y is the number of years for which patients live after diagnosis. Calculating with the conservative prevalence estimate of 1 in 500, there may be approximately 600,000 ASD patients in the USA alone. These persons may live for an average of 76 years. Using the conservative age of 3 years for the time of diagnosis, PY may be calculated as follows.
PY=600,000×73=43,800,000, i.e., almost 44 million patient years.
To put this number into perspective, let us consider Alzheimer's disease, a disorder that is considered to represent the largest market by big pharmaceutical research companies. Calculating with P=9 million (say 15% of people above 65 years of age will have Alzheimer's disease in the Unites States) and Y=6 (Alzheimer's disease patients live, on average, for 6 years after first diagnosis), PY=54 million for Alzheimer's disease. The actual numbers may slightly vary. The number of Alzheimer's disease patients is actually smaller than 9 million but the disease may be diagnosed earlier and patients may live longer than for 6 years after diagnosis. On the other hand, the number of ASD patients can easily be twice or even three times higher than the presently estimated 600 thousand. Thus, it is clear ASD represents an unmet medical need that is comparable in order of magnitude to the largest neurological disease market, that of Alzheimer's disease. Thus, ASD should be of major interest to pharmaceutical research companies even when the 17-year patent expiration rule is considered.
[Update: Now listen to Pfizer’s (Geodon, Neurontin, Xanax, Zoloft, Chantix; through Wyeth merger, Effexor, Ativan, Pristiq, Prevnar) Robert Ring, newly partnered with Autism Speaks. echoing the title of the study (HERE ) . Of the partnership, Ring says, “This a real opportunity to really make a difference for a huge unmet need using expertise we’ve acquired over a number of years. In fact we’re working right now to build a pre-competitive consortium amongst our competitors, including Lilly (original manufacturer of thimerosal; maker of Zyprexa, Prozac, Cymbalta, Symbyax, Stattera), Roche (Valium, Klonopin, Tamiflu), Novartis (Ritalin, Tofranil, Trileptal; vaccines: Fluverin, Menveo), Janssen (Johnson & Johnson: Risperdal, Haldol), and trying to agree that this is an important population to be developing medicines for…”]
The study abstract was sent to me by Ben Hansen, a Michigan mental health activist and satirical blogger (Bonkers Institute HERE ) Hansen was covered by the New York Times when his Freedom of Information Act inquiry of Michigan Medicaid turned up evidence that an Eli Lilly account executive may have influenced drug prescribing within the program, which had generated a 100% rise in child drug prescriptions in just 10 months.
Just as PY=P×Y denotes profit potential, for every child whose DAN-type biomedical treatments result in recovery or significant behavioral improvements and supplant the justification for psychoactive drugs, the formula also represents potential financial loss.
An email written by a friend and tireless warrior mother sums up precisely why non-psychopharmaceutical treatments for autism represent such a threat to industry:
“The medication nightmare began when we were so desperate to keep our son in a mainstream situation…we did not even have a computer. He had no real functional language and was a runner. God help me I want a do over...We started down the psych. drug path— I can't even remember some of them, he reacted so badly to many and then he ended up on Risperdal, and the side effects from that led to the use of Cogentin, Lamictal, Prozac. I can't believe he could even stand up. We honestly believed that these were going to fix the Autism. We were so uninformed. He is left with what is probably a permanent movement or tic disorder. We thought that Prozac was keeping this under some control but we backed him off of this as well. The tic is no worse without it. Plus when we got him off of the Risperdal and all of the other crap, his language and cognitive awareness exploded! All the drugs were doing was sedating him. Being off of the Prozac has given him a sense of humor! It doesn’t just dull anger, or mood. It dulls ALL EMOTION! Once I was connected by a computer, to other parents and ARI in San Diego, things slowly began to change for us. Dr.Rimland actually spoke to me personally at least 4 times. We started the mega dose B vitamins, and fish oil, and over [three year’s] time we got him off [all the drugs].There have been a few supplements that we have seen real change with. CoQ10 gave him curiosity! Magnesium, probiotics, zinc, VitC and epsom salt soaks have helped (but not eliminated) his constipation.”
As the original manufacturer of the mercury-based vaccine preservative thimerosal and the force behind Dick Armey’s addition of the “Lilly Rider” to the Homeland Security bill barring lawsuits against vaccine makers, Eli Lilly and Company is not exactly neutral on the issue of environmental causation for autism. Though the drug maker doesn’t currently manufacture vaccines, it maintains public lock step with vaccine manufacturers in terms of defending the “perfect safety” of vaccines and the “genetic” nature of autism. Eli Lilly funds such individuals as Dr. Bennett Leventhal (AofA Chicago Trib ;AofA Autism Speaks New Normal) whose response to the claim that the rise in autism rates represents a true increase was once “Rubbish!” (HERE).
