Women of childbearing years represent the most lucrative market for the makers of psychiatric drugs. The knowledge that infants were being born with birth defects and suffering a withdrawal syndrome when these drugs were used during pregnancy was hidden for decades. Knowledge of these terrible risks would have caused a major drop in sales to this customer base.
Ever since the warnings about birth defects started trickling out a few years ago, the drug companies apparently have been plotting to find ways to reverse their negative impact. But the most sinister plot ever developed is a bill moving for approval in the US Senate right now called the “Melanie Blocker-Stokes Mother’s Act,” to set up the screening of all pregnant women for mental illness.
The bill is promoted under the ruse of screening for postpartum depression. But a true picture of the target population of this massive drug pushing scheme is evident in the propaganda submitted to support the passage of the original bill in the US House of Representatives and the programs already in place in various states.
The legislation was first introduced in the House in January 2007 by Illinois Democrat Bobby Rush. Under “Background and Need for Legislation,” House Report 110-375 states in part:
“Depression is twice as common in women as it is in men, with its peak incidence during the primary reproductive years–ages 25 to 45. Because women are more likely to experience depression during these years, they are especially vulnerable to developing depression during pregnancy and after childbirth.”
In February 2007, the “Postpartum Mood Disorders Prevention Act,” was introduced in Illinois. The orchestrated attempts to pass this bill included planting reports in the media with claims that pregnant women are at risk for a whole list of mental disorders. For instance, on March 1, 2007 an article in the Naperville Sun stated:
“New moms face increased risks for not only postpartum depression, but also bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety and other disorders, according to one of the largest studies of psychiatric illness after childbirth.”
The websites set up by the industry-backed front groups supporting the Mother’s Act have links to programs that claim new mothers need to be screened for “postpartum” depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, psychosis, anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, and eating disorders.
When extending the drug-net to all pregnant women, the groups omit the term “postpartum” and claim women need to be screened for “perinatal” (which means both before and following birth) disorders. In December 2007, Illinois enacted “The Perinatal Mental Health Disorders Prevention and Treatment Act,” with the stated purpose “to increase awareness and to promote early detection and treatment of perinatal depression.”
But here again, the mention of “depression” only is deceiving because the websites of hospitals in Illinois show they are screening for the entire gamut of disorders mentioned above. Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove offers “Perinatal Depression Support Services.”
“Any woman who is thinking about becoming pregnant, is pregnant, or had a baby within the past year can be affected by depression or other mood disorders,” their website says.
“Mental health screening under the guise of identifying individuals who are impaired from some supposed mental disturbance is typically simply another front for pharmaceutical marketing,” according to Dr Bose Revenel, co-author with psychologist John Rosemond of the new book The Diseasing of America’s Children.
“Most are funded or the initiative is provided via pharmaceutical companies and medications are typically promoted as a supposed ‘solution,'” he says.
“The problem here is that, among other things, the drugs promoted have been shown to have potentially serious side effects and their effectiveness compared to placebo only trivial,” Dr Revenel reports.
“Furthermore,” he says, “the campaign ignores safe and potentially effective interventions such as dietary and nutritional changes and supplements as well as cognitive therapy – all of which are completely free of potential adverse effects, with effectiveness that rivals or exceeds that of the drugs.”
“If the screening only picked up women likely to benefit from treatment, then maybe it would be justified,” says Dr David Healy, a leading expert on psychiatric drugs from the UK and author of The Creation of Psychopharmacology.
“But screening will pick up a quarter or a third or more of all pregnant women and will lead to many of these being treated who do not need treatment,” he warns. “Over 25% of women might be diagnosed where very few of those are likely to need treatment.”
Although no psychotropic drug has FDA approval for use during pregnancy, the recommended treatment for all these so-called “disorders” consists of the newest most expensive antidepressants, antipsychotics, and anticonvulsants. The common practice is to prescribe three or four different drugs at a time for years on end.
The antipsychotics that will benefit as a result of the Mother’s Act include Seroquel by AstraZeneca, Risperdal marketed by Janssen, a division of Johnson & Johnson, Geodon by Pfizer, Abilify from Bristol-Myers Squibb, Novartis’ Clozaril, and Eli Lilly’s Zyprexa.
