The Pill Merchants: The Relentless and Tragic Marketing of Psychiatric Drugs

Author // John Breeding, PhD & Amy Philo

In our work, we strive to alleviate distress and to support and enhance people’s personal growth, transformation, individua- tion, self-determination, and clear and expanded awareness. Necessity dictates that we also spend a lot of time challenging aspects of the mental health profession that do the opposite— creating more distress, suppressing growth and transformation, violating self-determination, and dulling and blinding awareness. We call it psychiatric oppression—the systematic, institutional- ized mistreatment of those judged “mentally ill.”

This essay focuses on the ever expanding encroachment of psychiatric oppression to more and more of the population, to people of all ages and to individuals who are less and less in need of actual help. This encroachment takes the form of mass marketing for psychiatry and the pharmaceutical industry. The elders are covered already, as it appears that at least half of nurs- ing home residents are on psychiatric drugs (as shown in John Breeding’s book The Necessity of Madness and Unproductivity: Psychiatric Oppression or Human Transformation). We will exam- ine the expanding movement downward, from the grave to the cradle, so to speak.

One key aspect of oppression theory is the claim to virtue. For psychiatric oppression, that claim is the notion that mentally ill people need their treatment. Now pharmaceutical marketing is expanding into the concept of prevention—that potentially mentally ill people need treatment, as well!

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Disability and Disease: Measures of Failed Development

In 2005, investigative journalist Robert Whitaker analyzed adult psychiatric disability in the United States. The data is incredible. A century ago, one in 500 people was considered “disabled” by mental illness and in need of hospitalization. By 1955, with the advent of Thorazine, that number reached nearly one in 300. Over the next 50 years, as psychiatric drugs became the primary treatment, the disability rate climbed steadily. Today, nearly one in 50 U.S. adults receives Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for psychiatric disability.

The data on schoolchildren eligible for special education am- plifies the Whitaker data. As described in my book The Wildest Colts Make the Best Horses, the number of children labeled as learning disabled (LD) or diagnosed with “disruptive behavior disorders” has increased dramatically. Federal legislation in the 1960s spurred the growth of special education, and in 1991, when the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was expanded to include so-called Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) as a qualifying disability, it sparked tremendous growth. It is not unusual for a school district to have one in four of its students in special education.

About 60 percent of children qualifying under IDEA have no physical disability. These children are given labels such as LD, ADD or ED (emotionally disturbed). Could it be that these “diag- noses” are a modern way of “blaming the victim?”

Pathways readers know that we are clearly failing in pre- vention of real illnesses such as cancer, diabetes and asthma, including with our children. The situation in so-called mental health may be even worse. Childhood “mental illness” is now virtually pandemic in the United States, as an estimated 1 out of 7 school-age children is on at least one psychotropic drug, and many are on several. Our analysis showed an estimated 40-fold (4,000 percent) increase in the number of children on psychiatric drugs between 1970 and 2000. It is a fair estimate that at least 12 million young people are on psychiatric drugs in the U.S. today.

Pseudoscience and the Creation of Imagined Disease

The drugging of our nation’s children is utterly tragic because of the very dangerous, toxic nature of these substances. But it is beyond tragic when one confronts the fact that these “illness- es” are only alleged or imagined diseases. Real diseases are discovered—confirmed by objective physical or chemical ab- normalities such as a cancer tumor or a blood sugar imbalance. Alleged disease is proclaimed by fiat. The American Psychiatric Association decides that certain behaviors (“symptoms”) are abnormal and votes these sets of behaviors into existence as diseases. For example, ADD was voted into existence in 1980, and ADHD in 1987.

It is difficult enough to prevent unnecessary physical dis- eases among our nation’s children. When one truly understands that childhood “mental illnesses” are imagined, then how in the world can they be prevented or treated? Well, just as the government claims it can detain and torture a man it thinks is a terrorist (not always using those words), our society claims the right to select, label and drug a child we deem mentally ill. The difference is, terrorists do exist, while ADHD does not. As hard as they may be to accept, the words of retired neurologist Fred Baughman Jr. are nonetheless absolutely true: “ADHD is a total, complete 100 percent fraud.”