Eli Lilly certainly has an interest in presenting the “increased recognition” theories, like those championed by GlaxoSmithKline grantee Eric Fombonne, for public consumption. If there’s an epidemic, and no epidemic can be solely genetic, then autism is environmental and this brings the magnifying glass too close to Eli Lilly’s ethylmercury-tainted door. The company may also view children with autism as a repository for a long list of disgraced drugs which have the potential to be re-patented and dumped on expendable populations. The company’s blockbuster antipsychotic Zyprexa was the subject of a sting by The New York Times and multiple front page stories when activist attorney Jim Gottstein discovered the company had long suppressed data on side effects, including lethal cardiometabolic disorder (HERE ). Lilly’s SSRI antidepressant Prozac along with other SSRI antidepressants, has long suffered from rumored association with school shootings (HERE ). Though Lilly has successfully deflected most “Prozac murder” cases by pouring billions into legal defense and PR, this year a judge in Canada ruled that a formerly peaceful teenage boy would not have killed his friend had it not been for recent exposure to the medication (HERE ). Aside from being associated with such horrifying birth defects as cardiac damage or "omphalocele" (infant born with brain or organs outside the body ), SSRIs have also been recently associated with elevated risk of autism in the offspring of women who take the medications in pregnancy (HERE ). The media frequently misreported the SSRI-autism study when it first came out, inferring that “underlying genetic conditions” leading to the taking of these medications might lead to elevated risk of autism, failing to mention that risk of autism in the offspring of those who took the drugs was elevated in comparison to women with the same conditions who did not take the drugs in pregnancy.
The association of antidepressants in pregnancy and autism is not a competing theory as far as the cause of the autism epidemic, both due to the fact that relatively few mothers of children with autism were exposed the drug in pregnancy and also because all roads seem to lead to Rome in autism: the most prevalent theories which are held up as alternatives to vaccine-cause—such as the highway study (HERE) or the Depakote association (HERE), invariably point to either substances in common (“The most significant source of metals to the atmosphere is resuspension of dust from roads by moving vehicles and from other paved and unpaved surfaces by wind.”
SSRI findings may in fact be supportive of the thimerosal theory because the adverse cellular effects of SSRIs share many overlaps with cellular damage by thimerosal, namely mitochondrial injury (mercury and thimerosal in mitochondrial damage: HERE and HERE and HERE ; SSRI-induced mitochondrial damage: HERE );and disruption of the assembly of tubulin in the brain (mercury: HERE ; SSRI: HERE). In the end, SSRIs may merely be a facilitator in a one-two punch effect—a substance which wears down infants’ immune resistance to subsequent exposures.
Eli Lilly, like all pharmaceutical makers, is long practiced at quarantining the blame for a range of adverse effects on bad genes. Regarding Eli Lilly’s relationship to autism, the company now bears the brunt of being the first American distributor of both thimerosal and SSRI antidepressants. But being in the hot seat for cause is not the only reason pharmaceutical companies cling to the genetic alibi—there’s also the issue of drug profits lost to “alternative” treatments. If there’s an epidemic and the condition is not genetic, then there’s hope for prevention and perhaps recovery. As far as treatment is concerned, why would hopeful families tolerate the side effect profiles for certain psychiatric drugs which only suppress symptoms when other, far safer remedies targeting or preventing the underlying mechanisms of autism and related conditions are available? Imagine another marketing formula in which H is the value of “effective treatment” + “prevention” and the sum is future autism drug profits.
HPY= goose egg
In terms of protecting industry’s interests, that just wouldn’t do. It would be better if the public were led to believe the “increased recognition/genetic” model of the disease. Again, this is obviously for a host of reasons— a central reason being to protect vaccine manufacturers from litigation, and to protect their freedom to continue piling new combination shots and shots for diseases no one ever heard of onto an already overburdened schedule as old patents run out.
But, in the delicate words of Ronan Gannon, GlaxoSmithKline’s executive director of US marketing and member of the National Vaccine Advisory Committee’s financing working group, the pharmaceutical drug market “dwarfs” the vaccine market. The global vaccine market was estimated at more than $20 billion last year with surges from Gardasil and the H1N1 scare, up from a mere $6 billion in 2006. Psychiatric drugs top $40 billion in annual sales in the US alone. Vaccine profits are expected to top $56 billion by 2016 and, if the pattern in the past two decades is any guide, drug profits may keep pace proportionately.
