Peter R. Breggin, M.D. discusses psychiatric drugs including SSRI drugs such as prozac, paxil, zoloft, luvox, effexor, serzone, anafranil & the diet pills - fenfluramine, fen-phen & redux.
An Interview with Dr. Peter Breggin
From the Nobody Show
WEOS 89.7FM Geneva, NY.
Taped on 1/24/96
Guest: Peter Breggin: psychiatrist, critic of psychiatry, and author
Hi everybody. It's Nobody, and welcome back to the second hour of the nobody show. I've had a lot of guests on this show, most of them -- well all of them -- I'm happy to talk to, some of them I disagree with a lot... but only a minority of them are people that I truly admire. And my guest tonight is somebody who's in that category. He is an author who has written some ground breaking books. Long before I thought of having him on the show, I read his book Toxic Psychiatry[books can be purchased by clicking the links --ep] cover to cover, thought it was brilliant, brilliantly researched and documented. He's also written a book called Talking Back to Prozac. Both of these books are out in paperback at the moment. And he's also the director of the Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology. Dr. Peter Breggin, welcome to the Nobody Show!
Breggin: What a nice introduction to the Nobody show. Thank you very much.
N: Well I must say you're someone who deserves it. I really am a great admirer of the work that you've done. And one of the things that amazes me about the reception you've gotten and some of the controversy is that people treat you as if you hadn't researched the work, whereas your work is really meticulously researched.
B: Well as a leftist -- your being a leftist, not I necessarily --I told you earlier when we were talking that I'm more confused politically. I've been all over the spectrum. But as a leftist, you have an awareness of how social critics get marginalized. Maybe that's part of the meaning of your "Nobody" metaphor.
N: That's exactly it. I want to talk for all the nobody's of the world, and certainly mental patients count in the nobody group as do social gadflies.
B: Let me follow up on what I was going to say, which is that this myth perpetrated by some psychiatrists that I'm not scientific is part of that marginalization. Whereas in fact my books, the ones that are read by the general public, have more scientific citations in the back of them, and more references and research than many actual textbooks of pharmacology or textbooks of psychiatry.
N: Not to mention popular works like Mood Swing by what's his name Ronald Fire or you'd know better than I ...
B: Feavy (sp?).
N: Feavy! Well this is a book that started people on lithium, and it's entirely anecdotal, it's shoddy and shocking. I'm a journalist also, and I was astonished that a book as badly written as that had gotten that response.
B: And Listening to Prozac by Cramer, which has just charmed the pants off of intellectuals around the country, is based on maybe four or five anecdotes.
N: Well, there are some left wing political issues here, things that you touch on without taking a left wing stance necessarily; but the psychiatrists who are the ones who make most of the real legal policy about these things -- like they can prescribe drugs and stuff -- they're not a group of just academic scholars sitting in ivory towers. You document very well that there are people influencing the psychiatrists. How is this happening?
B: Well, we live in a world in which industry dominates, obviously, a great deal of what happens in the country: what's said, what's done, what's read, what's believed. And there are giant multi-billion dollar industries, and I describe their effects in both Talking Back to Prozac and Toxic Psychiatry. They influence the way research is done, they influence what gets published, they influence who gets appointments, they influence what gets into the press. It's quite astonishing. A company like Eli Lilly, that makes Prozac, spends millions of dollars on PR. One of the things they try to do, for example, is to marginalize a person like myself. A lot of the PR that they churn out from that multimillion dollar machine of theirs is about me, for example, one lone psychiatrist who has criticized their drug.
When you look, as I have, at the heart of these corporations, and I'm not going to specifically say Lilly and indict one corporation, but when you look at the heart of many of them, as I have, in their in-house documents, it's astonishing the degree to which self-interest and the profit motive really does dominate the entire process, even when they're making a medication or a drug for people. I've been, ahh... Oh gosh, I said I wasn't going to get political didn't I? I've been a medical expert in product liability cases, and I've read, had access to, the internal documents of these companies, and I did not start out as cynical as I've ended up. I started out with a very strong streak of libertarianism, I said lets not have government regulation, lets regulate through the market, through malpractice and product liability suits and so on. But it's clear that the companies, by and large, from my experience, do only what they are absolutely forced to do in regard to protecting the public from the damaging effects of their drugs. And then they try to get away with stuff even though they're being forced to do something else.
N: Now, this even goes to the point of their paying for psychiatric conventions, they're giving money to people, paying money to the editors of psychiatric journals. I recall you were talking about -- I mean this is not obscure, this money flow -- there's only 30 or 40 thousand psychiatrists, and basically they've been bought.
B: Well, I don't think the individual psychiatrists have been bought, say, any more than an individual soldier is necessarily bought. But the profession has been bought, the organizations of the profession. In the 1970's, psychiatry was on the rocks economically, it was losing out in competition with social workers and psychologists and non medical therapists. Women were becoming increasingly aware that they'd be better off going to, say, a woman social worker than a male psychiatrist if they wanted to be understood or helped.
