Challenging the Drug Culture

In 2006 CNN reported that prescriptions of anti-psychotic drugs to American children had increased five-fold between 1995 and 2002. Children as young as two years are being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and treated with powerful drugs. Even more recently Marcia Angeli wrote in the New York Review of Books on her concern about the financial ties between the pharmaceutical industry and the psychiatric profession. She wrote that ‘we are now in the midst of an apparent epidemic of bi-polar disease in children …. with a forty-fold increase in the diagnosis between 1994 and 2003.’

An American author, Michael Greenberg, whose daughter was diagnosed with bi-polar depression, writes of his experience of taking the full dose of his adolescent daughter’s medication – anti-psychotics, sleeping pills, an anti-convulsant, an anti-anxiety agent and a muscle relaxant. He reports that on taking the medication that he was ‘gripped by a paradoxical panic of indifference, a zombie-like state that lasted for several hours. His conclusion from his experience was that the drugs release his daughter not from her cares, but from caring itself!

What has happened that people’s problems in living are being reduced to a neuro-biological process and that no attention is given to the problematic contexts of people’s lives? One wonders, too, why there has been such a rise in the diagnosis of bi-polar disorder in children – forty-fold. Is it because the other popular childhood neuro-biological syndromes – attention-deficit disorder (ADD), attention-deficit disorder with hyperactivity (ADHD) with  and oppositional defiance disorder (ODD) have been seriously undermined by the originator of these syndromes stating that he got it wrong because he had omitted to examine the contexts of the diagnosed children’s lives. There is also the added ‘nail in the coffin’ of these syndromes with long-term studies showing that the prescribed drugs for these conditions – Ritalin and Concerta – have no long-term positive effects, but do have the negative effect of stunting the physical growth of children. Of course, the psychological and social effects are even more detrimental in that the real issues are not dealt with and children are both depersonalised and disempowered.

Will the same outcome occur for bi-polar disorder in children as long-term research examines the effects of both the label and the powerful drugs on the diagnosed children’s physical, psychological, social and spiritual development?

The Greek word Pharmakon means not just ‘cure’ but ‘poison’ and it appears to me that for many children and adults, the prescription of drugs results only in more trouble for those troubled individuals who seek out professional help.

There are many confused and frightened individuals, pill-popping their way through anxieties, depressions, illusion, delusions, marital and family conflicts, but no pill, ultimately, can resolve such emotional turmoil. And I have no doubt that there are many parents who are confused and frightened regarding the terrifying labelling and drugging of their children.

There seems to be a serious reluctance on the part of many – professional and non-professional – that drugs ‘cure’ for people’s problems in living are only making people worse. Indeed, the cure for ‘madness’ becomes the cause of more ‘madness.’

In our materialistic, success-oriented and work-dominated world, we do not appear to have the time to be reflective, contemplative and to go into therapy. We are not living in a thoughtful and self-examining time. We desire rapid results for what are often deep-rooted emotional, social and spiritual crises.

The worrying factor is that each time a new DSM index (the catalogue of human diseases) is published it keeps expanding – there are new diseases and new sub-diseases. For my own part, I truly question the existence of these new (and many old) diseases. Is there any truth in the prevailing belief that these new diseases are being created because they provide new markets for drug companies? Are these managing directors of drug companies as avaricious and greedy as were the leaders of our banks? And are we medicating people with a genuine intention of making them better or subconsciously or consciously, is there a more sinister motivation to reinforce people’s addiction to pleasing others and/or the addiction to success?

An urgent question that arises is: what is it that is blocking the majority from seeing that what is obviously wrong is how people relate to themselves and to others in the different social and work settings and that rather than changing the way we live within and without, a reductionist model of human behaviour perpetrates a person’s alienation from Self and others. In thirty years of clinical practice my experiences have convinced me that we and our agonies are far more than the biochemical processes that psychiatry and the pharmaceutical companies would have us believe.

Dr. Tony Humphreys practices as a clinical psychologist and is author of several books on practical psychology including Whose Life Are You Living?