As far as autism’s impact on the psychopharm market, considering the following:
• Psychopharmaceutical sales for the treatment of autism are currently at $3.5 billion a year, largely for the US market, representing 7% of the overall $40 billion yearly psychopharmaceutical sales for 1% of the child population BusinessWeek).
• The Lilly study enthusiastically projects that autism could eventually reach “Alzheimer’s” rates. Alzheimer’s rates are reported to be doubling every twenty years.
• A significant percent of the 40 fold rise in pediatric bipolar disorder could be due to sub-autistic toxic injuries (another portion would be due to the drugs being prescribed to children themselves: mania is a listed side effect of all classes of psychotropes. See Sharna Olfman’s “Bipolar Children”, chapters by Healy, Whitaker and Landrigan respectively, HERE).
• Children diagnosed with bipolar disorder are frequently prescribed the same drugs as children with autism, particularly the newer, on-patent antipsychotics, though many are being treated with autism recovery methods.
• Sales of atypical antipsychotics went from $0 to $16 billion a year since the start of the epidemic.
Bearing in mind that vaccine litigation potentially represents a corporate-wrecking proverbial last straw, we have our pick of motives for industry’s perpetuation of the “genes-only/always been with us/no cure/no epidemic” rhetoric.
But the “bend sinister” is that, at the same time, acknowledgement of an epidemic in certain circles could enliven the psychopharmaceutical drug market. While some people might have thought that National Institute of Mental Health director Thomas Insel’s recent softening on environmental contributions to autism and admission that the rise is real (HERE ) meant he might eventually concede to vaccine causation, I just assumed he was boosting investor confidence.
Thomas Insel— brother of a vaccine maker; chairman of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) who stealthily voted vaccine safety research off the agenda and, under whose oversight, the NIMH’s website on autism went from mentioning a few drugs by generic name in 2006 to presently promoting 15 psychiatric drugs by brand and five more by generic name; the man under whose direction IACC consistently leads all its published recommendations with promises to create more psychopharmaceutical drug algorithms for autism—is not interested in holding pharmaceutical companies to account. He’s unlikely to be interested in promoting non-psychotrope treatments for the underlying causes of autism. If anything, we may see him cheerleading research for—God forbid— an “autism vaccine”.
Thomas Insel is merely following the tradition of his post. For decades, the National Institute of Mental Health has been under heavy criticism for being a “captured” agency which acts chiefly as PR wing to psychopharmaceutical manufacturers. Several NIMH leaders have gone on to either lucrative industry careers or lucrative symbiosis. Frederick Goodwin, former head of the NIMH (and front group ACSH advisory board fellow of Paul Offit and Steven Novella) lost his NPR show “The Infinite Mind” when he was caught taking $1.3 million in supposedly undeclared fees from GlaxoSmithKline and other drug companies to promote drugs like Paxil and Lamictal on the air. Other examples of the “NIMH-Big Pharma “revolving door”, as clinical psychologist Bruce E. Levine put it (HERE ), include Lewis Judd, a former NIMH director, who joined the scientific advisory board of Roche Pharmaceutical in 2001 (Klonopin, Valium, Tamiflu); and Steven Paul, scientific director of NIMH, who left to become vice president of Eli Lilly in 1993 (Prozac, Zyprexa, Cymbalta, Strattera, Symbyax).
It’s not a matter of whether Thomas Insel will land at a pharmaceutical company once he leaves his current position, but a question of which one.
It would be a different story and we’d be living in a different world (one in which childhood vaccines in the US would have been safer and fewer; maybe one in which the epidemic never happened) if the “autism remedies” being presented by pharmaceutical companies were in any way effective towards underlying disease mechanisms. But the idea that psychiatric drugs correct anything in the brain has been repeatedly debunked. In fact, to date, other than dabbling in prenatal vitamins, etc., Big Pharma simply can’t compete with recovery treatment models—not fairly, in any case. They won’t try either. Developing treatments which work by targeting vaccine injuries is out of the question. And research and development costs for such treatments go far beyond pharma’s traditional investment bounds.