You cannot prevent ADHD because it is not real. But you can prevent stigmatizing children with the label, and you can certainly prevent drugging them with addictive stimulants, commonly called speed.

Further into the Abyss:

The Creation of Real Disease

Columbia University’s Dr. Mark Olfson analyzed national outpa- tient records and found another incredible 40-fold increase, this time in the diagnosis of “bipolar disorder” in youth (0 to 19 years old) within a 10-year period (1994–2003). The numbers increased from roughly 20,000 such diagnoses in 1994 to about 800,000 in 2003. The primary treatment of so-called bipolar disorder is psychotropic drugs—mood stabilizers like Depakote, and anti- psychotics like Abilify or Zyprexa. Olfson’s study also found that “nearly one in five psychiatric visits for young people included a prescription for antipsychotics.”

Antipsychotics are powerful and highly toxic, even more dangerous than stimulant speed. They have caused probably the largest epidemic of neurological disease in history—tardive dyskinesia—in millions of adults around the world. There is a nationwide trend of “skyrocketing numbers” in drugging our children with neuroleptics. The St. Petersburg Times reported a 250 percent increase in Florida between 2000 and 2007.

“Bipolar disorder” is a prime example of a fictitious medical disease used to justify giving poisoning drugs like Zyprexa to our precious children. A closer look shows that a tremendous percentage of children diagnosed bipolar started off with an ADHD label. Typically, these kids took stimulants for years before they were diagnosed as bipolar. Given that psychosis, agitation, anxiety, mania and cognitive and mood deterioration are all effects of stimulant drugs, it is easy to see that the end result is a tragic and pathetic example of an iatrogenic disease (a disease caused by medicine or medical doctors). As the above analysis reveals, there is one way to prevent many of the behaviors that psychiatry uses to justify its creation of the budding epidemic of “bipolar disorder”—simply do not put young children on toxic stimulant drugs.

Universal Mental Health Screening and Suicide Prevention

A storm of controversy surrounded the recommendation of Presi- dent Bush’s 2003 New Freedom Commission for universal mental health screening, and the suggestion that the 56 million young people in the nation’s public schools would be a great place to start. We slowed them down in Texas, defeating the push for New Freedom–type mental health screening in the 2005 and 2007 leg- islative sessions. The Texas 2009 marketing push had morphed into screening for suicide prevention, and we defeated that, also.

Teen Screen and other programs that claim to prevent suicide by identifying at-risk young people have incredibly high rates of false positives. In a 2004 article published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Dr. David Shaffer, the Columbia psychiatrist who developed Teen Screen, acknowledged that it “would result in 84 non-suicidal teens being referred for evaluation for every 16 suicidal youths correctly identified.” A prime example of the problems that can arise with a false positive is the nightmare that Aliah Gleason went through in Austin, Texas. Aliah ended up taking at least 13 different psychotropic drugs. That is what happens to children targeted by screening in our system today.

These types of suicide prevention programs do not work. The United States Preventive Services Task Force found in 2004 that screening for suicide risk does not reduce suicide attempts or mortality. What these programs do is select more children to be labeled, pathologized and poisoned with psychotropic drugs. They are very effective marketing campaigns for the psychophar- maceutical industry.

Infants and Toddlers: Targeting Younger and Younger Children

In the 1980s the pharmaceutical industry recognized a market, and with the launching of ADD in 1980 and ADHD in 1987, its ex- pansion into schools was underway. With the inclusion of ADHD as an “other health impaired” category in the IDEA in 1991, the numbers really exploded. Kindergarten and first grade became main entry points into psychiatry. Now there is an exponential increase in the numbers of drugged preschoolers and toddlers. Even infants sometimes get drugged!

