The time: a Saturday afternoon in the spring of 1994.
The scene: an uncomfortably warm conference room in a Wenatchee, Washington motel. The air conditioning has been turned off at the request of a BBC documentary-maker. It’s standing-room-only in a room that seats 50. About half the crowd has come from out of town to attend the fourth annual meeting of the Prozac Survivors Support Group. Another dozen or so heard about the meeting from Dr. Jim Goodwin, a Wenatchee psychologist who has gained national prominence by urging antidepressants on all his clients. Others read about it in the Wenatchee World.
Goodwin watches the proceedings from a doorway leading to the motel lobby. He is stocky, 40-something and has on shorts and sandals. (The men from Wenatchee who came with him are also dressed in shorts). He wears thick glasses and has a little pug nose.
The meeting got under way with a brief welcome from Margarita Prentice a state senator from Washington’s 11th district. Prentice had been invited by her neighbor, Coralie Reid, who got involved with the Prozac survivors when her son Chris killed himself at age 18 after three weeks on Eli Lilly’s blockbuster antidepressant.
Then came Peter Breggin, MD, a psychiatrist who has been working in the Washington, D.C. area since 1968, but who still talks with a lively Long Island lilt. Breggin is an uncompromising opponent of lobotomy, electroshock and drug abuse by the medical establishment (i.e., the prescription of neuroleptics, antidepressants and tranquilizers to millions of Americans). His irrefragable data and arguments are set forth in Toxic Psychiatry (St. Martin’s 1991) and will be renewed in Talking Back to Prozac, due out in June It is no wonder that Eli Lilly, which has 10 million customers buying more than $100 million worth of Prozac per month, regards Breggin as corporate enemy number one. Breggin’s testimony on adverse reactions to Prozac kept Dwight Harlor out of prison in 1991. With numerous Prozac-related cases advancing through the courts, Lilly’s profit margin could at risk.
Breggin began by surveying the crowd as to Prozac use. “By the way,” he asked casually, “Is anybody here from Eli Lilly?” Nobody raised a hand. Instead of giving a structured speech, he said, he would respond to questions. Robin Berkley. a 39-year-old mother of three from Folsom, asked for a definition of “serotonin syndrome” –the term used by the physician who (eventually, after many others had failed) diagnosed her extreme physical reaction to Prozac.
“In the original FDA studies,” Breggin said, “Prozac was clearly identified as a stimulant drug.” Its effects were known to include agitation, nervousness, “energizing,” insomnia, loss of appetite, weight loss, sweating, fears, headache. “All of these fit a stimulant syndrome,” said Breggin. “In fact, you can hardly find a side effect of this drug that is distinguishable from amphetamine. Including the behavioral aberrations –violence, paranoia, crashing, depression.
Breggin questioned Lilly’s definition of Prozac as a “selective” serotonin reuptake inhibitor.
How It Works
Nerve cells (neurons) in the brain transmit signals to other nerve cells by chemicals called neurotransmitters. The gap between a neuron transmitting a signal and the neuron receiving it is called a synapse, and the two neurons are called “presynaptic” and “postsynaptic,” respectively. Serotonin is one of 100 neurotransmitters identified to date. When serotonin is released into the synapse, some but not all is taken up at receptor sites on the postsynaptic neuron (which then fires in response), and some returns to the presynaptic neuron for use in the next cycle. This is the “reuptake” process that Prozac inhibits. When reuptake is inhibited, more serotonin remains in the synapse and is available to the postsynaptic neuron. END SIDEBAR
“There are multiple kinds of receptors, even for serotonin,” Breggin pointed out. “It’s incredibly complex.” He described some of the ways in which the brain responds to a chemically induced excess of serotonin. “Receptors begin to dispapear. They’re getting flooded, so they compensate by either disappearing or getting less sensitive. Mechanisms on the [presynpatic] nerve try to shut down [serotonin production]. The receptors try not to receive, the brain tries not to be overstimulated. There are multiple mechanisms at work. The theory is that it’s okay to just tamper with serotonin. But all of these nerves begin in the raphe nuclei, deep in the brain. The axons from this part go everywhere, including to basal ganglia in the middle of the brain, they go into the temporal lobes where the memory is, they go into the frontal lobes where thought is, into the cortex where reasoning is and into the cerebellum… It’s the most widespread tree in the brain.
