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Depression Epidemic Or Pharmaceutical Farce?
December 4th, 2008

Utah is number one in prescriptions for depression. But is this actually a result of our population being more depressed or have the pharmaceutical companies been selling us lies? Utah Stories investigates.

by Richard Markosian edited by Kathleen Callen

Printable word document of this article

Don't be surprised if sometime in the near future the Utah Jazz are playing in the Paxil Center. Considering how Utahns take more prescriptions for depression than any other population and the pharmaceutical industry spends more on advertising than Coca Cola, the Paxil Center would make perfect sense. However, there could be a snag with this proposal, if word ever got out how Paxil's bright and shiny image has been tarnished because they keep loosing court cases from patients suffering from long term side effects. But likely most people will never learn about these problems associated with SSRIs, because pharmaceutical companies are the sweethearts of the main stream media. If you think you are seeing more ads on TV and in magazines about drugs, that's because you are. Pharmaceutical advertising has skyrocketed. In the past five years pharmaceutical companies have increased their DTC (direct to consumer advertising) from $2.1 billion to a staggering $16.2 billion.

spoon fed pills

Over 28,000 complaints have been filed with the to the FDA against Paxil and similar SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors). The under reporting of the complaints by both the media and doctors allows the harmful nature of the drugs to be missed by many Utahns.

Bob Lanou feels misled by his doctor and pharmaceutical companies into believing Paxil was the best treatment for his depression. Lanou, like thousands of other SSRI users was told that the anti-depressant would keep him from going into a downward spiral. Lanou says, "At the time I was willing to try anything...I just wish I would have not been so naive and done a little more research." Lanou had not suffered from chronic depression, but the tragic loss of his daughter, job and girlfriend all within a single week were too much for him to deal with on his own. Seeking help, Lanou was treated by his general practitioner who offered him enough free samples of Paxil to last him for months. Lanou found temporary relief. But later he discovered his relief came with a price: an addiction to Paxil so powerful, that when he attempted to quit, he suffered panic attacks and suicidal thoughts. Lanou suffered his anguish without any answers from his doctors. It was only after he found online-communities with thousands of other SSRI addicts reporting the same side-effects, that Lanou felt comfort. He wasn't alone.

SSRIs are used as treatment for nearly every psychological disorder. SSRIs and their various subclasses are used to treat everything from mild depression, premature ejaculation and anxiety to eating disorders. These pills are prescribed more in Utah than in any other state, which is the reason why we wanted to closely examine this issue.

bob lanou
Bob Lanou says he has suicidal thoughts when he attempts
to stop taking Paxil.

A History of Prozac and SSRIs

Depression treatment before Prozac was not an effort to "rebalance the chemistry in the brain". It could be argued that the most ingenious marketing effort by Prozac is how they convinced the general public that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance. Before Prozac, treatments for depression included alcohol for the poor and the popular tranquilizer Valium for the rich. Prozac changed both the game and the playing field because it was touted as the safest method ever for combating depression or mood disorders.

Previous antidepressants produced toxic side-effects in organs. Even previous SSRIs had been deemed unsafe. But drug maker Eli Lilly claimed Prozac was different -- patients felt better with minimal side-effects. Researching other drug makers it is surprising that similar SSRIs were denied after FDA clinical trials. The FDA agreed with Lilly's claim that they had successfully produced the first safe SSRI.

After approval, it didn't take long for the public image of SSRIs to elevate it to something like a miracle cure for depression. Clever marketing, along with a huge direct to consumer commercial advertising campaign -- which happens to be illegal in every other Western nation -- resulted in patients requesting Prozac from doctors by name.

The effectiveness of marketing Prozac with the "no long term side-effects" claim resulted in previously scarce depression or MDD (major depression disorder) diagnoses arising in epidemic proportions. Was this trend perhaps a result of a new acceptance and perception of depression?

Actress Brooke Shields voiced the new public perception of depression in her classic statement: "It's comforting to discover my depression was directly tied to a biochemical shift." Celebrities helped in promoting Prozac as the pill that produced happiness, which made Prozac something of a nineties pop-icon in its own right. Actors such as Winona Ryder, Johnny Depp, and many well-know comedians began to discuss their depression openly and the help they found from SSRIs. This trend resulted in drug maker Eli Lilly realizing over $3 billion in profits from Prozac before their patent expired.

As anti-depressant popularity has continued to rise, but any understanding the true nature of depression by both the main-stream media and general practitioners has been neglected. The fact remains that there is no measurable link between depression and brain chemistry. SSRIS indeed effect brain chemistry but not in any manner that could be deemed safe for millions of users.

How SSRIs Work

SSRIs are classified as psychotropic drugs, meaning they are able to permeate through the walls of brain cells and affect the central nervous system. SSRIS are so effective entering cells they can also penetrate through nearly all water filtration systems. The result is that SSRIs can be found contaminating lakes and rivers -- which has been found to affect reproduction in frogs and fish. But his is another story for another day.