That doesn’t mean pharma won’t occasionally follow the cues of autism recovery research. Once the Lancet paper and its disturbing investigation into gastrointestinal disease, vaccines and autism were knocked out of the way in 2010 (only to be rectified in 2012 with the exoneration of co-author John Walker-Smith: HERE ), a surprising number of industry funded studies cropped up which happily associated GI dysfunction with autism, some even brazenly promoting new symptom reducers. But for many drugs companies, a step in the right direction will only land on another toxic solution: following the discovery that glutamate feedback may be disrupted in schizophrenia and autism (interesting that both mercury and the antiseizure drug Depakote—a suspected but rare cause of autism—induce glutamate feedback disruption), drug companies rushed to find chemicals with sedating properties which could be shown to do something to glutamate so that the drug could be called a “targeted treatment.” The problem is, like past psychopharmaceuticals, these drugs would not necessarily do anything therapeutic to the “target”. No matter though—whatever the drug did do could be spun as clinically beneficial, as has been done for antidepressants and other classes of psychotropes (for one example of lab spin, the testing methods used in killed-animal drug studies cannot distinguish between DNA synthesis in the brain which occurs as a part of supposedly beneficial “neurogenesis”—cell division and proliferation— and DNA synthesis which occurs as a part of cell death, yet the FDA looks the other way). Once researchers found a likely candidate—in this case, variations of a “metabotropic glutamate agonist antipsychotic” (HERE )— companies lined up for FDA approval . A small hitch in the approval process has been that glutamate agonists appear to have an even higher level of lethal neuroleptic malignant syndrome than either first or second generation antipsychotics (HERE). Nothing a little spin and a lot of cash can’t fix.
Antipsychotics—the main drug class being pushed for autism— were originally brought to the American market for a mere $30,000 research investment. Far more funds were spent on heavy lobbying of government agencies and the press to promote the drugs as a miracle cure which would liberate mental patients from institutions once and for all. Instead the opposite happened. As journalist Robert Whitaker documented in his book, “Mad in America”, an eight year World Health Organization study performed in the 1960s and 70s (the International Pilot Study, (scroll down to C. HERE) found that outcomes for schizophrenia were three times worse in developed countries which relied primarily on the use of neuroleptics to treat the condition when compared to outcomes in a range of culturally heterogeneous underdeveloped countries which rarely employed the drugs.
In other words, in underdeveloped/developing countries, schizophrenia was known—as impossible as that may seem in the US— as a disease with more than a 60% chance of recovery. In developed countries, the reverse was true. The WHO conducted a more surgical follow-up study in response to protests by organized psychiatry, but the original findings were only reiterated.
Although— unlike autism—schizophrenia is sometimes distinguished as a grab-bag diagnosis (misdiagnosed due to racism, or out of cultural or medical incompetence), the degree to which schizophrenia shows itself to be, like autism, a potentially environmentally mediated condition (HERE and HERE) affecting a subset of susceptible individuals may account for the lower incidence of schizophrenia (at least in the 1960s and 70s) in less industrialized countries. But the WHO five year follow-up to the International Pilot Study firmly demonstrated that severity of onset within agreed-upon parameters of the condition was not the determining factor in recovery rates. This hints that, whereas non-drug environmental factors could have triggered the condition in some, drugging rates almost certainly effected outcomes. At the time of the study, the rates of relapse and direness of outcomes were in direct proportion to the percentage of patients in developed countries who were chronically exposed to the drugs, with the Soviet Union “winning” the distinction of worst outcomes with a drugging rate of 85%.
The US now drugs the growing population of patients with schizophrenia at a rate of more than 93%; outcomes and relapse rates have worsened accordingly. Other countries have been catching up as well, so that the pool of undrugged schizophrenics is shrinking globally (HERE). In fact, schizophrenic patients have been drugged at such a pace in the past fifty years that most clinical and public concepts of symptoms and outcomes reflect the drugged condition, not the condition itself. For instance, schizophrenia’s clinical association with violence—which was not strictly associated with the disease process 100 years ago— increased with drugging rates. Though their behavior could be bizarre and disturbing and crimes committed by the mentally disabled may capture more media attention, schizophrenics were once statistically no more violent than members of the general population. Ironically, neuroleptics—particularly on withdrawal— have been associated with staggering acts of senseless violence by individuals without criminal or violent histories and the subsequent artificial fusing of violence and schizophrenia in the public mind during the drugging era has led to broad public support for forced medicating and other harmful treatments in prisons and institutions. The same may prove true for autism.
The toxicity of the drugs and their capacity to induce or worsen environmental brain injuries shouldn’t be that surprising. Early psychiatric drugs were often derived from various industrial pigments and solvents. Imipramine, for example, was once an industrial dye called “Summer Blue.” For years, researchers in major academic centers have been confounded over the mystery of why individuals treated with imipramine may actually… turn blue (HERE).
Neuroleptics in particular have a questionable history. The drugs were originally used to deliberately induce Parkinsonism under the ham-fisted idea that Parkinson’s was somehow antithetical to psychosis. Those with advanced Parkinson’s disease—so the thinking went— generally don’t show any emotion at all, much less the throes of psychosis.