And at that point -- and I trace this in Toxic Psychiatry -- at that point, psychiatry, at an organized level, including in the actual annual board meetings of the American Psychiatric Association, made a decision first to "re-medicalize:" to convince the public and the congress, which provides a lot of money to psychiatry, and to convince the country that personal suffering is medical and biological. And, they made at the same time, after some debate, a decision to take more money from the drug companies. So the psychiatric association went from being broke to being wealthy within in a few years as a result of the support of drug companies which just pours in now. They won't even open up their books to their own members.
N: Even members can't find out. . .
B: Even members can't find out what money is flowing where.
N: But these associations, they also publish the journals, I mean this money has a huge influence. . .
B: The money affects everything. I've pointed out that studies that were published in support of Xanax for panic disorder -- that were published in the Archives of General Psychiatry -- that the studies were really terrible. And how did they get published, and even misrepresented in their own abstracts in the journals to make them look better than they were? Well it turned out that Daniel Freedman, who was the editor of in chief at the time, was a paid consultant for the (laughing) ethics committee of the drug company Upjohn, which makes Xanax. . .
N: And he denies of course that this influenced him. . . Freedman by the way is somebody that I personally know something about because I've written a book, that hasn't been published yet, about LSD. And Freedman was kind of in the forefront of a group of people that were giving out kind of stupid advice about that, but never mind ... Let's talk about some of these specific issues of which there are so many, we could talk for hours ... What's wrong with Prozac?
B: Well first of all it's a psychiatric drug. It's a drug that modifies the brain and the mind, so the question to start with is: is this something that people want to do? Is that a way to approach personal suffering? Is it by fooling around and tampering with your neurotransmitters? Then we can get into more details; and, specifically, Prozac is an amphetamine-like drug clinically, not in its effects. It effects different neurotransmitters, at least its primary effect is on different neurotransmitters; but its clinical effect is very similar to amphetamines and cocaine, and I document that very heavily in Talking back to Prozac. And even the FDA knew it in-house: I quote the documents comparing it to amphetamine which were then expurgated from anything that came out of the FDA.
N: Are you suggesting that the FDA is in the pocket of the drug manufacturers too?
B: It's not in the pocket, it's working as close good friends. At least in the psychiatric arena, the psychiatric drug arena which is the one I know.
N: Well they didn't fight real hard to keep that recombinant bovine growth hormone out of the milk either, but never mind...
B: Well yes, there's many different areas...
N: Many different areas where they seem to be working for industry and not for the public.
B: Well it's a commonplace truth that the agencies end up much more under the control of the people that they are supervising than under the control of the consumers. If you look at say, EPA, for a long time EPA, supposed to be regulating industrial pollution, was very much working along with the industry. Now at least at EPA there is a certain amount of response to consumer pressures. A certain amount at least. There are lobbying groups and consultants, Sierra Club and so on, that have some impact on EPA. There's nothing like that at FDA in the drug arena. When a drug like Prozac is approved, it's strictly a collaborative effort between the FDA and the drug company. All the research is done by the drug company, all the researchers are bought and paid for, literally in this case, bought and paid for by the drug company. And the FDA relies entirely on the information sent to it, on the good offices, on the ethics, of the drug companies.
N: Well, be that as it may, isn't it still, even if it is like amphetamine, even if the research was paid for by them, isn't it still a wonder drug that makes people happy, takes away their problems, gets them motivated, makes them thin, dilutes the symptoms of PMS, does everything except make you fly...
B: The real wonder of Prozac is that a drug that's so worthless has had such a cultural impact and has become such a cultural placebo. Because if you look at the actual studies that got it approved at the FDA, for example, the drug was so worthless that the FDA had to stand on its head to allow approval. And in fact if you just studied Prozac itself it wouldn't have gotten approved. The way it got approved was by being combined with sedatives in many of the studies. When you combine it with sedatives it was better than a placebo. Prozac plus the sedative, people said it helped them or they showed some symptom improvement, but often not any with just Prozac alone. Many people found the stimulation much too agitating, too upsetting, for them.
That's one of the big issues about Prozac, is this amphetamine-like effect, but there's another big issue with all of the anti-depressants: they all have an enormous impact on the neurotransmitter system, and the brain doesn't like this. What you're basically doing with Prozac is you're flooding the connections in the brain with chemical sparks called serotonin by stopping serotonin from being removed and destroyed. You flood it, that's what Prozac does. It stops the removal of serotonin. That jacks up the whole system.