Lilly also sells two antidepressants, Prozac and Cymbalta, and Symbyax, a combination of Zyprexa and Prozac. The other SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) and SNRI (selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor) antidepressants include GlaxoSmithKline’s Paxil and Wellbutrin, Pfizer’s Zoloft, Celexa and Lexapro from Forest Labs, Luvox by Solvay, and Wyeth’s Effexor.
Pregnancy as a cottage industry
New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez is the lead sponsor of the Mother’s Act in the Senate. New Jersey is home to a long list of drug companies. The bill was first introduced in May 2007, but was stuck in committee until Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid introduced an $11 billion omnibus package called “Advancing America’s Priorities Act.” Senator Reid tried to get the Act passed on July 22, 2008 by slipping it in the omnibus, but failed.
The Act is supported by a drug-funded coalition bent on turning pregnancy into a cottage industry. On September 25, 2008, Susan Dowd Stone, a member of “Postpartum Support International (PSI),” self-described as the “bill’s lead organizational sponsor,” issued a Legislation Update, obviously to pump out propaganda through the internet.
“Hundreds of thousands of women across the country suffer at the hands of postpartum depression every year, and they deserve better than the ideological games being played with legislation intended to bring them relief,” Senator Menendez declares in the Update.
“This is a cause I am committed to seeing through, and I will continue to stand up on behalf of mothers suffering from this condition until the blockade is cleared,” he vows.
“We will again await its inevitable passage at the next Congressional session when reason may more strongly prevail,” Ms Stone writes in the Update.
A gal named Katherine Stone runs the “Postpartum Progress” blog, described as the “most widely-read blog in the United States on these illnesses.” She serves on PSI’s board of directors as the public relations outreach chairwoman.
Her blog provides links to the “Top Women’s PPMD Treatment Programs & Specialists.” Dr Shari Lusskin is listed as a “top” specialist. She is an advisory council member for PSI. On her website under “Pregnancy-related Mood Disorders,” the standard talking point about “pregnancy related mood disorders” being prevalent is restated as follows:
“Panic Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Eating Disorders may also develop or worsen during pregnancy and postpartum. Women with Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, or Schizoaffective Disorder are particularly vulnerable during pregnancy and postpartum.”
A May 28, 2005 presentation brochure shows Dr Lusskin is a paid speaker for Glaxo, AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Wyeth.
The postpartum blogs are also used to sell books written by the “experts” and promote drug company funded conferences. For instance, on May 13, 2008, Postpartum Progress put out an ad for a June 25, 2008 conference at the University of Minnesota, titled, “Motherhood, Mood Disorders & Anxiety: Before & After Pregnancy.” The listed sponsors included AstraZeneca and the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), the most notorious industry backed front group on the planet.
Eli Lilly is logically the top giver to NAMI and many other front groups because it has the most drugs to peddle. Several class action lawsuits currently filed against Lilly specifically allege that Lilly funneled money to NAMI to aid in the off-label marketing of Zyprexa.
Between 2003 and 2005, Lilly donated $3 million to NAMI, according to the May 28, 2006 Philadelphia Inquirer. Lilly’s disclosure records show NAMI groups received more than $700,000 from the company in the first quarter of 2008. NAMI’s 2007 Annual Report lists Abbott Labs, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers, Eli Lilly, Forest Labs, Glaxo, Janssen, Pfizer, Wyeth and Solvay as “Corporate Partners.”
The NAMI website reports that the “National Depression Screening Day” and the “Stop a Suicide Today” campaign are endorsed by the American Psychiatric Association and are conducted in partnership with the American Association of Suicidology, Suicide Prevention Action Network USA, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Suicide Prevention Resource Center, and Mental Health America.
In 2006, the pharmaceutical industry accounted for about 30% of the American Psychiatric Association’s $62.5 million in financing, according to the July 12, 2008 New York Times. Lilly’s first quarter grant report for 2007 shows Lilly provided the APA with two grants worth over $412,000. The Suicide Prevention Action Network received $10,000 from Lilly in the first quarter of 2007.
Mental Health America’s annual report shows the group received over $1 million from Bristol-Myers, Lilly and Wyeth in 2006. Janssen and Pfizer gave between $500,000 and $1,000,000, and AstraZeneca and Forest Labs donated between $100,000 and $499,000. Glaxo gave the group between $50,000 and $100,000 in 2006.