The ethical corruption is significant. For example, a 2008 New York Times editorial titled “Hidden Drug Payments at Harvard” revealed that Harvard psychiatric researcher Joseph Biederman and two of his colleagues took millions of dollars in undisclosed drug company money while acting as public relations point men for children’s “bipolar.” Boston Globe report- er Carey Goldberg reported: “Newly disclosed court documents portray Dr. Joseph Biederman, a leading Harvard child psychia- trist, as courting drug company money by promising that his work at Massachusetts General Hospital would help promote the use of antipsychotic drugs for youngsters diagnosed with bipolar disorder.” (Italics ours.)

Researchers from Rutgers and Columbia Universities found that antipsychotic prescriptions written for privately insured children aged 2 to 5 years doubled between 1999-2001 and 2007. Children covered by Medicaid are more likely than privately- insured children to be prescribed antipsychotic drugs, and have a higher likelihood of being prescribed antipsychotics even if they have no psychotic symptoms. Recall that antipsychotic drugs cause permanent neurological and metabolic damage in most people who take them for very long.

Whitaker notes in his new book, Anatomy of an Epidemic, that this system of “treatment” disables 850 adults and 250 children every day. He reports that in 1987, there were 16,200 children under 18 who received an SSI payment by virtue of disabling “mental illness”—5.5 percent of the 293,000 children on dis- ability rolls. In 1990, the numbers began to dramatically rise. The number of children under 6 receiving SSI tripled to 65,928 between 2000 and 2007. By the end of 2007, there were 561,569 “mentally ill” children on the disability rolls, a 35-fold increase, becoming the leading “cause” of child disability and 50 percent of the total number. That’s 250 children every day, enough to fill an elementary school auditorium.

The Mothers Act

The MOTHERS Act is a new federal law that seeks to increase screening of all new moms for perinatal mood disorders (during and after pregnancy), and which promotes public awareness and “research” on postpartum depression.

This law was allegedly inspired by the story of Melanie Block- er Stokes, a pharmaceutical sales rep who became extremely dis- tressed after the birth of her daughter in 2001. Melanie’s doctors gave her four different cocktails of antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds and anti-psychotics, as well as repeated electroshock sessions. She jumped from a 12th-story hotel window when her daughter was only 3- months old. Some time before her suicide, Melanie told her husband that the treatments were killing her. It only took 3- months for psychiatry to destroy this woman and devastate her family forever, yet our government offers more psy- chiatry as its “answer” to emotional problems after birth—in the name of Melanie Stokes.

If the government were to initiate a “Take Your Zoloft” aware- ness campaign, we would understand that it is merely for the benefit of Pfizer. Yet somehow, many have been fooled into buy- ing the notion that a screening program for some “mental illness” like depression is for public health.

Screening is considered a medical diagnostic procedure, which requires the due process of informed consent. This due process right cannot legally be ignored without an emergency mental health situation (which gives authority to a doctor to screen), or when a court determines a person is incompetent to consent to screening. Because mothers as a group cannot be considered incompetent to consent, nor can their collective due process rights be bargained away by Congress, mass screening programs without individualized mandatory informed consent and refusal procedures are not only a bad idea, they are constitu- tionally impermissible.

New Jersey’s 2006 mandatory postpartum depression screen- ing law implements the use of the Edinburgh Postnatal Depres- sion Scale (EPDS). In practice, the EPDS has been demonstrated to triple the number of women diagnosed with postpartum depression. Due to its subjectivity, almost anyone can be termed depressed or at risk of depression and treatment would be rec- ommended. Swedish researchers Ingela Krantz et al examined the subjectivity of the EPDS and found:

Routine EPDS screening of Swedish postpartum women would lead to considerable ethical problems due to the weak scientific foundation of the screen- ing instrument. Despite a multitude of published studies, the side-effects in terms of misclassifications have not been considered carefully. The EPDS does not function very well as a routine screening instrument…. Public health authorities should not advocate screening of unproved value. Screening is not just a medical issue but also an ethical one.

Advocates of this instrument have even admitted that based on screening results, categories of varying risk are established such that 100 percent of new mothers are at risk of depression and candidates for treatment!