It's just as if you had no way of pulling the fuel out of your carburetor, no way of controlling the spark, the ignition process, you're jacking up the ignition process. The brain doesn't like this and it begins to shut down. It does this by means of the dying off of the actual receptors in the brain that would ordinarily receive serotonin. So instead of getting all those sparks just falling on ... on material to ignite, the brain actually dies back in some of its processes to try to calm itself down. Eli Lilly, the manufacturer, has never studied whether the brain recovers from that process. So we don't know whether you grow back your receptors after they die off during Prozac. And I think this is unconscionable. I'm certain that what I'm saying is true because I was the medical expert in the first, and thus far only, product liability lawsuit against Lilly which Lilly settled for a large, secret amount of money sometime after my testimony and before it went to the jury. Which is another interesting story I'd like to tell, which hasn't been told very much ...
N: Go ahead...
N: Go ahead...
B: This is really fascinating. There are about 160 suits out against Eli Lilly, for murder and suicide mostly, people who either committed murder or suicide or mutilated themselves or have done something horribly violent on Prozac.
N: Abby Hoffman is a famous Prozac suicide.
B: He's one of the people who's been said, at least. I just have the newspaper accounts...
N: I talked to his widow, so I know he was on Prozac.
B: Oh, that's good. I just had the newspaper attributions ... so his widow said that?
N: Yes, she said he was on Prozac, and he wasn't well monitored on it.
B: What usually happens is the person gets agitated, like from an amphetamine, then you have depression plus agitation. Also, Prozac can cause depression. Eli Lilly admitted this, and then it was edited out by the FDA, if you can believe that, out of the very last label that was written for Prozac, had in it that it commonly caused depression. And that was edited out at the last minute.
N: Which is exactly the condition that it's supposed to cure.
B: Sure, right. Now what happened in the Prozac trial was really amazing. The Prozac case, the case of Joseph Westbecker who had shot 20 people at his former place of work, he killed 8 of them and then he killed himself. And he had been taking many drugs, he had a very long and difficult psychiatric history. He'd threatened violence before he ever took Prozac. He bought guns before he ever took Prozac. But he was doing fine until the doctor thought maybe he could use a little boost, and he gave him Prozac. And then the doctor noted that he got agitated and possibly deluded, and he said "stop the Prozac." And it was days after that, with the Prozac still in his system, that he committed these murders and suicide. So I argued not that Prozac had made him violent for the first time in his life, but that it had tipped him over from a man who had fantasies and fears of violence to someone who committed violence.
It was not your best case to go with. Because we have many other cases, from what I understand, down the pipe, where the person hadn't been violent or suicidal beforehand, and then took the drug and committed some act against himself or someone else. So this was a tough case, and we thought initially, I thought and the public thought, that Lilly had won it by a close vote of the jury of 9 to 3, close because if there had been one other person who had turned it would have been a hung jury. And that would have been a disaster for Lilly, a hung jury, because they wanted to claim that they had won a complete victory; nobody would notice that it was a 9 to 3 vote, but that they had a complete victory, and that's what they claimed: that they had been exonerated by the jury, in a fair trial.
I had felt there was something very strange in the trial going on. It turned out that the judge discovered that they had a secret settlement before it went to the jury. That the settlement included a large amount of money, included the attorney in charge of the case settling all of his cases, not just this one, and in return for getting all of this money. The people who had brought the case swore to secrecy about it, they didn't bring up certain damaging evidence against Eli Lilly, for instance that I wanted to bring up in my testimony. They agreed not to bring it up, and they agreed not to appeal the verdict, and agreed not to ask for punitive damages. It was really a very significant settlement AND THEN THEY WENT ON WITH A FAKE TRIAL! That's what money can buy you. They went on with a fake trial, without telling the judge they had already reached a settlement and they weren't going to tell the jury everything.
N: That's incredible. So the plaintiff didn't present all the plaintiff's evidence...
B: The plaintiff didn't present all the evidence...
N: That's how they avoided ... that's incredible. I've never heard of this tactic, but nothing will surprise me...
B: I've talked to many attorneys: it's unheard of. Many people consider it unethical, some people raised the question of whether it was criminal or not, for both sides, to do this. The judge was obviously angry, a very respected judge in Louisville Kentucky.
N: And this is a story that nobody knows...
B: No, it's gotten almost no publicity, it's been in a couple of obscure legal-type journals, places like that...
N: I'm very glad you shared it with us here. Now, when you talk about changes in the brain, isn't this a classic pattern of addiction, when you have a physiological adaptation to a drug?
B: Yes, that's part of the addiction process, and it certainly makes for the dangers of the withdrawal being particularly painful, confusing or bizarre in some fashion. And many people, when they begin to stop taking their Prozac, they get very crazy, they get disturbed and we've seen that ...
N: Do we know if Prozac has long term side effects, or damage or anything like that?
B: No, we have no idea because the simple experiments that could be done on rats to see if the neurotransmitter systems grow back after they die off from the Prozac, after the receptors in these systems die off, we don't know if they come back, and this is not a hard experiment to do. Very simple, and under oath the Lilly people said they'd never done any of this. The FDA had never asked them to do it. I phoned researchers around the country who said they couldn't do it because it could turn out to be so damaging to Lilly that, you know, they wouldn't do it because, after all, all the researchers in the field rely on the drug companies ...
