Seroxat - world scandal
The Seroxat scandal has shaken faith in anti-depressants, exposed the fatal consequences of the greed and guile of the pharmaceutical industry and wiped £billions off their share values. The manylayers of influence of the Pharmas have opened new questions on the independence of regulators, government, charities, and patients groups. The Health Select Committee’s inquiry has heard explosive evidence of the all pervading influence of drug firms. The commercial sponsorship of All Party Parliamentary Groups may be probed.
Two courageous editions of Panorama sounded the alarm bells. Several MPs made grave accusation in an adjournment debate last February. At best, millions of people have been persuaded to use powerful drugs of little or no value. At worst, many are suffering drug dependency or have lost their lives through Seroxat induced suicide or homicide.
The Pharmas have been forced to confess that they have their rigged and suppressed information of potentially lethal side effects. Their secret tentacles of influence over regulators, governments, charities and patients’ groups are being uncovered.
Previously respected articles in prestigious journals have been shown to be the self serving distortions written by Pharmas. Even confidence in the integrity of double blind trials is in doubt. The most serious claim is that conclusions to trials have not matched the data collected but have been rigged to serve commercial interests. The benefits of drugs are exaggerated: dangers are airbrushed out.
Seven years ago, Professor David Healy of Cardiff questioned the safety and value of the latest anti-depressants – the selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) principally Seroxat and Prozac. His warnings were derided. He was alarmed at the results of SSRIs side effects on his own patients. He noted that SSRIs increased suicidal tendencies and created homicidal behaviour in previously placid patients. A court in the USA agreed with David Healy that Seroxat was the cause of personality change that turned a loving husband and father into murderer.
The adverse side effects should not be a surprise. Depression treatment has been the same repetition of an identical false promise. Sigmund Freud used an anti-depressant on himself, all his patients and urged his healthy friend to use what he believed what an effective anti-depressant and an antidote to drug addiction. It was cocaine. Bromide was the next miracle cure that created an epidemic of a new deep psychosis named bromism. The cure for the psychosis was the cause. Barbiturates and then benzodiazepines wrecked millions of lives. Now the wreckage caused by anti-depressants tricyclics and SSRIs is now being revealed. All these drugs were proclaimed in their times as safe, effective medicines that did not create dependency. All have been proved to be ineffective, dangerous and addictive.
The ballooning demand for anti-depressants is a phenomenon. In barely a decade depression has gone from a rare disorder to being classed as the second major affliction of humankind. Can a thousand-fold increase be explained other than as deliberate marketing ploy to medicalise unhappiness? A new disease of social phobia has been invented, packaged and sold along with its anti-depressant cure. The repeated claim that drugs correct a faulty ‘chemical balance’ in the brain is a theory that has no scientific base. But millions of prescriptions are issued without any test of brain chemical activity. In the USA ten million children are dosed up with antidepressants. That includes 2 million prescriptions for Seroxat.
Pharmas have cynically created dependence on happy pills. Their fable is that life should by perpetual euphoria from cradle to grave. We have been conditioned to believe that if we feel sadder today than we felt yesterday, we are sick. Stress and depression are swelling epidemics in prosperous Western countries. The impoverished developing world has other things on their minds. But unhappiness, boredom anxiety even grief and despair are the inevitable trials of the human condition. They are to be endured not to be smothered with a drug. Grief suppressed is grief multiplied. Without misery, we would not recognize happiness. Most works of art are the products of anguish. If Beethoven and Michelangelo had been on SSRIs their creative animus would have withered. This is the Pharmas’ greatest success in disease mongering and medicalising society. Their aim, expressed to me in a letter from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is that half of the population of the UK should be on anti-depressants at some time in their lives. A drugged nation delivers bounteous Pharmas profits.