“The theory is that Prozac is so selective that it only jacks up serotonin. But that’s not how the brain works. The brain is the most integrated organ in the physical universe. When you jack up serotonin, there’s another neurotransmitter, dopamine, that goes out of whack, up or down. When you jack up serotonin, receptors in the adronergic system begin to disappear. Not only do the other neurotransmitters begin to do their own dance in response to this toxic intrusion, but the pituitary gland is controlled by the hypothalamus, and the hypothalamus is influenced by serotonin, so the pituitary can go out of whack! That affects the sexual hormones, steroids, and the whole hormonal system. This is big-time intervention. This is not ‘correcting a biochemical imbalance.’ That is bull. This is a massive intervention. One of the things that happens from that intervention is, you get stimulant reactions that are part of the serotonin syndrome, as I started to explain–”
Aside to Robin: “You ask me a question and you’re in danger. “You can have any stimulant effect up to seizures. These nerves also go down the spinal cord and they affect nerves that leave the spinal cord. So you can get hyperactivity and you can get fever and other abnormalities in the body. Also, serotonin is not just a neurotransmitter, it’s in the platelets, it’s spread throughout the body. Some of the fears people have that cancer might be enhanced by these drugs come not from its neurotransmitter effects, but from its effects throughout the body. We’re talking here about an enormously complex system. It’s called the serotonin syndrome usually when it affects the whole body.”
At this point Doctor Goodwin leaned into the room to say to Doctor Breggin, “If it’s so complex, I just thank God that it works as well as it does, because it’s perfect for all of us. For every one of us in this room, I’m really happy, it’s working completely perfect. As every one of us is completely perfect. Because we’re human.”
Robin Berkley turned in her seat and said, “Dr. Goodwin, I had perfectly perfect seizures on this drug.” Her face was flushed.
Goodwin sneered: “I guess seizures never existed before Prozac.”
Breggin explained, “The rate of seizures is not known for this drug. But it is known that all antidepressants have a significant rate of seizures. And this drug certainly produces seizures.”
Breggin described the process by which drugs get FDA approval. More than half of all FDA-approved drugs turn out, after marketing, to cause side-effects severe enough to require treatment. “In children it was higher,” Breggin said, citing a study by the General Accounting Office. “And among the psychiatric drugs it was higher. And the highest group were antidepressants.
“When a drug is marketed, there is a voluntary system for doctors to send in reports of side-effects. Surveys have shown that up to 40% of doctors don’t even know that you can report side-effects to the FDA, and most doctors don’t bother. Frankly, I didn’t bother in the early years (of my practice). It’s a pain in the neck… The FDA has a hodgepodge of computer materials that it organizes from a hodgepodge of reports. Eventually the computer starts to flag things, or clinical reports start to flag things, and eventually it becomes obvious that something really disasterous is going on, and the drug is pulled off the market, or a warning is added to the label of the drug as it appears in the Physician’s Desk Reference.”
Goodwin was waving his hand but Breggin called instead on a woman of about 40 who was sitting beside a very patient 10-year old boy in a Sonics sweatshirt. “After you take Prozac and you’re off of it, does your brain go back to normal?” she wanted to know.
Breggin replied. “Wouldn’t you think that would be the first question the FDA and the drug company would ask? The drug company is required to do all kinds of animal studies before the drug is accepted. A lot of the animal studies showed things like loss of receptors, dramatic changes in the serotinergic system, dramatic changes in the brain’s ability to respond to Prozac. The way they do this is, they treat the rat for two months –at the most! They never did two- or three-year studies on these rats. Then they kill the rat. They sacrifice the animal. Then they immediately examine the animal’s brain. And they found dramatic changes in the brains of these animals from Prozac. You would think that the next stop would be to stop the Prozac and keep the animal alive for an extra week –just one week!– to see if the changes went away. Two weeks to see if the changes went away… It has never been done! That’s the profit motive. It’s never been done.
“We know that with the other antidepressants there’s receptor loss. So the question occured to me, ‘Have any of these researchers checked to see if the receptors come back?’ So I called one researcher last month. And I said, ‘Are there any studies anywhere in the antidepressant literature on whether these massive changes you claim are helpful, whether they go back to normal?’ He said ‘No, I don’t know of any.’ I said, ‘Are you interested?’ He said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Do you know of anybody who’s interested?’ He said ‘No.’