Postpartum depression is not a distinct disease of its own; even the preamble to the MOTHERS Act states that we don’t know what causes PPD. Rather, it is a convenient label for widely varying circumstances. The label is used by doctors to excuse their lack of investigation into possible underlying physical diseases, and by society to absolve us of our responsibility to support new mothers, many of whom will undoubtedly have sig- nificant difficulty adjusting without proper support.

So many factors can cause a mother’s sadness. How much of so-called postpartum depression is the effect of a stressful, un- supported pregnancy, or of a birth with labor-inducing drugs and painkillers, or unnecessary Cesarean deliveries with anesthesia and forced separation from the baby, and on and on? This is not to say that moms don’t get depressed. But you can’t “treat” something with medicine if you don’t know what’s causing it— and simply giving someone an addictive psychiatric drug is not going to treat depression. Rather than “cure” depression, this drugging can sometimes lead to tragedy or devastating injury of our babies, as in the cases of Matthew Schultz, Manie McNamee and Indiana Delahunty (see sidebar).

Drug company funding of “educational” activities on perinatal depression and other mood disorders has resulted in misin- formed doctors placing pregnant and breastfeeding mothers on drugs toxic enough to cause fatal serotonin syndrome in adults. These can cause such effects in breastfeeding babies as exces- sive vomiting, seizures, coma and death.

In a recent article titled “Prescription Drug Epidemic Spreads to Babies,” Dr. Mary Newport stated that the number of babies being treated for prescription drug withdrawal in the past two years exceeded the number she had seen in the past 25 years combined. Prescription drug withdrawal treatment for babies involves more medication than for heroin or cocaine. In addition, sudden withdrawal of a drug during the pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, or the baby could have a seizure and die.

According to the FDA, from 2004 to 2008 more than 7,000 cases of birth defects, spontaneous abortions and intra-uterine deaths, heart disease and premature births were reported as linked primarily to exposure from psychiatric drugs during pregnancy.

Acting for Mothers

In the world of modern mental health treatment, “at-risk” labels assume a biological or genetic defect, which means drug treat- ment. It is astounding how many mothers already get “treatment.” The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists esti- mates that one third of pregnant women are exposed to psycho- tropic drugs at some point during pregnancy. In addition, at least 13 percent of U.S. women take antidepressants during pregnancy. This is due in part to unplanned pregnancies, but many women continue consuming medications while breastfeeding or pregnant. Drug companies ensure increased profits by drugging toddlers for so-called ADHD when these children grow up and become la- beled with “bipolar disorder,” and they further ensure increased profits when the administration of antidepressants, stimulants, mood “stabilizers” and neuroleptic drugs results in increasing cases of diabetes, for which the drug companies have treat- ments. Likewise, drug companies will benefit exceedingly from the MOTHERS Act. The MOTHERS Act is not really for Melanie Stokes. Nor is it for moms and babies. It is for pHARMa.

The Ability to See and Act

Valid answers to the question of prevention can only come from the ability to see past the smokescreen and translate the Or- wellian language that perverts reality and results in poisoning our children. Here is an example of that translation:

Treating a mentally ill child with medicine for ADHD. This means…

  • Drugging a child judged as behaving poorly to control or alter his or her behavior.
  • Labeling and drugging a child to reduce adult discomfort.
  • Labeling children to create product points, to sell a product for profit.
  • Drugging a child to sell a drug.

Hopelessness into Hope

The rhetoric of psychiatric treatment of children and their moth- ers purports to offer hope. But the reality is that such pathologiz- ing and “treatment” undermines hope and causes damage and disability. Real hope for babies and moms lies in reclaiming the sacredness of motherhood with full-on support of pregnancy, childbirth and early parenting.

We love the title of Alice Walker’s book, Anything We Love Can Be Saved. It is cultural madness to think that salvation of our glorious mothers and precious babies lies in psychiatric labels and drugs. The solution lies in a much more beautiful realm. Walker quotes Samuel Zan, General Secretary of Amnesty International in Nigeria and activist for the abolition of the genital mutilation (female circumcision) of women: “If the women of the world were comfortable, this would be a comfortable world.” Walker points to the solution by amplifying Zan’s words: “Like Zan, I believe that if the women of the world were comfortable, so would the world be. In fact, I know this in my bones. Out of a woman’s security— which always means free agency in society, sexual and spiritual autonomy, as well as the well-being of her children and the sanctity of her home—comes ultimate security for the world.”