The dopamine theory still used in marketing antipsychotics was concocted after the drugs had been put into wide use in institutions, and has about as much basis as the generally debunked “genetic brain chemical imbalance correction” theories used to market antidepressants today (HERE). It was originally thought that neuroleptics “worked” (at least initially and only when they did) to reduce psychotic episodes by inhibiting dopamine in the brain on the theory that dopamine levels “flared” during psychotic episodes. That concept never bore out in actual research though: measured dopamine levels could be high, low or indifferent in patients enduring psychotic incidents. Even according to industry’s own dopamine theory, neuroleptics don’t “work” in the end because the brain swelling unilaterally seen within weeks of exposure to antipsychotics turned out to be caused by drug-induced mass generation of dopamine receptors, causing the brain to become super-sensitive to the very brain chemical that was assumed to be inducing psychosis to begin with (HERE).
Few are aware that neuroleptics are often used as solely physical painkillers for certain conditions. It’s been speculated that the drugs initially “reduce disruptive behavior” in some (not all) in the “honeymoon” phase of drug treatment by partly acting as global, emotional-physical painkillers. Sadly, the very painkilling properties of many psychiatric drugs could partly hinge on their capacity to kill brain cells: the sensation that apparently comes with mass brain cell death, as in glue sniffing, is euphoria. This is relevant to autism in that many children with autism, for instance, live with chronic pain from inflamed GI tracts and other physiological injuries which can affect behavior, socialization and cognition. Within reason and depending on the health costs of using certain agents, temporary painkilling could be viewed as having at least partial clinical value.
But doctors not only lose their licenses for overprescribing painkillers, they can go to jail, so the painkiller distinction does not serve the industry financial platforms of overprescription, overmarketing and “polypharmacy—the practice of adding new drugs to quell side effects of previous drugs, ad infinitum (ad nauseum, ad mortem). This leads to the need for false clinical “correction” theories for certain drugs.
Painkillers also can’t be mandated. Does anyone wonder what happens to the scores of children with autism who are currently being arrested in schools for exhibiting behaviors associated with the disability? Many are routed to “psychiatric courts” where treatments are decided by judges (HERE).Those “treatments” tend to fall in line with National Institute of Mental Health guidelines. The mandated drugging of people in institutions and correctional facilities, and among children in foster care (those drugged against parental consent) and remanded juvenile offenders represents a good slice of drug profits.
In any event, the distinction of “neuroleptics as painkillers” only holds until the side effects kick in. The current generation of antipsychotics— the “atypicals” once marketed as an improvement over the “old”, “bad” drugs like Thorazine—are nearly identical to older neuroleptics in terms of side effect profiles. Atypicals, like the older generation of drugs, have the capacity to induce agonizing and lethal conditions such as tardive dyskinesia, respiratory dyskinesia (often labeled “asthma”, “COPD”, etc.), tardive dementia, tardive psychosis, lethal cardiometabolic disorder, organ failure, GI disorders, mass brain cell death, diabetes, dystonia, suicide, gynecomastia, violence (especially on withdrawal) and much more. Current antipsychotics still induce Parkinsonism: the “flat” emotional affect—a primary, not “side”, effect of the drugs—is merely a “larval” phase of the condition.
Antipsychotics—old and new—also induce lipid metabolism, demyelinating and mitochondrial disorders which either mimic various genetic conditions (like Neimann-Pick’s), or which fully add up to conditions previously thought to be solely genetic such as MELAS (Mitochondrial encephalomyopathy, lactic acidosis, and stroke-like episodes). MELAS shows certain lab findings which overlap with autism.
In patients who take them, regardless of observable manifestation of side effects, neuroleptics induce or increase the appearance of certain proteins in cerebrospinal fluid which are markers for Alzheimer’s and dementia. These proteins— APO-D or apolipoprotein D— are abnormally elevated to some degree in those with autism, schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s who were never exposed to neuroleptic drugs. But after treatment with antipsychotics, the levels of APO proteins among schizophrenics and Alzheimer’s patients were shown to rise considerably. So here is evidence that neuroleptics actually make some of the clinical dysfunction underlying schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s worse—and it’s not unreasonable to predict this might also be true for autism.
Making conditions worse isn’t a great PR tagline for drug corporations. Insofar as industry does not wish for its drugs’ side effects to be widely understood, it also won’t tolerate the compounded menace of autism recovery science. Autism recovery science doesn’t just point to vaccine/environmental cause or pose safer and actually effective treatment options which result in direct treatment competition for pharma’s blockbuster drugs. Autism recovery science also—by incidentally corroborating the overlaps in types of brain damage induced by both vaccines and psychopharmaceuticals—potentially threatens PY for every cognitive, behavioral or psychiatric condition targeted by drug makers.