SSRIs work by selectively inhibiting the reuptake of the neurotransmitter (Serotonin). Under normal brain operation serotonin is released and cleaned up through normal daily cycles. In a patient's brain under the influence of an SSRI, mood swings are less severe because serotonin levels remain at a more constant level.

However, long-term SSRI users describe a common side effect in feeling emotionless. Often when users attempt to wean themselves off the drug life without serotonin stabilization results in panic. This condition is a result of years of flooding the presynaptic autoreceptors with serotonin. Bob Lanou describes it as "feeling like a robot". This is a result of his brain's desensitization to serotonin.

Besides this, there are many other reported side-effects including: anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure), nausea, drowsiness, headache, clenching of teeth, and undesired sexual changes. The list continues like the session when Bill Murray meets Doctor Leo Marvin in "What About Bob." seemingly infinite in length.

These side effects have drug companies developing drugs that counteract the problems. The following pills have been developed to mitigate the damage: bupropion (norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitor), buspirone (serotonin receptor agonist), methylphenidate (stimulant), mirtazapine (noradrenergic and specific serotonergic antidepressant (NaSSA),

While the notion of taking drugs to alleviate the symptoms of other drugs could lead to potentially unlimited profits for drug makers, more doctors in the psychiatric community are beginning to believe there must be a better way.

A better alternative for depression treatment?

Dr. Lili Wagner is a practicing psychologist who believes doctors are over prescribing anti-depressants. Dr. Wagner has found most patients who suffer from symptoms associated with depression, anxiety and other personality disorders can be treated through a combination of psychotherapy and altering lifestyle and diet.

Dr. Wagner has been amazed to discover patients with severe diagnoses were never asked by their doctors what kind of eating habits they have or what their regular exercise habits are. Dr. Wagner believes that lifestyle changes, along with coping skills during trauma, can help those who suffer from even severe depression overcome their hardship and return to a normal life, without medication.

It is Dr. Wagner's hope that patients and doctors will better understand the true nature of depression, which isn't caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain but the choices we make in dealing with the tragedies that often cause the onset of depression. Wagner stresses that hardship and sadness are very common. But she says places like Iceland have some of the lowest percentages of depression.

Dr. Wagner doesn't believe this is the result of Iceland's beauty or prosperity, but rather that residents are not inundated with commercial advertising on the benefits of antidepressants. Also Icelanders (as well as many European countries) haven't accepted psychotropic, water polluting chemicals as a viable alternative to good food, friends or therapy.

Dr. Lili Wagner
Click to watch full interview
with Dr. Lili Wagner

Bob Lanou is currently working on a new regimen which includes diet and exercise. Today he is down from 40 mg of Paxil per day to just 10 mg, "which was a huge step for me," he says.

Lanou believes that with more time he will be able to get off Paxil and once again live a "normal life." Until then he describes his attempts to stop taking Paxil like "Hell." The symptoms Lanou describes, including thoughts of suicide and aggression as well as akathisia (severe inner restlessness), accurately match common SSRI "discontinuation syndrome" symptoms.

Lanou said that he feels relief that Paxil maker GlaxoSmithKline has lost several recent class-action lawsuites. These lawsuits have resulted in more warning labels as well as several FDA cautionary updates to the drug.

But surprisingly the public's perception of SSRIs for depression has not changed. This is likely because there have been so few reports in the media about SSRIs and the long-term damage. Currently there are 54 million people worldwide taking SSRIs.

Lanou warns potential users "to think" before using mind altering psychotropic drugs. Lanou hopes that one day there will be support groups for people attempting to get off anti-depressants.

Lili Wagner said in closing: "We shouldn't listen to what the media tells us is healthy, as far as you should always be happy. We're humans, its ok to be sad once in a while. Life happens."

Reader Comments

from anonymous

Not like Bob, I suffered from a chemical imbalance not due to a tragic experience, for ten years I refused to take a drug that would alter my mind and finally after years of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts, I decided to try some anti-depressants. Paxil helped me through some tough times, But I knew it would never be a long term fix. Bob's doctor should of weaned him off of it within a year or two. Recently I feel like its time to go back on Paxil, just to help me through the hard times, then wean myself off. You can never rely on doctors to help you off, you should know yourself when its time, any drug like this is never long term..

from Andy Alt

A great book to read on this subject was published in mid-2008. It's by Alison Bass, a former Boston Globe reporter. There's your mainstream media; it's too bad there's not more journalists of her caliber. The book, "Side Effects: A Prosecutor, a Whistleblower, and A Bestselling Antidepressant on Trial"

from Robert Haulin

My sister and mother are both addicted and will not listen to reason and get clean. I want them to be free and happy, but they hold onto their drugs like their life depends on it. It's sad and scary...

response:Thanks for your comments Robert, I would suggest you have your sister and mom follow see the following link: http://www.paxilprogress.com This is full of the stories of people who are addicted to Paxil and trying to get off. Also, suggest they watch our video with Bob and Lili. My hope is that more people realize that they aren't alone in their struggle.

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