This we can create.

Closing Thoughts on Prevention: The True Nature of Children

The title of John Breeding’s earlier book, True Nature and Great Misunderstandings: On How We Care for Our Children According to Our Understanding, is based on the premise, attributed to Anaïs Nin, that “We see the world not as it is but as we are,” and act accordingly. As long as people are so confused and misinformed that they think challenges with children are due to biological or genetic defects in the children, then children (or mothers) will be blamed and hurt.

Our view on the true nature of children is that we are born with brilliant intelligence, tremendous energy and zest, and intense relational desire. We also think that we can trust in the natural trajectory of human development, and do not need to tame and suppress our children. Breeding’s “21st Century Manifesto for Parenting” [Pathways 25] makes clear, however, that we are also regrettably aware that we live in a highly disturbed society, one not structured to meet well many of the developmental needs of our children nor the safety and support needs of pregnant and new mothers. Blaming moms or children by labeling them defective and then suppressing, controlling and subduing them with drugs may provide a temporary false absolution of adult responsibility.

The bottom line, however, is that such practice is pathetic, cruel and tragic. Let’s stop it now. The challenge is doing what- ever it takes to be clear and strong enough as adults to fiercely defend children from unnecessary harm, and simply to enjoy and take delight in our beloved, spirited children, and the sacred ex- perience of pregnancy and birth.

How Psychiatric Drugs Nearly Turned Me into a Murderer

by Amy Philo

Because of my experience on Zoloft, I can put myself in the shoes of Andrea Yates, Melanie Stokes and all the moms you hear about who kill their kids or commit sui- cide, when it seemed like they had everything to live for. I know what it’s like to have thoughts in your head “telling” you what to do, thoughts that are not yours, thoughts that do not belong. I never had mental health problems in my life before I was on Zoloft, and I never have since. It’s been six years since my last pill.

In July 2004, I had my first baby, Isaac. At three days old, he nearly choked to death on some partially digested formula while trying to vomit. We had checked into the emergency room of Children’s Hospital only moments before this occurred, and the staff saved his life. Had we not noticed something wasn’t right and taken him to the hospital, Isaac could have died in his bassinet that night as we slept.

A home health nurse who visited me two days later told me I was at “high risk” of postpartum depression and needed drugs immediately. She even set up an “emergen- cy” appointment with my OBGYN. My OB gave me Zoloft samples and told me to start taking them right away, as- suring me that the drug was safe for me and Isaac, who was only 6 days old. Three days later, I started hallucinat- ing and having homicidal thoughts and suicidal urges.

I was involuntarily hospitalized for two days and had to fake a miraculous “stabilization” in order to be released. Twice an outpatient psychiatrist raised my dose, and both times my homicidal thoughts worsened. On 150mg of Zoloft I was overcome with intrusive thoughts of killing my mother, husband, son, cats and neighbors before kill- ing myself.

During the time I was on Zoloft, the FDA issued a black box suicide warning on antidepressants. As a result, I did some research of my own for the first time. I later went against medical advice and tapered off Zoloft with the help of my husband and parents. By Thanksgiving I was off Zoloft and able to be alone with Isaac for the first time since he was 9 days old.

My brief experience with psychiatry was the worst time in my life—during what should have been the great- est and most beautiful time in my life. Because my experi- ence was so emblematic of everything that is wrong with the MOTHERS Act and screening of mothers for so-called “risk factors,” I decided not to sit idly by and watch the MOTHERS Act ruin motherhood—not without a fight, anyway. The stories of those I meet in this cause continue to spur me on as an activist in an effort to educate, and thereby save, as many others as possible.

Excerpted from a longer piece by Amy Philo. For her full story, go to or

Pathways Issue 30 CoverThis article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #30.

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