Other funding sources listed on the MHA website include three treatment centers for eating disorders with links to their websites. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders estimates that the average cost of private inpatient treatment is $30,000 or more a month, according to an April 27, 2006 report by Women’s enews.
On May 21, 2008, the president of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (“DBSA”), Sue Bergeson, posted a message on Bipolarconnect.com, saying Illinois Senator Dick Durbin’s office had called to say they were having “a hard time making headway” with the Mother’s Act. She informed readers that “more than 800,000 women will develop a diagnosable postpartum mood disorder this year! And this number doesn’t include the 7.5% of women who will develop major depression during pregnancy.”
At the end of the article, Ms Bergeson provided a link and urged people to take “30 seconds” to send a letter to their Senators.
The 2006 Annual Report of DBSA shows AstraZeneca gave the group more than $500,000 in 2006. Companies that donated between $150,000 and $499,000 include Abbott, Bristol-Myers and Wyeth. Forest Labs, Glaxo, Janssen, Pfizer, and Shire Pharmaceuticals each gave between $10,000 and $149,000. Lilly is listed in the section titled, “Matching Gift Companies,” in the report.
Battle lines drawn
A number of influential advocacy groups have come out against the Act including the International Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology; Alliance for Human Research Protection; International Coalition For Drug Awareness; Law Project for Psychiatric Rights, Mindfreedom International, AbleChild, and the National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy.
The website, UniteForLife.org is run by Amy Philo, the Texas mother at the forefront of the “Unite for Life” campaign against the Act. Amy’s story provides a poster perfect example of what will happen to hundreds of thousands of women all over the county if the bill is passed.
Amy was labeled mentally ill and told she needed to be on drugs by a nurse making a home visit simply because she got very upset after watching her first-born infant almost choke to death a few days after he was born.
When she followed the nurse’s advice and went to the doctor, the Ob-Gyn would not even take two minutes to listen to Amy talk about what had happened or allow her to explain why she was experiencing such over-whelming fear and anxiety.
Instead of viewing this young mother’s reaction to the near-death of her infant as a normal response, the doctor told her she had a panic attack and sent her home with samples packets of the antidepressant, Zoloft, to prevent postpartum depression, apparently expecting her to get over her traumatic experience by taking a pill.
There were no warning labels on the samples and the doctor did not alert Amy to any of the potential side effects. “He told me Zoloft was perfectly safe for me and the baby and it would make my baby happy too,” she recalls.
Within three days, the Zoloft pushed Amy into a state where she started having thoughts of first killing her baby and later of killing her husband, her mother, herself and even her pets. When Amy confessed to having these thoughts, instead of recognizing the side effects of Zoloft and stopping the drug, the medical professionals upped the dose, locked her up in a mental ward away from her baby, and tried to add Zyprexa, to the mix.
They never told Amy why they wanted her to take Zyprexa, but the sheet they gave her said it was for schizophrenia, she recalls. Amy refused to take it because she wanted to nurse and was afraid the drug would harm the baby.
She finally lied her way out of the hospital by claiming she no longer had the bizarre thoughts because she wanted to be with her baby and family. But in reality, Amy battled the obsession with suicide and homicide for months waiting for Zoloft to work.
“The constant ideas of homicide were followed by thoughts of suicide to protect my son from me,” she says. “I never had thoughts like this in my life before I took Zoloft.”
They also tried to get Amy to take the sleeping pill, Ambien, the anti-anxiety drug, Klonopin, and Celexa, another antidepressant, even though she was nursing. “I always just said no to those,” Amy says.
The Ob-Gyn told Amy that she might have to remain on Zoloft for life and without the drug she was not in control enough to have more children. The pediatrician told her, “what’s really scary is that PPD seems to get worse each time and you have a 90% chance of getting it after your next baby,” she recalls.
She finally quit taking the Zoloft against medical advice and the obsessive thoughts of homicide and suicide stopped and never returned. Amy and her husband have since had a second child with no problem whatsoever without the Zoloft.
She recently obtained copies of her medical records, which show she was labeled with obsessive-compulsive disorder and major depression. Those stigmatizing labels will remain in her records forever with no acknowledgment that Zoloft caused the ordeal.