N: Now, if anyone is just joining us, my guest is Dr. Peter Breggin who is the author of Toxic Psychiatry and also of Talking Back to Prozac. And the numbers to call in here are xxx-xxx-xxxx or xxx-xxxx.
N: Off the air, someone called and gave a question. They didn't want to go on the air, but they asked about Zoloft or Effexor. I don't even know what that is. Are either of these dangerous in your opinion?
B: Well, Prozac and Paxil and Zoloft are very similar drugs. And they all have similar dangers, Prozac is more toward the stimulating end, whereas Zoloft and Paxil are sometimes a bit more sedation, but you can get some horrendous stimulation too. Effexor is more complicated; it does some of the things the other drugs do, so it has some of those dangers, but then it affects other neurotransmitter systems as well.
Put it this way: we know that if you take a little bit of toxin and you drop it in the ocean, it's going to turn up in the fish and it's going to turn up in our bodies and it injures us. We know that if you put some of these flourohydrocarbons in the atmosphere in tiny amounts, you may end up with a hole in the ozone layer and it will cause cancers here on earth and other problems. We know that pouring smoke into the environment and acids have been causing all kinds of problems. We're even raising the temperature of the earth. That's the effect of minuscule, minute pollutants on our general environment.
Now take your brain. Your brain is much more complicated than anything else in the environment. There's nothing in the universe that we know of that's anywhere near as complicated as a human brain. You're taking that incredibly complicated and delicate organ, and you're putting into it agents which pollute it at a far higher concentration than anything that the earth is ever exposed to. But the point is to intoxicate the brain, it's to disrupt its processes. That's what the drugs are for. Now is that what we should be doing to our brains? I don't think so. I don't think it's the way to go.
N: Just to talk about how dangerous this is, let me give you a couple of words which I'll probably mispronounce. Maybe you could tell people what they mean: Tardive dyskinesia.
B: You did pretty good with that. Tardive dyskinesia.
N: What is it?
B: It's a permanent neurological disorder which comes from another class of drugs. It comes from a class of drugs called neuroleptics or major tranquilizers or anti-psychotics that are widely used in hospitals, and sometimes in private practice, and sometimes even for behavioral control of children. These are drugs that are given in nursing homes; they include Haldol, thorazine, stelazine, novane, melaril, prolixin. These are the drugs that supposedly caused the miracle emptying of the mental hospitals, but that's not what happened. The emptying of the mental hospitals was an economic thing, they just stopped admitting people and threw people out. But it was an administrative change due to economic pressures. But these are the mythological miracle drugs.
We now know that if you're an ordinary healthy person, say a 35 year old male, and you take these drugs for say 3 years, which is not uncommon, in 3 years you'll have a 15% chance, which is astronomical, of getting a permanent neurological disorder that's characterized by twitches and spasms, tics and sometimes painful spasms, sometimes disfiguring tics and twitches. And if you take these drugs for a lifetime, as many doctors advocate, you begin to approach a 100% chance of getting this disease.
N: How many people have gotten it?
B: Multiple millions, multiple millions throughout the world. We can't even begin to count. I've made rough estimates of a few million in the US, but there's no way to know. Certain populations are vulnerable beyond belief: a 65 or 70 year old person in a nursing home has up to a 20 percent risk per year on being exposed to this drug, 40 percent in two years. And this is all data that I documented in Toxic Psychiatry and is readily available if you go and look up the references.
N: If you open up Auschwitz and you see what went on there, you'd think that kind of discredits the Nazi's. At least I'd hope you'd think so. If you look at millions of people, we're only talking about one class of drugs, millions of people disabled by what psychiatrists did to them, doesn't this tend to discredit psychiatry totally as a profession?
B: Well let me answer by telling you something that you've alluded to but may not realize. I don't know if you know how much of a role psychiatry played in Nazi Germany and in the creation of the extermination camps.
N: I'm glad you brought it up, go ahead ...
B: My wife and I have a third book that's been recently published called The War Against Children. Which is about racism in federal government programs, particularly racism directed at black children in federal government psychiatric programs. In that book, I have a chapter on the history of the role of psychiatry in Nazi Germany, very documented, like all my stuff is, and this subject that I'm about to introduce you to, I've lectured on in Germany as well as in other European countries, I've given this talk at a historical conference on medicine in Germany, so this is very valid material that I'm presenting to you.
Psychiatry was key in the whole developmental process of the holocaust. It all begins in the late 1930's and early '40s with the extermination of mental patients by psychiatry. Psychiatry created five or six euthanasia centers having names that people haven't heard of, like Harteim, Sonnenstein. These extermination centers used gas chambers, at the time, carbon monoxide. They used (unclear), they used, not so much cremating ovens, as they cremated the bodies in pits; that was one of the differences. But they had the whole works, they had euthanasia forms that they used to fill out in Berlin on patients who were in the local state mental hospitals. And then the patients that were selected were shipped to the killing centers. This is what proved to Hitler, and to the German bureaucracy, that you could carry out a mass extermination, a bureaucratic, technological, mass extermination: it was proven and demonstrated by psychiatry.
N: Wasn't there a psychiatrist who actually spoke to Hitler about this very thing, I mean it wasn't that Hitler just read about it, wasn't here someone who actually sort of pushed this thing?
B: We don't know that kind of intimate detail. We know of course that Hitler knew ... oh, I think I know what you're getting at. In a way, yes, I wouldn't have thought of him having pushed it on him. I mean Hitler had his own ideas. But the whole idea, the first idea of the mass murder program, predates Hitler to a psychiatrist, Paul Hoche. Actually, it may not be Paul, but Hoche. And Hoche and Binding wrote a book on the extermination of mental patients in 1920, before Hitler was in power. And Hitler read Hoche. He was a fan of Hoche; he read his autobiography... Hitler drew heavily on psychiatry, and on genetic theorists and other scientists which he sort of popularized in Mein Kampf. Some of the passages inMein Kampf are just popularizations of eugenic psychiatry, talking about the mentally retarded, and the mentally ill, and not letting them propagate.
Hitler's first laws that he passed, were sterilization laws, mostly for psychiatric patients and the developmentally retarded and so on. And the entire murder program was organized by psychiatry. And there isn't a lot of evidence for Hitler initiating that program. That program seems to have been initiated out of psychiatry. Now there was an outcry against the program, and it was eventually stopped. And that left all the murder centers. One of them had just been completed, one of the murder centers for psychiatry, and it was turned into an extermination center for Jews. The other centers, which were mostly in Germany, were actually dismantled and shipped to Poland and became the initial foundation for the extermination centers, like Treblinka. And some of the personnel went, and even one of the psychiatrists went and ran one of them for awhile. But after awhile it was completely removed from the hands of psychiatry to a great extent, except for some places like Auschwitz. It was removed of from the hands of doctors eventually and just became much more mechanical. But the entire process of the extermination may not have gone on, and many people thought this and argued this later, that it wouldn't have gone on if professional psychiatry had refused the euthanasia program.
The AMA sent representatives to Neuremburg when this first came out, and the German equivalent of the AMA were there. And I quote them in The War Against Children as saying that if medicine had refused, and in particular if psychiatry had refused this murder program of their own, if they hadn't done that, we might not have had the holocaust. We obviously would have had horrible things done to the Jews, but maybe not the bureaucratic, mechanical extermination program.
N: You know, when I was a kid we used to have candy cigarettes that had pretty much the real looking packages, but they were made out of something else; and it turned out that the tobacco companies encouraged the manufacturers of these to get kids started in their direction...
B: You know I just heard something else about that, I just heard that all the soldiers in world war two always had free cigarettes...
N: Right, also provided by the tobacco companies...
B: By the companies to hook the 18 and 19 year olds ...
N: Right, I think that was started actually in world war one. But the thing is kids are being started on psychiatric drugs now, and it's now becoming a thing that the teachers endorse. You put it in the schools, you give it to young kids... what's the story on that?
B: I think it's a very good analogy that you're making. The drug companies have realized that if they target children they have a whole new and huge market. And they're doing it. We have now millions of children on drugs, whereas in the early '70s it was a scandal. To be very specific, in 1972-73 there were a bunch a books that came out around that time, and articles and TV shows, up in arms about the drugging of America's children. Because it was estimated that about 100,000 to 200,000 children were taking ritalin. Now, we probably have somewhere between 3 and 4 million on ritalin.
N: Is that safe?
B: It's as safe as Prozac and cocaine and all the other psychoactive drugs that people take. Ritalin is a stimulant, it's closely related to amphetamines. See, Prozac has similar effects to amphetamine, but ritalin really is amphetamine. It's basically speed. And it has all the problems of that drug, including addiction, withdrawal problems, producing the very things it's supposed to cure, inattention and things like that. And then there's just the whole idea of giving drugs to a growing young mind. And there are the much larger political issues of drugging children rather than improving family life and improving families and improving schools and dealing with our educational problems and the future of children in this country. Instead we're drugging them. It's an extraordinarily cynical, heartless thing to do, and politically it's a disaster. I mean instead of dealing with how to bring up more effective, happier, fulfilled generations of children, we're drugging them into submission. I mean we're doing it, we're on that road already.
N: While the schools are crumbling...
B: And while the families are crumbling.
N: You know, I've had this actual discussion with people and I wonder what your take on this is, because I'm a child of the '60s, I smoked marijuana, I've taken LSD: And I've said to people, "I've never met -- for all the stereotypes -- I've never met anyone selling drugs as completely crass as what the psychiatrists and the medical people are doing. Nobody ever said 'take this, it will cure your problems' ... "
B: And nobody says 2 and 3 and 4 year olds should do it. And they're doing that in psychiatry now.
N: But the answer to that, always, that I get back from people is that "you can't compare the two, the psychiatric drugs are given by doctors."
B: Right. But it's not magic, just because the guy that's pushing it has a medical degree or a drug company is making an open profit on it. That doesn't make it fundamentally different. Ritalin is a good example of that because in the '60s ritalin was a street drug. And when the "just say no to drugs" campaign was developed for children a decade or so ago, one of the drugs of greatest concern was ritalin, along with amphetamines. So it's exactly the same drug that was a very heavy street drug. And nowadays, some of the kids, when they go to the doctor and they say "yeah, they really like to take their ritalin", they like it because they take it home and they sell it to other kids who are using it as a drug of abuse. Snorting it or taking it with other drugs or taking extra large doses of it.
N: In your opinion, under what circumstances should somebody take a psychiatric drug?
B: I don't believe in the psychiatric drugs myself. I've been in practice since 1968, and I've never started anyone on psychiatric drugs. I don't think they're the answer to human suffering. And even in the area that psychiatrists like to reserve to itself, people who get labeled schizophrenic, people who hear voices or see things or are very frightened and paralyzed and terrified, there's plenty of evidence that human empathic, caring, protected environments are better than mental hospitals and drugs. And there's a whole history of research demonstrating that, and that research has been suppressed and squelched. And I talk about that research too in Toxic Psychiatry.
N: But you're saying, unequivocally, if you look at hard figures, not sentimentality or dewy eyed "new age" stuff, you're taking a look at hard studies and statistics and facts and figures of what's going to work better, you're saying that psychiatric drugs are worse.
B: Oh yeah, there's even stuff coming out of the establishment now, from psychology not psychiatry, that a careful look at the studies on antidepressants shows that they don't work. That it's all placebo. That if you do a study of a sugar pill and an antidepressant, the antidepressant might do a little better because the patient knows they're getting a drug. They have a dry mouth or they can't sleep or they're jittery and they say "oh, I'm getting a powerful medicine". But if you compare the antidepressant to a sugar pill that also has some side effects, then both groups do equally as well.
N: You mean if you give them an antihistamine or something ...
B: Yes, something that makes them sleepy or jittery but that's not supposedly an antidepressant. And I tell you, if you read Talking Back to Prozac you'll see that basically even their own conducted scientific studies with all the fancy tap dancing they did, really couldn't show that Prozac was any better than a sugar pill. They really were hard pressed to do it. And then, things that they found that they hid; I found in going over their in-house documents of Lilly -- and I couldn't say this if it weren't true -- I found that they had an increased suicide rate on Prozac.
N: In their own internal documents ...
B: In their own studies, and it was in their own documents, and somebody might say "well, the patients were depressed", but this was scientific studies, this compared depressed patients on sugar pills, depressed patients on old-time antidepressants and depressed patients on Prozac. And of that group, the group that was given Prozac, there were 3 to 6 times as many suicide attempts on Prozac. And their own consultant, in a secret memo, gave the same explanation that I gave in court. He said well this is a stimulating drug, so maybe it gets people agitated and it sort of "tips them over". And Eli Lilly responded to this research by hiding it.
N: Well, one can easily see why. But despite this, there's a big move on now to forcibly drug people: "we've been too nice to these mental patients, now we've gotta make them take these drugs". In fact you wrote a letter to the New York Times -- I have a copy -- on June 28th of '94, in which you said "In my interviews with street people at drop-in centers, I've found that nearly all of them would rather endure the risks of homelessness, including starvation and physical abuse, than subject themselves to psychiatric drug treatment." That's pretty radical talk there.
B: Isn't it wonderful too, that the New York Times was willing to publish it. I mean you get these little holes in the establishment where you can flow through occasionally.
N: Well I think that's a tribute to your reputation. But in any case, where do the psychiatrists get off working -- I mean this is something Thomas Saads (sp?) has also talked about, about this medical-legal nexus -- I mean where do the psychiatrists get off saying "yeah, let's force people to take drugs"?
B: Well we have a long tradition of that. Our psychiatry really begins in force in ... the history of psychiatry, some people think it begins with Freud, you know, but actually Freud wasn't a psychiatrist and he had very little influence in psychiatry. The history of psychiatry begins, and this will interest you as a self-avowed leftist, it begins with the industrial revolution and the creation of street people, where you had urban centers with large numbers of poor destitute homeless unemployed, sometimes inadequate and sometimes disturbed and crazy people. And that whole collection of people, the rising industrial urban area didn't know what to do with it, any more than they know what to do with it now. But I'm talking about 2 or 3 hundred years ago, and out of that came the state mental hospital system.
