The question is what is TeenScreen, an Angel of Mercy for suicidal teens, or a pill-pushing front group for Pharma? After investigating the program, I'd have to say the latter.
Columbia University oversees the TeenScreen Program, which invented a survey to identify school children that are mentally ill. It was designed for kids between 9 and 18 years of age, and consists of a 52-item computerized interview that includes questions about depression, suicidal ideations or attempts, anxiety, and alcohol and drug abuse.
Columbia claims the survey can assesses the symptoms of eight mental disorders that are either associated with the risk of suicide or mental illness. On March 2, 2004, the program's Executive Director, Laurie Flynn, testified at a congressional hearing and said in the screening process, "youth complete a 10-minute self-administered questionnaire that screens for social phobia, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, major depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and suicidality."
This survey is already being administered in many schools all over the country. Suicide prevention is being used to justify it even after an evaluation of screening programs by the US Preventive Services Task Force found no evidence that screening reduces suicide attempts or mortality, and that there is limited evidence on the accuracy of screening tools to identify suicide risk.
About two years ago, TeenScreen hired the PR firm Rabin Strategic Partners. According to its website, when hired, the big question for Rabin was, "how to ensure that every teen in the US has access to this free mental health check-up?"
To accomplish that feat, the Firm said, "We provided our client with a ten-year strategy including the marketing, public policy and funding steps needed to go from here to there."
"We hired and managed public relations, lobbying and advertising services to implement the plan," Rabin wrote, "And now, on a daily basis, we help read the media and political environment to revise the plan." In a summary of progress on Jan 24, 2004, the PR Firm contends its strategy is paying off, "Programs are now established in more than 100 communities in 34 states. 19 national groups have endorsed ... screening for youth. There is a waiting list of 250 communities interested in screening programs. There are three relevant bills pending in Congress and six state governments are working on plans to spread screening programs statewide," it wrote.
Rabin lists 13 clients besides Columbia College on its website and five are from the pharmaceutical industry. It describes its TeenScreen client as "The Carmel Hill Center for the Early Diagnosis & Treatment of Mental Illness."
Now that's an honest description of TeenScreen, none of those phony comments about saving poor suicidal teens, just the facts, diagnose and treat. Kind of like regular pushers do everyday, go out and recruit new customers to sell more drugs to.
The truth is the survey is a fraud and cannot diagnose mental illness in kids. "The normally developing child hardly stays the same long enough to make stable measurements. Adult criteria for illness can be difficult to apply to children and adolescents, when the signs and symptoms of mental disorders are often also the characteristics of normal development," according to the US Surgeon General in 1999.
As noted by Canadian-American psychologist, educator and author Dr Daniel Burston, "any number of things that are, or could be, perfectly natural responses to an environment can be construed as a sign of mental disorder."
TeenScreen also serves no useful purpose because there are no proven safe and effective drug treatments for children. Clinical trials on the drugs the program is pushing, failed to show that they were any safer or more effective than sugar pills.
Who's Behind TeenScreen?
TeenScreen is just another front group set up to widen the prescription drug market in the US. These groups are bullhorns for the industry. Groups like TeenScreen issue press releases on the drastic rise in mental illness, the media repeats the stories, and a widening market follows. TeenScreen's goal is to infiltrate the nation's school system to reach the 52 million children who attend school, and get as many as possible hooked on these expensive drugs for life before they ever leave school. The fact is, legalized drug pushing is big business, and like with any other business, Pharma hires PR firms, develops media relationships, advertises its products, and pays big money to researchers and members of the medical profession to write reports to lend legitimacy to these brain-damaging drugs.
The industry doles out millions of dollars to front groups each year. It dreams up official sounding names to mask their true reason for existence. However most of the time a group's true colors can be detected by checking out its leadership to determine who controls the operation. The PR industry refers to front groups as "partners", and TeenScreen's top PR guy, Steve Rabin, is an expert at forming these partnerships. Over the years, in addition to Columbia University, his client list has included Abbott, AstraZeneca, Bayer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Glaxo Wellcombe, Hoffman-La Roche, Janssen-Cilag,, Lundbeck, Novartis, Pfizer, SmithKline Beecham, Wyeth-Ayerst and the National Alliance of the Mentally Ill.
The common thread in the pyramid of industry-supported groups is the fact that nearly all of the group leaders at the top are longstanding, honorary members of Pharma's undercover pill-pushing squad.
TeenScreen Leaders Refuse To Give Information
On its website, TeenScreen invites inquiries by saying, "If you are interested in learning more about starting a TeenScreen Program in your community or working on policy related issues, please contact the TeenScreen Program by e-mail at for information and assistance." When I decided to investigate the program, I emailed questions to four people in top administrative positions and said in part, "I am in the process of writing an article about the TeenScreen project and was wondering whether you could provide me with answers to the questions," that included, (1) Does your program have any information that indicates that the use of antidepressants has reduced suicide rates in children? (2) Who are the major funding sources for the TeenScreen project? (6) On your site you mention that TeenScreen is funded by private family foundations and that the program does not receive financial support from the government and is not affiliated with, or funded by, any pharmaceutical companies. Can you provide me with a list of the private family foundations that have supported your efforts?