Furthermore, just as the existence of an unvaccinated population is threatening to industry because it provides the study “control” for comparison of injury rates, a drug-naïve population of children with autism provides a clearer picture of just which cellular processes are being disrupted and what might be causing the disruptions to begin with. Just as important, the existence of a drug-naïve population also spoils the pretense that adverse drug effects are attributable to autism itself—a “misattribution of contingency” that’s been played with nearly every drug side effect since “mental health” drugs were first marketed.
The fact that children within the autism recovery community have such low psychiatric drugging rates when compared to the 70% of developmentally disabled children in the general population is a threat that won’t be allowed to stand without a fight. As psychopharmaceutical expert Dr. Grace Jackson argues in her most recent book, “Drug Induced Dementia: The Perfect Crime” (HERE), distinguishing what underlies certain forms of behavioral disorders—whether these conditions are genetic or environmental, preventable or treatable— becomes more and more difficult as drug exposure increases and skews the evidence.
Dr. Jackson, not incidentally, describes herself as a “big fan” of Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s “elegant” theory. Her book is the source for the above information on drug-induced mitochondrial dysfunction, lipid storage disorders and biomarkers for dementia. In 2007, I saw her present a case study of a typical seven year old boy who developed severe symptoms of autism when exposure to the drug Depakote compounded asymptomatic brain damage and mitochondrial dysfunction from chemotherapy treatment several years earlier. For an example of evidence-skewing, according to Dr. Jackson’s research, valproic acid apparently has a dozen or so overlaps with the effects of thimerosal and other vaccine toxins on the brain, including elevated serum ammonia, lipid metabolism damage, evidence of Alzheimer’s Type II astrocytosis; tubulin, glutamate, glutamine and carnitine disruption; myelin damage, alteration of cytokine activity and mitochondrial damage. During the Autism Omnibus, a government attorney admitted that pre or neonatal exposure to Depakote could cause autism. Aside from his excessive confidence in stating age limits of exposure, the attorney’s statement was backed up by a 2008 study (HERE).
As long as independent researchers can still differentiate the source of damage from one agent to another, the crime will not be perfect. The FDA helps to obfuscate these imperfections by making the statistical evidence of damage from drugs—which is supposed to be readily available through its Medwatch database—notoriously difficult to access. Add this to the fact that only about 10% of all adverse drug events are ever reported to Medwatch, and any search for injury and death statistics is a miserable procedure.
Fortunately, an activist and database programmer named Steven Helgeson figured out how to untangle the FDA Adverse Events Reporting System. He created a searchable site for the purpose of consumer education (HERE).
A quick search of the database by drug class, brand or generic drug name brings up the question of whether “death” is a particularly good selling point for drug corporations. As the autism recovery community finds itself, its doctors and information resources under increasing attacks by media and industry for advocating supposedly “dangerous” non-psychoactive treatments for autism, it’s interesting to note that the full dangers of the most common mainstream “treatments” for autism—the very psychoactive drugs frequently recommended by the industry “experts” these media sources quote— are never mentioned. Or the drugs are mentioned so gingerly and fleetingly one might think the subject had nothing to do with the interactive GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck and Pfizer ads on these publications’ sidebars or the ads which appear like Freudian experimental poetry embedded in cached blog pages. (Managing Editor's Note, Click photo to enlarge, pardon the pun.)
In fact, while the mainstream media in the UK and US might protest the excessive drugging of certain populations deemed not to “need” the drugs (note the title of the Chicago Tribune article: “Psychotropic Drugs Given to Nursing Home Patients Without Cause”, HERE ), the same outrage has been largely absent when it comes to the deadly drugging of more “disturbing” populations, such as those with autism and schizophrenia. This disconnect on drugs is a media tradition: in the 1970s, the same publications which decried the use of neuroleptics as a form of torture against Soviet dissidents showed only contempt for the struggle of the “Mad Rights” movement to ban forced drugging in institutions. That members of the media may love grandma and despise designated foes of Democracy is not proof of principled reporting—only that the shape of reality may vary according to agenda and again, the perceived expendability of certain human beings.
We’ve all seen the repeated coverage of the tragic and avoidable death of Tariq Nadama in news items denouncing the dangers of autism recovery treatments. Tariq was given the wrong chelator (HERE ), for which his parents rightfully sued the physician responsible. There have been two other reported deaths from hypocalcemia as a result of the same medical mistake in the past seven years, though only the Nadama case involved a child with autism.