‘Do you take any money from Eli Lilly for your research?’ ‘Of course.”‘
“One researcher actually said, ‘That’s interesting. Maybe they come back in better patterns.’ I swear to God that’s what he said. And I said ‘Look,’ –this guy I knew personally– ‘Would you just check around the lab and find out if anybody knows of any animal research on whether these changes are permanent.’ He said, ‘I can’t do that.’ That’s how closed the system is. That’s why you should never take a psychiatric drug. Because nobody is even interested in whether it’s good for your brain. They’re hiding things, they don’t research things, they don’t look at the information they have.’
A man with a mustache who had arrived at the Best Western with Jim Goodwin had had his hand up, and now he got the floor. I made him for a contractor, about 40. He looked at Robin Berkley and said, “I’d like to ask this lady who talked about seizures, how long were you on Prozac?”
“Three weeks,” Robin replied.
He asked her if she was off it and she said yes. He asked why she’d gone on it and she explained that her original problem had been hormonal fluctuations, and that a doctor had prescribed it.
“This has always been a personal issue with me,” said the man with the mustache, “and I’ve been on Prozac for three years. There was a round in my .38 that was pointed at my head and for sure was going to go off. There was no analysis. There were no statistics. That round was going to happen. Okay? That round never happened… I guess I don’t understand the point of telling people about all these side effects. If you have a side effect, get off it. I haven’t had a side effect. If I do have a side effect, I will get off it. So I don’t understand the point of all this. Why are you lambasting and telling people about all these side effects…. (Applause from some in the audience) You said, ‘Never go on a psychiatric drug.’ Mister, if I would not have gone on a psychiatric drug, I would be dead. There’s no doubt in my mind. So what was my alternative?”
Breggin responded: “There is no evidence whatsoever that Prozac prevents suicide. The studies show it does not. In fact, they were so sure that it wasn’t going to prevent suicide, that one of the criteria for all the FDA studies on Prozac was that you couldn’t be suicidal. So there is no evidence that any psychiatric intervention reduces suicide. And we’ve been doing these interventions for 50 or 60 years. There’s hardly a worthwhile passionate human being who hasn’t contemplated suicide. Whether you would have or not –you’re convinced that you would have without the drug. To me that’s the sad part.
The man with the mustache raised his voice: “It’s sad that I’m here alive today?
Breggin replied, “No. Don’t be glib with me. I’m not being glib with you. To me the part that is so important is, what might have happened if you hadn’t taken the drug, hadn’t killed yourself, and had done some other process. You also don’t know the answer to that.”
“Well I do know somewhat. I did do other processes. I did other processes for years.”
“Well, God bless you.” said Breggin. “I’m glad you had Prozac, if that’s how you feel.”
“And I’m not the only one who can give that kind of testimony,” the man added.
“Thirty-five to 50 or 60 percent of people feel that way about the sugar pill,” said Breggin. “It is so hard to tell, in the controlled studies…
“Then sugar must cross the blood-brain barrier,” said Doctor Goodwin from the doorway in the back of the room.
Breggin finished the point he was making to Goodwin’s client: “In almost every single study of Prozac, the placebo did as well as the Prozac. But I don’t want to argue you out of anything. Let me respond to one other thing you said. Why we talk about this syndrome is: this syndrome is associated with murder, with violence, with depression. It interferes with a person’s ability to perceive whether they’re well. When you have a stimulant drug effect, you may think you’re doing better than ever, but you may or may not be in the eyes of somebody else. This is one of the major problems with a stimulant drug: you think the world’s in the palm of your hand, but it may not be. The last thing I want to do is get into a personal arugment with anybody about a drug they’re using. I don’t even fight with my wife about her cigarets.
“These are personal views of yours,” Goodwin heckled. “Prozac is not a stimulant drug, it’s an antidepressant, okay? That’s exactly what it is. It’s not a stimulant. It’s not an amphetamine. These are your views. The world according to Doctor Breggin.
Middle-Aged Man in Shorts: I’ve been on Zoloft for three months now. Last year I lost my mother, my father, my aunt and two very close friends. I’ve had chronic asthma all my life, and kind of a chronic depression syndrome all my life. Since I’ve been on Zoloft, people come up to me and say “You’re not the same. You’re calm, you’re relaxed.” I have a very high stress job. I’m in counseling. I can see where you’re coming from. I can understand your point of view–
Breggin: And I can understand yours.