I got no response from Executive Director Laurie Flynn, or Co-Deputy Director Robert Caruano. But Senior Program Coordinator Heather Scanlon said: "Because of the large volume of inquiries we receive and the small size of our staff, we are only able to respond personally to requests for help and information from individuals establishing local screening programs. There is an extensive set of materials about the TeenScreen Program on our website, which we hope will be helpful in providing more information about our program."
After Leslie McGuire, the Director, emailed me the exact same response, I decided to conduct my own investigation of the project.
Who's Paying For TeenScreen?
Taxpayers and Pharma are mutually funding this pill-pushing scheme, which over time, will result in a massive diversion of tax dollars to Pharma. The statement that "The program does not receive financial support from the government and is not affiliated with, or funded by, any pharmaceutical companies," is an outright lie.
What do they call this? In June 2002 the Update Newsletter, published by the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, reported that 170 students had completed a TeenScreen survey conducted by the NAMI and Columbia University. According to Update, the survey was funded through grants from AdvoCare and Eli Lilly.
The great news for Pharma was that 96 of the 170 students (over 50%) who filled out the survey ended up speaking to a therapist which no doubt means that Pharma was able to recruit 96 new pill-popping customers. In addition to drug money, plenty of government funding is earmarked for TeenScreen already, with more on the way. For instance, on October 21, 2004 President Bush authorized $82 million for suicide prevention programs like TeenScreen and a report in Psychiatric Times says the Bush administration "has proposed an increase in the budget of CMHS [Center for Mental Health Services] from $862 million in 2004 to $912 million in fiscal 2005." TeenScreen will no doubt get a good cut of that as well.
While testifying Flynn told Congress that states should divert money allocated for alcohol and drug abuse programs into projects like TeenScreen, and said:
Our experience shows that the government can support youth mental health screening by redirecting existing resources. For example, state and local education agencies can use Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities dollars to support school-based mental health services and suicide prevention activities. Both the federal and state governments must do a better job of encouraging local school districts to include mental health check-ups in their grant applications.
Make no doubt about it, tax payers are going to pay a huge price for allowing this marketing scheme to get students hooked on drugs. A list of drugs that must be used on the kids is already set up, modeled after a similar list used in Texas called the TMAP.
Here's how this part of the scheme works. The drug companies donate money to the states to implement these programs and then in return, state Medicaid programs fund the cost of the drugs with tax dollars.
For example, in Texas, Pfizer contributed $232,000 to the Texas department of mental health to "educate" mental health providers about TMAP, and in return, the Texas Medicaid program spent $233 million tax dollars on Pfizer drugs like Zoloft.
Johnson & Johnson (Janssen Pharmaceutica) contributed $224,000 to the state and Texas Medicaid spent $272 million on J & J antipsychotic drug, Risperdal.
Eli Lilly contributed $109,000 to "educate" state mental health providers and as a result, Texas Medicad spent $328 million for Lilly's antipsychotic drug Zyprexa.
Federal dollars are already being funneled through the state governments to fund TeenScreen. On Nov 17, 2004, Officials at the University of South Florida Department of Child & Family Studies announced receiving close to $10 million in federal funds and said $98,641 was awarded to expand the TeenScreen program in the Tampa Bay area.
The Florida pill-pushers are really hell bent on drugging kids. They claim it's possible to diagnose mental illness in infants. "Even before their first birthday, babies can suffer from clinical depression, traumatic stress disorder, and a variety of other mental health problems," the Florida Strategic Plan for Infant Mental Health claimed.
The truth is, the only beneficiaries of TeenScreen are the drug makers, politicians with campaigns funded by the industry, and the mental-health-provider-complex made up of psychiatrists, psychologists, mental institutions, and the pyramid of front groups, which all have a vested interest in broadening the drug customer base.
Robert Whitaker, author of the best-selling book Mad in America, tracked the profits from the sale of these so-called wonder drugs, and reviewed government data that revealed not only an astonishing increase in the use of the drugs, but a tremendous rise in the cost to taxpayers since 1987, the year after the new generation of wonder drugs were put on the market.
According to Whitaker, in 1987 psychotropic drug expenditures were approximately $1 billion, but by 2002 the cost had risen to $23 billion, 23 times the amount spent a mere 15 years earlier.
The rising costs are not going to slow down any time soon if Flynn has her way. While testifying, she said, "In 2003, we were able to screen approximately 14,200 teens… among those students, we were able to identify approximately 3,500 youth with mental health problems and link them with treatment. This year, we believe we will be able to identify close to 10,000 teens in need, a 300 percent increase over last year."
Study Flynn's estimates and then to the math. If the TeenScreen gravy train isn't stopped, each year more and more tax dollars will be funneled to Pharma through a steady stream of newly recruited student-customers, and the PR genius, Steve Rabin's 10-year strategy plan will be100% successful.
Evelyn J. Pringle is a columnist for Independent Media TV and an investigative journalist focused on exposing corruption in government. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other Articles by Evelyn J. Pringle
Pharma Trojan Horse Unleashed