Using Steve Helgeson’s Medwatch-decrypting database, below is a list of US deaths due to just some of the drugs promoted on the NIMH autism website within a four year period. Helgeson reports that some of the cases of death associated with individual drugs were left out due to being listed irregularly on Medwatch, therefore the numbers below are conservative.
Number of deaths by drug between 2004 and 2008:
Risperdal : 308: Abilify: 213: Zyprexa: 417; Geodon: 140; Haldol: 46; Prozac: 371; Celexa: 411; Zoloft: 356; Luvox: 15; Anafranil: 16; Valium: 269; Ativan: 109; Ritalin: 76
The above death statistics include death by suicide, homicide, prenatal/neonatal death and “other”, such as drug-induced cardiac arrest, stroke, organ failure, etc.
Some might take exception to the use of suicide stats in the overall numbers, even though suicide statistics are far higher for those on the drugs than among unexposed patients with the same conditions. Objections are usually based on yet another goofy industry theory which sounds like something extemporized by a tween. It’s called “roll-back”. The idea goes something like this: people who are depressed don’t have enough energy to kill themselves but, when first taking antidepressants or other psychotropes—before the supposed “anti” part kicks in—the drugs perk them up enough to carry out their preexisting suicide plans.
The roll-back hypothesis doesn’t explain the sudden mania, violence and suicides among people given the wrong drug by pharmacy mistake (i.e., Xanax instead of Zantac; Celexa instead of Celebrex), and those without psychiatric or violent histories who take the drugs for nonpsychiatric purposes (temporary insomnia, etc.). And, as Grace Jackson asks rhetorically in her first book, “Rethinking Psychiatric Drugs”, how much energy does it take to perform the easiest form of suicide going—the intentional overdose? The theory is stupid, really, and the drugs are known to induce a condition called akathisia, which can range from “restlessness” to a sense of profound inner torture (HERE). Anything which potentially induces akathisia-like psychosis— such as the antimalarial Lariam, the anti-viral Tamiflu, and all classes of psychoactives to varying degrees— can induce violence and suicide. Many of the suicides and homicides we hear about in the news involving children in general and children with autism also involved psychiatric drugs (HERE).
Though he says he’s working on it, deaths by anticonvulsants and “mood stabilizers” are not included in Helgeson’s database yet. According to another breakdown of the FDA AERS website, a total of 1,601 deaths are listed for “other” psychoactive drugs between 2004 and 2006 (two years less than the software’s search period), among 6,907 reported deaths from all classes of psychopharmaceuticals.
6,907 in two years. That’s two 9/11’s or the equivalent of 27 to 28 fully-loaded Boeing 737s dropping out of the sky every year. Since the reported statistics are estimated to be only one-tenth of the actual toll, imagine 69,070 deaths every two years—that’s 278.5 737s fatally crashing to the ground year in, year out.
Every drug war has its casualties. For another analogy, pharma makes Ciudad Juarez look like a resort town. This seems more the case now that the Supreme Court has approved unlimited campaign contributions by what are frequently international corporate conglomerates. The cartels control everything.
In response to my emailed remarks over the Chicago Tribune’s pre-Thanksgiving hit piece on autism recovery proponents, scientists and treatments (“Autism treatments: Risky alternative therapies have little basis in science”), Trine Tsouderos sent me the stock reply that everyone else got, except for one little addendum:
Thank you for your note.
I am sorry we cannot agree on the issue, but we stand by our conclusions, which are based on exhaustive research and talking with some of the most highly regarded, best-credentialed experts in the field. I can assure you GlaxoSmithKline did not have anything to do with these articles.
Best wishes and hope you and your family have a lovely Thanksgiving, Trine
She can’t fool me. There’s no Thanksgiving in Juarez. My initial email to Tsouderos remarked on the two Glaxo ads which appeared next to her online article.
Now can anyone guess which psych drug wins the distinction of highest death count according to the FDA’s Medwatch database? GSK’s antidepressant Paxil. With a once-a-day price tag of over $1,500 a year, Paxil racked up 1,139 reported deaths in a four year period. GSK also has a glutamate-targeting antipsychotic in the pipeline, and is the maker of Tagamet and other “tummy” meds that children within the vaccine injury movement no longer seem to use to any great degree.
GlaxoSmithKline is the maker of the British MMR and more than 25 other vaccines for the global market, including H1N1, seasonal flu, human papillomavirus and the Engerix B vaccine which contained thimerosal up to 2007 and which—when compared to other Hepatitis B vaccines— was associated with the highest incidence of CNS inflammatory demyelination (HERE).