After repeated denials of Seroxat’s side effects GSK caved in last June. They published the results of nine secret trials that revealed the increased suicidal tendencies created by Seroxat. They dropped the claim that it is non-addictive. One study alarmingly showed that six youngsters on Seroxat had increased suicidal tendencies compared to only one on placebos. The drug was also linked to distressing side effects including hostility, insomnia, dizziness, tremors and emotional instability. An internal GSK document from 1998 said the company would have to "effectively manage the dissemination of these data in order to minimise any potential negative impact". These findings were suppressed for a decade while thousands of depressed teenagers and children were prescribed a drug that increased their likelihood of taking their lives – the equivalent of handing loaded revolvers to suicide risks.
It’s a surprise to many that regulation of drugs is not governed by the Department of Health. It was effectively ‘privatised’ and handed over to a body now named the MHRA and entirely financed by the Pharmas. Its present chief executive worked for 27 years at GlaxoSmithKline. Regulators and industry are intimately intertwined.
The MHRA investigations into Seroxat has been heavily criticised for delays and lack of scientific rigour. Embarrassingly, the initial committee set up to look at the safety of Seroxat was force to disband after months of work. Half the ‘independent experts’ on the committee had links with GSK. Significantly and courageously Richard Brook, the mental health charity Mind’s Chief Executive resigned last March from the MHRA expert group on SSRIs. He said that continued membership was incompatible with Mind's remit to represent the interests of mental health service users. He revealed that the MHRA had delayed publishing for ten years data they possessed of the dangers of Seroxat for children.
Mind has a distinguished record of tackling the might of the Pharmas. They take no money from the industry.The integrity of other charities may have been compromised. The Depression Alliance admits to taking more than 80% of their funding from Pharmas. Their mouths have been bandaged into silence throughout the exposure of the scandal. Depression Alliance’s sole contribution was an attack on the accuracy Panorama.
Charities and patients groups depend on Pharmas’ cash. In a survey I conducted, 18 charities involved in parliamentary lobbying said that took donations; six refuse. Young Minds charity stated, “It is YoungMinds policy not to enter into financial partnerships with Pharmaceutical companies. This enables the organisation to maintain its independence and avoid any possible instances of compromise.” Many of these groups provide support for Commons All-Party. No declarations of interests are required. The groups may be used as Trojan Horses to wield influence in parliament. Full transparency is being sought.
In a recent meeting of the Council of Europe Health Committee, a representative of the World Health Organisation said he was sceptical of advice from the Pharmas but sensitive to the views of patients’ groups. He was unaware of how their deeply opinions may be compromised.
The scandal has produced some positive results. There is well founded scepticism on the value and perils of happy pills. Victims of SSRIs have banded together. The Seroxat Users Group has grown into a powerful persuasive lobby that is seeking compensation from governments and industry. Strong public and government support for alternatives has cut prescribing and spread the use of self coping techniques. Doctors in Devon and Cardiff are leading the trend of prescribing books not drugs. Regaining their autonomy through commonsense advice is worth a fistful of pills. Prime successes in self-coping volumes are Dorothy Rowe’s Depression—the way out of your prison and Terry Lynch’s Beyond Prozac.
The two major breakthroughs on drug perils came not from doctors or regulators but from television. In 1984, the That’s Life programme claimed that benzodiazepines may be addictive. There was a giant public response. A million Britons were addicted. In spite of new safety guidelines, 18 millions prescriptions were still being written 15 years later.
The second of Panorama’s three programmes on Seroxat provoked a record mail of 69,000 letters and e-mails. Most reported severe withdrawal symptoms and suicidal tendencies.
The reaction from industry and regulators has been resentful and faltering. The UK Committee on Safety of Medicines in December 2003 banned the use of SSRIs except Prozac for under-18 year olds. The mother of a 17 year old girl who took her life on Seroxat asked a recent meeting in the Commons, ‘What is the difference between the brain of a 17 year old and a 20 year old.’ There is none.
The MHRA report on Seroxat was a lamentable document. If dealt with only the conclusions of the Pharmas’ controlled trails and not the data on which they are based.
It seemed implausible in 1932 for Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World to warn of a future when people will enjoy having their liberties taken away, ‘living in servitude in a painless concentration camp….distracted from the desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods.’ Not so now.