Man In Shorts: But this attitude of “drug companies are just out to make money” and this anti-research attitude, I would have been dead 35 years ago because the drugs would not have been developed for asthma. Sure, every drug causes potential problems. But what percentage of people take drugs and have no side effects or only minimal side effects, and the drug does what it does? One person or a few people take a drug and get into trouble, bingo, it must have been that damn drug that did it. You know, I can go out right now and kill someone and say it’s the drug that did it, I’m not responsible. I was hoping at this conference there would be a little more balanced approach. I keep hearing a theme: all these drugs are horrible. How could so many people have gotten out of the mental hospitals and be living in the community, they’re functioning more or less very well, they’ve got jobs, they’ve got case managers who keep them going and so forth. There were 5,000 people in the state hospital in the middle 50s –now there are 375 or 400. People can be in the community with well regulated social programs and medication. I reserve the right to say more later.
Breggin: That’s fine. Let me respond to some of the things you’ve said. Again, I don’t want to take away whatever anyone thinks is good for them. That’s entirely, entirely up to you. But the idea that we should have a balanced program when Eli Lilly has bought the National Association for Mental Health and is literally pouring propaganda out across the airwaves and across the country in favor of Prozac. When Eli Lilly can literally buy the chief of research at the National Institute of Mental Health and have him come to work for them as a vice president. When Eli Lilly can intervene in the justice system against Dwight Harlor –a drug company intervening to send a man to jail so they can say their drug is harmless! When we’re dealing with corporations with such huge power as the makers of these drugs, I don’t think it’s such a tragedy to have one little tiny conference that presents the other view. Why should it be so threatening? Why should one voice be so scary?
I’d like to address the point you made about the emptying of the mental hospitals. You see, it’s all been made up. The effectiveness of the drugs has all been made up. The population of the mental hospitals in this country did not begin to decline until 1963. The drugs came in in 1954: Thorazine, Stellazine, Mellaril, Haldol. The emptying of the hospitals nine years later had nothing whatsoever to do with the drugs, except that by zombying the patients, they could be carted around more easily. What happened was a change in public policy. The hospitals were so overcrowded, the states couldn’t handle the situation anymore. One reason they were overcrowded is that you could admit anybody anytime to a state mental hospital. They were our old-age homes, they were our poor homes. When I was a resident on duty in the early ’60s, if you called and said ‘My grandmother is a pain in the neck at home,’ I could say ‘We’ll call the hospital and have her admitted.’ I’d call the hospital and they’d say ‘Sure we have a bed out in the hall…’ It was easy to get people in and impossible to get them out. So first there was a change in administrative policy –they threw people out and they stopped taking people in. Try and get your grandmother into the state hospital now! But what allowed for the policy change was, until ’63, mental patients in this country did not qualify under SSI. The states had to pay for them. There was no money for these people if they left the state hospital. But in ’63 it got covered under the federal insurance programs. So the states could now throw the patients out onto the streets, where some went, and into nursing homes, where most went. They did not go free and almost no one got better. It was a trans-institutionalization. They went to prisons, some went home against the wishes of their families, but now they went out on SSI with a minimal amount to live on. That was the change; it had nothing to do with drugs. My colleagues are constantly making up myths about the effectiveness of treatment.
Young woman in pink: In my area a lot of people say this is to handle a brain chemical imbalance. Can you actually test for that without killing test animals?
Breggin: When serotonin is broken down it becomes 5-hydroxy indolacetic acid. 5HIAA. That’s its metabolic product. In the studies they tap the spinal fluid of someone who’s killed somebody or somebody who’s attempted suicide to see if they have high, low or normal 5HIAA. Now remember, these studies are by doctors, often financed by Eli Lilly, highly motivated to find this. So we have some studies showing that a low 5HIAA occurs in people who have this general syndrome of impulsivity. But the syndrome makes no sense. The syndrome includes violence and suicide and depression and acting out behavior in children, obsessive compulsive disorder. I mean you know, really, my God!
If this is anything, it’s probably going to turn out to be one more stress reaction –just like your steroids go up under stress, probably your 5HIAA goes down under stress. If there’s anything to it. Remember, everything that’s been claimed by psychiatry has turned out not to be true. There is no known biochemical or genetic disorder in psychiatry. None. It’s just a repeated claim, year after year after year.