GSK also makes the anticonvulsants Keppra, and the blockbuster dual anticonvulsant/sixth-highest-selling antipsychotic Lamictal, with a once-a-day price tag of $1,883 a year. Since Lamictal is not yet listed on Steve Helgeson’s search site, we can only wonder how many of the 1,601 deaths from “other drugs” indicated on Medwatch were due to the use of Lamictal as an antipsychotic. I have to differentiate this from Lamictal’s use as an antiepilepsy drug, both because deaths of children who suffer from seizure disorders would generally not make the FDA drug-death roster (seizures become the alibi for almost any cause of death); and because I know that parents who give these drugs to children for severe seizures have no choice. The death toll among children with seizures and autism is generally attributable to “autism” itself as the rate of deadly seizure disorders among vaccine injured children rise every year.
This obviously wasn’t factored into Eli Lilly’s profit formula. Many children with autism don’t make it to age 9, much less age 76. Add to this the predictable death toll from psychopharmaceuticals, and it looks like PY=P×Y might need retooling.
I think it’s as cruel to judge parents cornered into drugging children who try to gouge out their own eyes and gnaw off their fingers as it is to judge parents forced to use anticonvulsants to keep vaccine-induced seizures from killing their children. For one, once in, it’s murder to get out: withdrawal from these drugs is often extraordinarily dangerous. And though the drugs themselves can induce self-injury, obsessive behaviors and violence, some children with autism intractably self-mutilate prior to drug exposure. I have friends who live under these shadows and I sometimes open emails from them like I’m pulling crime scene tape off their doors. I never know when the worst of all possible news might come. But no one hates these medications more than those forced to use them at gunpoint, and who know perfectly well that these drugs are often manufactured by the very companies marketing the vaccines which robbed them of their once healthy children.
In any case, Paul Offit—eight figure vaccine profiteer, PR capo, epidemic denier— put it well when he said that hope is “dangerous”. He’s right, it is. He actually indicated “false hope”, but false to him is real enough to many and the meaning is clear considering what’s at stake. It’s politically dangerous for scientists and families to provide or pursue hope because this can only be done by exposing cause. Even success brings home the horror of what’s been lost by showing that it never had to happen to begin with. And hope undeniably represents dire straits for unregulated industry.
Because industry can’t and won’t compete with this:
they give us this:
Adriana Gamondes is an Age of Autism Contributing Editor and one of the Facebook administrators. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and recovering twins.
WARNING: Withdrawal from psychiatric drugs and sedatives can often be more dangerous than continuing on a medication. It is important to withdraw extremely slowly from these drugs, often over a period of a year or more under the supervision of a qualified specialist. Withdrawal side effects are sometimes more severe than the original symptoms or problems, though many withdrawal effects resolve with time.
For more information on drug side effects and a professional guide to withdrawal methods and risks, see Dr. Peter Breggin’s Your Drug May Be Your Problem, often viewed as the PDR of adverse psychopharmaceutical effects.
Pharm-Free Resource List for information on psych drug-free recovery and prevention of autism and related disorders (also see blog sidebar for organizations), drug side effects, media reports, coercive legislation, legislative activism and where to get help:
Special Needs Kids Go Pharm Free: Nutrition Focused Tools to Help Minimize Meds and Maximizing Health and Well-Being by Judy Converse, MPH, LD, RD
Healing and Preventing Autism: A Complete Guide by Jenny McCarthy and Dr. Jerry Kartzinel
Medication Madness: A Psychiatrist Exposes the Dangers of Mood Altering Drugs by Dr. Peter Breggin
Pharmageddon by Dr. David Healy
Drug Induced Dementia: A Perfect Crime by Dr. Grace Jackson
For a frequently updated interactive database on drug risks as well as a comprehensive adverse events reporting site, Rxisk was created by reform psychiatrist Dr. David Healy, advocacy journalist Robert Whitaker and an international panel of drug and data experts as an alternative to the FDA’s increasingly unnavigable Medwatch site.
For a long list of resource links and a media database on drug risks, illegal prescribing practices, news on legislative activism and research fraud, visit Psychrights founded by Zyprexa Papers whistleblower, attorney Jim Gottstein.
Former law librarian and activist Vera Hasner Sharav founded Alliance for Human Research Protection, one of the oldest and most influential medical rights advocacy networks in the US which focuses on corruption in human trials and drug and vaccine risks and marketing fraud. Ms. Sharav contributed a chapter to Vaccine Epidemic by Mary Holland and Louise Kuo Habakus.
Alternative treatment resource list from International Society for Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry.