Book Note: Anatomy of an Epidemic – worse still

September 10, 2010

It’s time to move on to another topic. Two books in a row about psychiatry and what has become of it due to the influence of pharmaceuticals is quite enough for me for a while. This book, though, is one that cannot be ignored:

Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America [Hardcover]

It would be easy to lump this book together with Unhinged, Dr. Daniel Carlat’s book about this same issue from the perspective of a clinician. In fact, though, it addresses the issue from a different perspective.

Mr. Whitaker takes a wider, more epidemiological view and comes up with what can only be taken as a shocking conclusion: the central cause of the ballooning of psychiatric conditions over the last 50 years (anxiety disorders, bipolar, depression, ADHD) is the drugs themselves. That’s right, the drugs are causing the epidemic, not environmental toxins or video games or reality TV.

He comes to this conclusion by viewing the outcomes of patients who have been administered a host of psychiatric drugs over long periods of time. As it turns out, this distinction is key. Why? Because the clinical trials that are used to ensure that drugs are safe to be administered are typically (in the case of psychiatric drugs, always) trials of a short-term nature (six to eight weeks). What happens to people who are on these drugs for months? Years? Well, this book cites studies that have chosen to answer that very question and found that, in comparison to control groups who were not on the drugs long-term, those who stay on the drugs are worse off.

That said, I have to admit a fair amount of skepticism about all the clams in the book, so I would not take the entire message hook, line and sinker. But the core message: use of these drugs as long-term, chronic treatment actually makes things worse, is enough to get your head spinning.

As is my wont, here are a few links to audio interviews of the author also:

Need to Know on PBS
Medication Ethics Seminar
At Powell’s Books in Portland, OR
Video of Powell’s Books appearance

Gotta go now. I think I’m gonna be sick.

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