Middle aged woman (with new braces on her teeth): I’m a parent of two boys who are manic depressive bipolar disorder. You’re saying it’s not chemical imbalance, it’s not chemically related. My husband lost a brother to this illness and has another brother with it. You’re saying that suicide doesn’t relate to this. In the last three or four months I’ve lived a hell of this as a mother. My son on December 14th in this town committed some crimes. He was suicidal for seven days in Juvy. We had him committed to Pinecrest Hospital in Couer d’Alene, Idaho where he was put on lithium. He is still on lithium under treatment with a psychiatrist here. He is much better now. He has received counseling and he has received the medication. I’m not saying he’s out of the woods but he’s much better. Now, I see the chemical imbalance. I’m living this day-to-day.
Breggin: How can you see a chemical imbalance?
Woman: I can! I see it when he eats sugar. I see chemical imbalances in this boy!
Goodwin (aiming at irony): Ma’am, you’re a bad parent. You didn’t love him enough…
Woman (nervous laugh) You know me.
Goodwin (in case we didn’t get it): You didn’t love him enough. You’re a bad parent.
Woman: Hey wait. I loved three children at my house very much. I stayed home for nine and a half years and did not work and stayed home and did everything. I’m an early childhood specialist teacher. You can’t. I don’t know. I lived this every day. I deal with it. I deal with it psychiatrically, I deal with it as far as the medication goes. If he doesn’t take his medication, Wenatchee’s in trouble again, not just us at home. And he’s in trouble. He is going to commit suicide if he doesn’t take his medication. I really feel this way. And I’m not talking Prozac. He’s on lithium.
Breggin: Again, let me try to respond. And again, I have no desire to tae anything away from anyone. How old are your children?
Woman: I have a 19 year old son with this illness and he’s on lithium too, but he is not as severe. He is bipolar too. And there’s a 17-year old. And I have a daughter that’s 14 who is not on any medication at this time.
Breggin: Now first, whether or not one can define a disorder called manic depressive disorder and show it’s genetic is to some extent a scientific question. You can’t tell by the fact that it runs in families. All things run in families –speaking English, rooting for the Wenatchee baseball team, people begin educated, not educated. There have been now many studies of manic depressive disorder and all of them show that it’s not genetic. Now what happens is that the first phase of the study gets published and the authors, highly motivated, hold a press conference, sponsored by the federal government, on the basis of flimsy data and declare it to be genetic –such as the famous Amish study– and then comes the later data showing, one more time, that it’s not genetic. and that doesn’t make it into the newspapers. So to some extent that’s a scientific question. You can’t look at something and say it’s genetic because it runs in families. That’s just a fact of life.
Elderly woman (sitting next to the woman with braces): It’s not a fact of life! When you have four generations that come up with this kind of a disorder. I have daughter who is bipolar. I have two granddaughters who are being treated. A great-grandson. And I have been on it just a few months. But I should have been on it if they’d had anything earlier. I’ve been this way all my life. (Trembling with anger) Do you say it’s not the genetic factor? I disagree with you.
Breggin: You can disagree with me, and you can get mad at me, but to some extent it is a scientific question and the studies are unequivocal. They are unequivocal. Some of these problems run in families –that’s clear. But all things run in families. All things run in families.
Goodwin: It’s not unequivical. You’re saying that it’s not even a physical illness. You have two people here saying that it is.
Breggin: Please don’t interrupt.
Goodwin: If something feels like it and tastes like it, doctor, it is.
Breggin: No. In fact there are many human problems that feel physical that are not. the fact that something looks physical and feels physical does not mean its origin is physical. We can get mad and fight about it, but it won’t change anythiing. You might be right and it may turn out to be genetic. You may be right and it might turn out to be biologic. But I’m trying to tell you what we know. And the data seems to indicate specifically that it’s not genetic… What have they told you about tardive dyskinesia. Do you know how common it is?
Woman with Braces: I know it’s common. But suicide is very common in 17-year-olds also, and this is an illness he has, and he has to take that medication, I’m not kidding. Unless you’d like to live with him. You must remember, we live it day to day. Scientific studies don’t pertain at 8 o’clock in the morning or at 10 o’clock at night to a mother or a family that lives this. I’ve been in Juvy 10 times in the last three months over this.
