On the Texas Mental Health System and Legislature
I am a psychologist deeply at odds with my own profession. To a great extent, our mental health system—institutionalized psychiatry—is a colossal failure and a harbinger of hopelessness. It is believed, despite the utter lack of scientific validation and any sort of independent objective indicators in diagnosis, that “mentally ill” people suffer from an incurable brain disease—a chemical imbalance—that can at best be kept under control with psychotropic drugs. That these drugs are toxic, addictive, and brain-disabling is considered a regrettable, but necessary inconvenience. The backup treatment is electroshock. For the “treated” millions, there is no cure. Long-term psychiatric patients die on average 25 years younger than their fellow citizens.
Psychiatry touts a pseudoscientific belief system as if it were validated science. As if this ethical disgrace is not bad enough, the mental health industry is rife with other major overt ethical failures. Most obvious are the massive conflicts of interest currently being revealed in the press, in large part due to the investigative work of Iowa Senator Charles Grassley and his staff. Many prominent researchers and industry spokespersons are now fighting for their professional lives as the hidden monies they received from Big Pharma are revealed. Psychiatry department chairs Charles Nemeroff ($1 million from GlaxoSmithKline alone) of Emory University, Martin Keller of Brown University (associated with a severely compromised drug trial), and Alan Shatzberg of Stanford (who was principal investigator on a drug developed by a company in which he owned $6 million of stock) have all recently resigned their positions as a result of Grassley’s investigation. Joseph Biederman of Harvard (largely responsible for the explosive 4000% increase in the number of children diagnosed and treated as “bipolar,” usually with the most damaging of all psychiatric drugs, the antipsychotics) received at least $1.6 million from Big Pharma in the first several years of this 21st century. Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed him and two of his Harvard colleagues.
Texas is infamous regarding mental health system scandals—the work of state Senators Mike Moncrief and Judith Zaffirini in the early ‘90’s exposed and held accountable National Medical Enterprises for their headhunting and fraud. In the first half of this decade, Representative Susanna Hupp and Comptroller Carole Strayhorn did great work exposing and challenging the fact that a very large percentage of our state’s foster children are being drugged with cocktails of various damaging psychotropic drugs. Austin television investigative journalist Nanci Wilson gets credit for exposing perhaps the most notorious ongoing scandal, the Texas Medication Algorithm Project, known as TMAP. She showed the connection between drug company contributions to the state and the placement of their most profitable drug products in the resultant formulary mandated for state use. TDMHMR medical director Steven Shon was forced to resign his position due to his own conflicts of interests in this project. Several other prominent doctors in the University of Texas system—John Rush, Lynn Crismon, Graham Emslie and Karen Wagner to name just a few—have been shown to have severe financial conflicts of interest from monies received via Big Pharma. The state attorney general is continuing to investigate.
The drug companies continue to amass huge profits despite billions of dollars in class action settlements. Children are targeted more and more; the latest is a big spike in the number of children forced to take the so-called atypical antipsychotics like Risperdal and Zyprexa. These drugs cause permanent neurological and metabolic damage in a large percentage of people who take them for very long. A person taking Zyprexa gains an average of 26 pounds a year, and often ends up with Diabetes; some people die. And we are giving these poisons to Texas children as young as 1-year-old!
My twofold current complaint is that most of my own mental health profession remains silent about this pharmacaust, and that the Texas legislature is largely unwilling to confront this state of affairs. Efforts to put small controls on the rampant prescription of the antipsychotics to children, sponsored as HB 2163 by Representative Sylvester Turner, are met with ferocious psychiatry lobbying, and legislators are for the most part unwilling to protect our children, unwilling to face the simple truth that our children are being poisoned for profit.
Senators Eddie Lucio (SB553) and Royce West (SB296) have sponsored bills that would require transparency of all drug company monies given to doctors and researchers. This is a simple, powerful step, but it appears as if it is more important to the legislature to protect the hidden influences of Big Pharma and those they pay off then the rest of us citizens. The Senators’ bills are being held without a hearing by committee Chairs Jane Nelson and Robert Duncan, respectively.
Finally, another ugly face of the mental health system is that the prisons are having to deal with many people considered mentally ill. So it is understandable that judges and prison administrators are pressuring the legislature to remove these people. Senator Whitmire is pushing forward SB1505, which allows a judge to order a prisoner into inpatient or outpatient treatment, including forced long-term residency at a psychiatric facility, without even the minimal due process generally accorded citizens in a commitment or forced drugging hearing. This negation of fundamental American liberty and due process rights for the sake of institutional expediency is an egregious violation of human rights. Furthermore, the first rational action should be to ask why are so many supposedly mentally ill people crowding our jails? Given that the state has been spending money to expand psychiatric emergency services, why is it not working? What is going wrong? Could it be that the ethically conflicted and scientifically void practice of using only drugs (and electroshock as backup) to deal with social and psychological problems is a failure? As a psychologist, I know there are much better ways. Could it be that the drugs, during use and during withdrawal, might actually exacerbate perturbations of behavior and criminality? The evidence says they do. Given the current mental health system, expanding or pushing citizens into psychiatric services—especially by coercion—is wrong. The only rational thing for the legislature to do is to investigate and rein in the damages.