“Antidepressant-induced mania commonly results in a false diagnosis of a new disorder leading to stigmatization and a possible lifetime of unnecessary, harmful treatment with drugs,” says Dr Peter Breggin, author of the new book, Medication Madness, and the man often referred to as the “conscience of psychiatry.”
Drug companies have a big financial incentive to promote these drugs. According to DrugStore.com, a 30-day supply of 20 mg Zyprexa costs $725.93. A 30-day supply of 100 mg Zoloft is $104.84. Klonopin costs $65.93 for 30-days of 2 mg tablets. The price of a 30-day supply of 10 mg Ambien is $145.99, and 20 mg Celexa costs $96.99 for 30-days. Amy’s two-day stay in the mental ward cost her family’s insurance company about $8,000 and an $800 co-payment for Amy and her husband.
The assertion that all these sick women are going without treatment is absurd. More prescriptions are written for psychiatric drugs every year in this country than for antibiotics or diabetes medications. On June 30, 2008, CNN Money reported that, for the “sixth year in a row,” antidepressants were the number one class of drugs prescribed in the US in 2007. CNN cited a report by the pharmacy benefit manager, Medco Health Solutions, that said 16% of women ages 20-44 take antidepressants.
In 2007, the branded atypical antipsychotics generated $15.9 billion in manufacturer sales in the seven major global markets, with $12.3 billion of those sales in the US, according to an April 2008 report by Sandra Chow on the Decision Resources website.
Thousands of infants harmed
In a September 18, 2008 letter to members of Congress urging them to vote against the Mother’s Act, Unite For Life reported that the estimated number of antidepressant-caused infant deaths and injuries over the past four years, based on data from the FDA’s MedWatch, were: 4,360 babies born with serious or life-threatening birth defects; 4,160 babies born with potentially fatal heart defects or heart disease; 2,900 spontaneous abortions; and 3,000 premature births.
The so-called experts supporting the Mother’s Act constantly minimize the risks. However, a study titled, “Acute Neonatal Effects of Cocaine Exposure During Pregnancy,” in the September 2005 Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine describes adverse effects for cocaine exposed babies eerily similar to those in babies born to mothers taking antidepressants:
“Several central and autonomic nervous system findings, which included hypertonia, jitteriness or tremors, high-pitched cry, difficulty arousing, irritability, excessive suck, and hyperalertness, were noted more frequently on the initial physical examination in the cocaine-exposed cohort. During the hospitalization, the diagnoses of seizures and autonomic instability were more frequently noted in cocaine-exposed infants.”
The warnings and precautions section on current labeling for SSRIs and SNRIs contains the following statement:
Neonates exposed “late in the third trimester have developed complications requiring prolonged hospitalization, respiratory support, and tube feeding. … Reported clinical findings have included respiratory distress, cyanosis, apnea, seizures, temperature instability, feeding difficulty, vomiting, hypoglycemia, hypotonia, hypertonia, hyperreflexia, tremor, jitteriness, irritability, and constant crying. These features are consistent with either a direct toxic effect of SSRIs and SNRIs or, possibly, a drug discontinuation syndrome.”
Besides the agony endured by these infants and their families, the additional medical costs are enormous. In 2005, commercial insurers paid an average of $4,247 per day for babies in neonatal intensive care, according to Thomson Healthcare. Direct health care costs for a premature baby average $41,610 or 15 times higher than the $2,830 for a healthy, full-term delivery, a March of Dimes May 2007 report on Preterm Birth estimates.
Advocates of the Mother’s Act claim mental illness poses a greater risk to the mother than drug use to fetus. “The problem with this claim is that there is no consideration for the immense stress a mother has to endure when her baby is sick due to this drug use,” says Kate Gillespie, an attorney who handles birth defect litigation at the Los Angeles based Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman law firm.
“Not to mention the far greater stress that is created by having to constantly deal with life and death health issues, like severe heart defects and respiratory problems, such as persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn, caused by SSRI medication,” she notes.
Baum Hedlund is currently representing over 200 families whose babies were born with birth defects ranging from congenital heart defects to PPHN after the mothers used SSRIs.
(Written as part of the SSRI Litigation Round-Up, Sponsored by Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman‘s Pharmaceutical Litigation Department)