Breggin: I understand. I’ve got kids 15 to 33. If you find what I’ve been trying to communicate scary, or if you think it’s full of insensitivity, that I’m sorry for. Because I deeply, deeply understand the suffering that families go through. I’ve been through it myself. You can’t raise children, you can’t be a human being without going through a lot of suffering.
Young woman: You say you’re trying to be helpful and I appreciate that. But I have dealt with a husband that committed suicide. I have depressed children. I have not heard anything helpful from you, not one thing.
Breggin I’m sorry.
Dwight Harlor (who has been videotaping the proceedings): Why is it such a nightmare for someone like me and why does it work for some other people?
Breggin: I don’t think we know. Remember: half the people who take any drug –for pain, for physical depression, for anxiety– will be improved by it. We have this amazing ability to respond. In addition, if the drug has stimulant side-effects, a lot of people will love it… But I want to ask Dr. Goodwin a question: is it true that you give a hundred percent of your patients Prozac?
Goodwin: No, personally I don’t give anybody medicine. I work with a team.
Breggin: Yes, we’ve heard that on the television. But is it true that you recommend Prozac for a hundred percent of your patients?
Goodwin: No, no. Since we’ve had this new medicine called Paxil, which really does make this suicidal ideation go away within about two days on half a dose if the person’s not drinking alcohol. And it’s not fantasy. Prozac will do it on a decent dose within about four days without alcohol in your body. Yes, we do use this medicine in my practice a lot. And I would say right now probably about 100 percent of the people that I see are either taking Paxil or Prozac. So I agree with that.
Breggin: That’s astonishing!
Goodwin: Well it is astonishing.
Breggin: We finally have a theory where there’s really only one problem in life. It’s amazing.
Goodwin: It’s interesting. I’m not so sure that it’s the only problem. But I think what we’re beginning to find out is that what we’re calling affective spectrum disorders lead widely into what makes us who we are, makes us human. I went to a conference a couple of months ago where I saw some of the finer psychiatrists –I didn’t see you there, Dr. Breggin– I saw some of the finer psychiatrists and psychologists in the country in San Diego. And they very clearly said, this DSM-III that we’re coming up with [a new version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has just been published. The DSM is the definitive catalog of psychiatric illnesses, as established by the American Psychiatric Association.] the new SSRIs can treat, along with appropriate therapy, that’s the difference between what happened to Dwight and what ‘s happened to other people in Wenatchee. They’ve had appropriate treatment. Dwight did not have appropriate treatment. Someone gave him a big Mack truck and didn’t teach him how to drive it, and he almost killed himself with it, okay?
Harlor: The trouble is, they’re passing Mack trucks out like wild, all over.
Goodwin: This is a very important medicine, it works quite well, but it does not work well without psychotherapy. Even Eli Lilly is now saying “Enough is enough. stop trivializing this disorder.” [A reference to a recent ad campaign by Lilly in the medical journals.]
Breggin (incredulous): That was aimed at you! The Eli Lilly ad that says, ‘stop trivializing it by giving it out to everybody’ was aimed at you, for calling everybody depressed.
Goodwin: I’m sure powerful then!
Breggin: They’re embarassed. And the reason they’re embarassed by what you’re doing is…
Goodwin: They’re not embarassed by what I’m doing. They’re embarassed by physicians who hand this medicine out to a man like Dwight, and then something goes wrong, and then who ends up paying? Eli Lilly gets blamed.
Breggin (to others in the room): Lemme tell you what has happened: Eli Lilly has now put an ad out saying “We have to stop acting like everybody can be treated with Prozac. Prozac has to be reserved for that specific number of people who have major depression.” And I think the reason they’re doing it is that all the publicity around Dr. Goodwin giving it to so many people… Let me finish…
Elderly Woman: It’s the physicians who give it to us.
Breggin: Dr. Goodwin encouraging the physicians to give it to everyone, has presented Lilly with the question of whether this is an ampethamine-like drug that people love to take.
Young Woman: You guys are afraid because this is so simple. And you want to make things so complicated. You’re afraid of Dr. Goodwin, you’re afraid of the drug, you’re afraid of information. (laughter)
Breggin: I don’t want this to go into name-calling. I think these are loaded issues and I know that people are showing enormous restraint. I should stop.
