Drug Companies: Killing Kids for Profit

child taking pill

(Thanks to the corporatization of health care, Americans pay double what other countries pay for health care but have much worse health. The recent Obamacare roll-out has heightened public awareness about the role of private insurance companies in sucking billions of health dollars out of the health care system. There is far less scrutiny of the role of Big Pharma in driving up health care costs.

This is the second of several posts on “disease mongering” by pharmaceutical companies  – i.e. the invention of fictitious diseases to market drugs that supposedly treat them.)

Practicing psychiatry for eight years in New Zealand has given me a unique perspective on childhood bipolar disorder. Also known as pediatric bipolar disorder (PBD), this is a condition virtually unknown outside of the US. Australian psychiatrist Dr. Peter Parry has undertaken detailed research into this condition, and a “conspiracy” by Eli Lilly and other drug companies to promote off-label use of antipsychotic drugs to children under 12. Yet another example of “disease mongering” by Big Pharma (see link) to encance their profits.

As well as publishing numerous papers on the PBD controversy, Parry also has a Powerpoint presentation he gives at grand rounds and conferences around the world. It includes internal Lilly and Janssen memos (available from his Healthy Skepticism website) about their innovative campaign to “medicalize” children’s misbehavior.

Thanks to their aggressive marketing of PBD to US doctors and parents, American children as young as two are being started on antipsychotics for extreme anger and behavioral problems

Breaking the Law: Good Business Practice

Prescribing “off-label” refers to using medication for an indication that hasn’t been approved by the FDA. As yet no antipsychotics have been approved for use in children. Moreover, it violates federal law for drug companies to market medications to doctors or the public for “off-label” uses. Yet because the fines imposed are minuscule, compared to the massive profit potential of off-label marketing, it’s considered good business practice to pay the fine and keep on doing it anyway.

Diagnostic Criteria for Bipolar Disorder

Parry’s slideshow starts with studies comparing US attitudes about BPD in the UK, Germany, New Zealand and Australia. Most foreign psychiatrists either don’t recognize pediatric bipolar disorder as a diagnosis or regard it as extremely rare. According to Parry, the discrepancy revolves mainly around an insistence (outside the US) that both children and adults manifest symptoms of true mania to be diagnosed bipolar. Over the past 10-15 years, an increasing number of industry-funded psychiatric researchers have been claiming that extreme temper outbursts, rages and rapidly changing moods are a “manic” equivalent in children.

They also claim that children with extreme mood swings will go on to develop true bipolar illness in adulthood, making early treatment essential. This despite studies showing that most kids with PBD  “outgrow” it as adults. (Although it seems more likely they never had it to begin with.)

What Parry finds particularly horrifying is that American child psychiatrists are diagnosing kids bipolar and starting them on antipsychotics without taking a developmental history to rule out the most common cause of extreme anger and behavioral problems – namely child abuse and attachment difficulties.

Putting Psychiatric Experts on the Payroll

That being said, he puts the blame for the dangerous fad of prescribing unapproved antipsychotic drugs for children squarely where it belongs: on multinational drug companies. In the US, most child psychiatrists are naturally uneasy prescribing dangerous antipsychotic medication for kids. They have to be egged on by esteemed researchers issuing stern warnings about ruining a child’s future life by “missing” a the diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

Too bad these self-proclaimed PBD experts are so careless about disclosing conflicts of interest, in the form of hundreds of thousands of dollars in of drug company research grants and consultant fees. This has only come out in subsequent lawsuits and ethical investigations.

Death and Other Dangerous Complications

The complications of antipsychotic treatment in children fall into four broad categories: death, severe medical complications, social exclusion and delayed emotional development.

1. Death

15 years of FDA adverse incident reports (which typically capture only 1% of adverse drug events) directly implicates antipsychotic use in children with scores of deaths:

2000-2004: 45 deaths (source)

2006: 29 deaths (source)

2.  Severe Medical Complications

Antipsychotics tend to cause massive weight gain – often as much as 100 pounds – a common cause of diabetes. In addition a disfiguring neurological disorder called tardive dyskinesia that occurs in 6-9% of children who take antipsychotics. The tics and writhing movements associated with tardive dyskinesia often persist permanently, even after the medication is stopped.

3. Social exclusion

Labeling a child with a mental illness, particularly if they are taking a medications that cause sedation, extreme weight gain and/or tics has an extremely detrimental effect on social relationships that are absolutely vital to normal child development.

4. Delayed emotional development

Sedating a child who has difficulty regulating anger and extreme moods only further delays the process of learning to regulate their emotions themselves.

Below a video from a mom whose son died from antipsychotic complications:

photo credit: me and the sysop via photopin cc

13 thoughts on “Drug Companies: Killing Kids for Profit

  1. The video is so extremely sad. She lost her son due to psychiatric drugs and no one was probably held liable. And with the FDA in bed with big pharma, there is no accountability, nor is there a ‘holding of feet to the fire’, not with the FDA officials getting kick-backs for basically looking the other way in regards to adverse side effects.

    And what are they doing about the drug Risperdal and the fact that is has been linked with causing young boys to develop breasts? Is anybody really taking the fact that these drugs are bad, seriously? If there are studies, than there is much that is getting past the studies and into the general populace. And only after people start having adverse effects, are we finding out about potential problems. Law suits don’t really solve anything because if the drug companies have to pay out damages, the drugs are still on the market and are still being prescribed, religiously and therefore, they’ll not miss a beat as far as payment for their destructive products go.

    This is something else that just makes my blood boil. I will stay tuned to watch for more posts on this as I see so many clients who are caught up in this mental non-health field and they’re suffering all the more for it.

    Thank you again, StuartBramhall for posting this.


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  5. We live in such a cruel and sadistic society. I don’t understand how greed can drive human beings to commit such unconscionable crimes, and it’s the greed of those who already have far more than they’ll ever need


    • NFR, I have already asked myself this – a lot. I found the film Inside Story extremely enlightening in this regard. If you look at how some of these CEOs live, working 60 hours a week and driving back and forth in their air conditioned limousines. They become totally isolated from nature and the rest of the community – I’ve come to believe that intimate contact with both is essential to maintain emotional and intellectual ballance.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting article about doctors failing to assess kids on antipsychotics for impaired glucose metabolism. I have a problem with the conclusion they draw – that kids on antipsychotics need better screening. The real problem here is that psychiatrist shouldn’t be prescribing antipsychotics for children. The FDA has never approved them for use in children because there is no research regarding their safety and efficacy in kids.


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