Now under the criminal laws, even of 17th century England or France, you couldn't just lock people up for no reason at all, even under the kings you couldn't just lock somebody up for no reason at all, so out of that came Civil Commitment. Where you just sort of took away the civil rights of people, and for their own good, supposedly, and for the good of society, swept them up off the street and put them in these custodial institutions where most of them languished and died. So we're born, psychiatry is born, out of involuntary treatment, and it grew out of involuntary treatment, so it's real natural for us to think in terms of doing that.
N: Now we've barely scratched the surface, but there's also little things like psychosurgery and electric shock. Electric shock, we're now told, is safe, there's a new age of electric shock, all that bad reputation is over with now. Is that true?
B: No. Shock treatment is worse than ever, actually. The claims that it's better than ever are just a PR campaign. Nowadays, in order to keep the patients from breaking bones when they shake, you know, when you get a seizure, you shake. And the seizure that you get from a jolt to your brain is so much worse than an ordinary seizure that you break bones from the shaking, like your spine, your vertebrae. So we now paralyze the patients before we shock them, and give them sedatives. Well, when you sedate the brain, it's not as easy to make it have a seizure. Sedatives are anti-convulsives; that is, they prevent or slow down seizures. So when you're giving sedatives, you've got to give an even bigger jolt of electricity. Nowadays, patients get more electricity, than the older studies which showed brain damage in animals.
N: There are studies that show brain damage in animals?
B: Yes, I review some of those in Toxic Psychiatry. You can go from the book and go look them up in a medical library ...
N: And the same is true obviously, all of these things, including the surgery obviously, destroy brain tissue, that's what psychiatry is largely about, is destroying people's brains, it seems.
B: Well, we're disabling the brain.
N: Or killing them outright in the case of Nazi Germany ...
B: I have a new medical book, coming out, that may be called, Brain Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry [Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry : Drugs, Electroshock and the FDA, available soon, can be ordered now --ep], and basically all the interventions disable the brain or destroy brain tissue. The drugs, even if they don't cause anything permanent, although often they do, but even if they don't, they are disabling the brain. We don't have any substances to put in the brain to make it work better. All we can do is knock out some of its function or, as in the case of Prozac, jack up some of its function. Those are abnormalities, so we don't know how to do anything but produce abnormalities in the brain. Now my colleagues, who are ever-fascinated with the big lie, claim that patients have biochemical imbalances in the brain and that it's terrible to have them. In fact there's no evidence that patients with psychiatric labels have imbalances in their brain, until they get drugs. And once you have a psychiatric drug you have huge imbalances in your brain. That's what they do.
N: In the real world -- which is what you're describing I guess -- in the real world, these psychiatric drugs and psychiatric treatments are really horrific and dangerous and bad for you. The people who administer this, who we are supposed to respect, the doctors who are really injuring people, with some exceptions such as yourself: is being a psychiatrist evidence that you have a pathological condition yourself?
B: It's certainly evidence that you have, in almost all cases, administered electric shock, as I have. It's likely that you have locked up people against their will. Nowadays, it's evidence in most cases that you drug most of your patients. So, I mean, that's who you are.
N: Well, are they scum, are they sick, are they out of their minds? What's the matter with them?
B: They're typical guys...
N: They're mostly guys?
B: Well, I mean, I meant that more metaphorically, they are mostly guys, but they are people who tend to be into control and domination.
N: What keeps us from just outright condemning psychiatrists? I mean I feel this way about a lot of groups. I don't think that being the CEO of a transnational corporation should be respectable. But why should it be respectable to be a psychiatrist, when this is what psychiatrists do? With all due respect to you, who I respect enormously. When someone introduces themselves and says "I'm a psychiatrist" shouldn't the answer be "well why don't you get an honest job?"
B: I think it certainly would be worthwhile to challenge anyone who bravely announces himself or herself as a psychiatrist. To challenge them on involuntary treatment. To ask if they've stood up on issues of lobotomy or electroshock. To ask them whether they tell their patients about the damaging effects of their drugs. I think that these issues are beyond whether a psychiatrist is a good or a bad person. It's about a profession that does indeed do a great deal of harm.
N: Why are we going for it? Why are we going for Prozac as a nation? Why are we letting this happen?
B: Well, it might be worth looking at the whole question of what is the religion of the intellectual in America, including leftists? What does the intelligent, educated American do when he or she is terrified? When he or she feels at loose ends, and doesn't know where to go?
N: Eat pizza and watch trash TV?
B: That's the first thing. But what does that person do when, beyond that, the terror increases? The person is most likely to think that psychiatry will help. Especially after they've gone through, say, street drugs and alcohol and cigarettes and food and TV. The last resort of the educated person these days tends to be the psychiatrist. That means that psychiatrists are really our priests. That they constitute our religion. When people are happy to read in the New York times or the Washington Post, that homosexuality is discovered to be genetic and biological, which is false, or alcoholism or anything else, and that these things can be treated with drugs, that's welcomed as a religious statement of: "there is an answer". There's some place to turn. If we can't turn to psychiatrists, where are we going to turn?