Goodwin: We’re finding out, from seminars like this, I think we’re trying to bridge a gap. It’s like Guy said. I think the problem here for a lot of us is that it does work for some people and it doesn’t work for others. And, as you said, what’s the issue, there’s got to be something going on here. And I think what Lilly is trying to get across, and what I’ve always tried to get across, is ‘Do not indiscriminately throw this medicine at people without the appropriate care.’ Dwight, I think you got inappropriate care and that’s why things went wrong. I think what most psychologists and psychiatrists find out, that when a person has a severe run of depression, which is when a person is given medicine, we don’t have much energy to hurt anybody. But as they begin to get healthier, there’s a developmental stage where they do have more energy, so they do get out of control…
On that note Guy McConnell said there would be a break.
In the hallway I passed Jim Goodwin congratulating the man with the mustache. “You did good,” he said heartily. The BBC director came over and gave Goodwin an appreciative pat on the shoulder. “Dramatic enough footage?” asked the psychologist. “Great,” said the Englishman. I had a question, too. “First time in a limo, doctor?” Goodwin was taken aback momentarily. He looked at me as if calculating what dosage to recommend… I told the BBC man what I thought of his manipulations, too, and he followed me into the main room protesting that he hadn’t invited Goodwin and hadn’t set up the confrontation. He hadn’t had to, of course, the Prozac Survivors, desperate to get the word out, had done it for him.
Most, but not all of Goodwin’s claque departed without taking in the rest of the meeting. Gillian Ford spoke on the influence of hormones on mood, and Kevin McCready described a therapy program he runs in Fresno based on “healing through human endeavor.” There were several first-person accounts by Prozac survivors, ending with Bill and Susan Forsyth, whose father killed their mother, then himself, on Prozac (as described in last week’s AVA). “I don’t want to argue with anybody,” Susan said after her brother had recounted the tragic sequence of events. “Evidently Prozac is helping some people. But… ” She stoppped and tried to fight off tears. “This was so out of character. My father was. He was. I don’t know how to convey to you but he was a great, gentle man. And out of the blue… He was totally non-confrontational. He loved life. He loved kids. He went out of his way to say hi to you. He was so approachable you could just hug him.” She wept, then regained her voice. “A really delightful, loving guy. Not a big, strong egotistical man. I mean… what it comes down to is the drug he was on. I could tell you about the people he touched, all the friends he had… And then he got put on this drug. We have the toxicology reports of his blood, what was in his blood. There was no big long list of medications. Prozac was in his blood. That’s what he was on. And he reacted. This sweet guy. At the hospital he was helping other people because he’s…. And then the next morning he goes and stabs his wife of 37 years, and then himself. What more do people need to know that there’s a problem with this drug? It does help people. But is it worth it, for other people to get hurt like this? His four grandchildren without their grandparents? My brother and I dont’ have our parents. My parents’ friends don’t have them. My family to be doesn’t have them. Life is too valuable, it’s too short. This is not acceptable!”
One of the Wenatchee residents who stayed –the woman with the kid in the Sonics shirt who had asked Breggin if the effects of Prozac were reversible– said, when the meeting ended, that she had decided to stay off Prozac. Since Susan Forsyth had just defined her goal in terms of “keeping just one other person from going through what we’ve been through…” it was obvious that The Great Playwright had some kind of happy ending in mind.
Saturday night, under the sweet and calming influence of Rosie and Peter Breggin, I started to see Goodwin as something other than a cruel provocateur. He, too, is a Prozac survivor, a poor schmuck trying to deal with a twitch and God knows what other effects of the drug he has been popping all these years. When an addict goes to his first NA meeting under some pretense –claiming to himself and others that he has no intention of coming back or working a recovery program– they say he’s “checking out the lifeboat.” Maybe that’s what Jim Goodwin was doing at the Prozac Survivors Meeting.
Or maybe that’s just liberalism being released into my synapses. Goodwin has played a major role in the service of the pharmaceutical companies (though Eli Lilly will almost certainly disown him and the state of Washington may eventually pull his license for “unprofessional” conduct). As so often happens when important issues get debated in our society, the corporate forces create a fake “center,” which they then claim and use to great advantage. At one extreme, they will say, there is Doctor Goodwin claiming “Everyone should be on Prozac.” At the other extreme is Doctor Breggin saying “No one should be on Prozac.” And in the center, the respectable, profitable center, we will have Eli Lilly and Pfizer and SmithKlineBeecham saying “Clinical depression is a very serious illness affecting some 18 million Americans and it is for them and only them that antidepressant medication should be prescribed.”