Drug Comanies And Children's Mental Health
By Dr John Read, Psychology Dept, University of Auckland
In light of GlaxoSmithKline's reported recent threat to take Pharmac to court 'after publishing reported links between popular antidepressant Aropax, or Paroxetine, and adolescent suicide.' and 'The UK has banned SSRIs [the new controversial type of antidepressant * which includes Aropax] for children and teens despite intense lobbying from pharmaceutical companies.' and 'The Ministry of Health yesterday decided not to ban SSRIs for teenagers despite the US and UK warnings.' (NZHERALD 25.3.04 p. A4)*****.
I have just this week returned from a lecture tour of the USA, the only other country in the world where direct-to-consumer drug advertising is legal. I spoke at New York University, the University of Pennsylvania and the Washington School of Psychiatry about our new book 'Models of Madness' (London: Brunner-Routledge - written with 23 other researchers and clinicians from 6 countries) which documents the negative effect of the pharmaceutical industry on mental health services internationally. The simplistic biological and genetic explanations of mental health problems promulgated by the drug companies have turned all sorts of life problems into 'illnesses' requiring their products. The result has been devastating all over the world, with distressed people being offered chemical solutions rather than being helped to address whatever was depressing or worrying them..
This latest example of the drug companies' prioritising of profits over the wellbeing of New Zealanders, in this case our children, is really quite astonishing. To quibble over whether the UK ban on these drugs was based on increased thinking about suicide or an increase in actual suicides is typical of what happens when the need to reward shareholders competes with the need to provide safe and effective health care. Thank goodness New Zealand has an agency, in Pharmac, that stands up to this powerful lobbying group. No wonder the drug companies are constantly harassing and denigrating Pharmac.
The recent massive increase in New Zealand in the prescriptions of anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, anti-impotence, anti-being overweight and anti-having difficulties concentrating and sitting still (so-called 'ADHD') should be of great concern to all of us. Are we really all more disturbed than we were ten years ago or have the drug companies' pulled off a brilliant marketing con on doctors and the public?.
The mental health division of the Ministry of Health, run almost entirely by psychiatrists with insufficient input from professionals with a more balanced and less medical perspective, should prioritise the wellbeing of New Zealand's children over the profit margins of drug companies. If the UK government, with its infinitely larger resources to properly investigate such an issue, has decided to ban antidepressants for children and adolescents why are we not doing the same? New Zealand's children deserve the same protection from drugs that can increase the risk of suicide, as do British children.