I believe deeply in love, I believe in family, I believe in friendship, I believe in living by principles, I believe in values. But how many people believe that that's the rock bottom foundation that they can turn to and rely on in their worst emotional moments? Most people today, if their kid is out of control or they feel out of control, think the answer isn't in a spiritual or psychological realm, but is in a material, medical realm. Psychiatry has really become the religion of the more sophisticated people. And now it's biological psychiatry. When psychiatry was somewhat more psychoanalytic then a lot of people were psychoanalytic, and it's amazing that in two decades that people would change from the psychoanalytic ideology to the biochemical ideology, but it's the reliance of this thing called psychiatry.
N: I think we ought to distinguish, at least from my own point of view: There are people who get into a desperate situation, with themselves, with a child, someone's about to jump off a bridge ... I don't know how you feel, but personally, if you sedate someone that's just about to jump off a bridge so that they're calm for a few hours and you can deal with it, I'm not going to say that every case is always so extreme but ...
B: But wait a minute, that's the key. The key is: do you have a fantasy that if things get extreme enough, that it's the psychiatrist that you'll turn to? If that's your fantasy, then your religion is psychiatry.
N: But I'm saying that we shouldn't think only of the extreme cases ...
B: No, but I'm raising the extreme case at this moment, in response to why I think that all of our newspaper writers and editors and our, you know, teachers and talk show hosts, and everybody wants to take Prozac, or at least believes that it's something that they could rely on. And I think that a major reason for it, is that people want to believe, in the back of their minds, that there is hope, somewhere. That if they don't have a hope in God, or in Love, or in society or in community, they hold up psychiatry as the hope, so I think a lot of the reason why psychiatry is so strong, among certain groups of people, particularly among the educated, is that it provides a religious hope or faith.
N: I guess I would argue that it's not the extreme cases, it's the little cases ... It's like a gun, you know someone could say "well what could I do, someone's about to shoot me, I had to shoot back." That's true, but why did we have a whole culture of violence leading up to that situation? It's really every little thing now is psychiatric, you have to be thinking in those terms. But what's the alternative? If we're not going to be psychiatrically inclined, what is help for people if it's not drugs and electroshock and all that stuff?
B: All of life. And life has many many different things to offer, you know. I do psychotherapy, I do couples therapy, family therapy, I do telephone and radio shows, workshops, and that's just a little aspect. There are 12-step programs that are very good, you know the AA programs, there's religion, there's nature, there's so much to turn to, there's so many alternatives in life. The problem we're facing right now though, and it's worsening with managed care, is that most of the alternatives, for anyone who's really upset, are being excluded. And increasingly, we don't have havens, increasingly therapists are afraid to do therapy without drugs. So we're getting to the point where there's more and more exclusion of the alternatives. But if you're a depressed person there are so many alternatives available in life.
N: Do you think therapists, not giving drugs, but therapy with a therapist, has a place?
B: I do therapy. That's how I make a living, I think it's one of the approaches to life, and to improving life and helping with serious emotional problems or lesser ones. Or just handling life in general. But there are problems in that whole profession too, I mean, how do you choose a therapist. There's no guarantee that because somebody has a degree or license that they're a caring, ethical, thoughtful, experienced, understanding human being.
So even there, we have a problem. One of the problems there is the monopolization of licensure, for example. I'd like to see us admit that nobody has a monopoly on how to help human suffering. That all this reliance on professions, even the reliance on professional therapy, that this blind faith is incorrect, that every human being has to decide for themselves, what sorts of approaches, what sorts of changes are likely to empower them and give them a fuller life, allow them to live ethically and in a principled way.
N: Well that's a good note to end on, cause we're out of time. But I want to say, Dr. Breggin, that I'm honored to have had you on the show, I hope that you can come back. I wish you the very best with your work and I am, as I've said many times now, I'm a great admirer of yours and I thank you very much for being here.
B: Thank you.
N: There you have it folks. And I started out saying, it's like we had the pied piper of Hamlin: You know if someone said "let's throw the children to the rats" as a solution [to the rats and the piper, this referred to a tale presented earlier in the program, an example of "throwing out the baby with the bath water" --rw, original transcriber of this broadcast], nobody was ever that dumb in history to do it, but here we are doing it in the United States. And that just ties in with what Dr. Breggin was talking about, because we're throwing the children to the rats with the psychiatric drugs. That's what's happened to our culture. But just as Dr. Breggin said, there is an alternative. Life is an alternative, love is an alternative. And we can make a society built around justice and love and appreciation for life. It's got to be possible. Because if you don't believe in miracles, you're not a realist. I'm Nobody. I won't be on next week. Two weeks from today at the ABC cafe. Good night.
You've been listening to the Nobody show, produced in cooperation with 89.7FM WEOS Geneva. The views expressed in this program are not necessarily those of this station or that of Hobart and William Smith Colleges.