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What Big Pharma Doesn't Want You To Know About Prozac

Updated on January 1, 2015

Worse Living Through Chemistry

In 2012, depression became the single most commonly treated mental illness, amid claims that 10% of Americans suffer from this disorder every year. 25% of Americans are reported to succumb to depression at some point in their lives. More than 1 in 5 women ages 40-59 reported taking antidepressants, the highest rate for any group. Depression has become the leading cause of disability in the USA.

Not surprisingly, psychiatric drugs are now more widely prescribed than almost any other prescription drugs in history. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2011 an astounding “254 million prescriptions for antidepressants were dispensed to the American public.”

Is this a success story?

It has been for Big Pharma, but not for the American public.

If the 1980’s were the age of Xanax, the 1990’s became the age of Prozac (fluoxetine). Promising everything from a problem-free personality to weight loss, Prozac zoomed to the number one drug prescribed by psychiatrists in 1990.

As the new millennium approached, benzos like Xanax and Valium were “out.” A new class of drug, the SSRI (Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitor), was “in."

Its prototype was Prozac.

Depression: NOT just a matter of brain chemistry

Low Serotonin Theory Debunked

In the 1990s, a simple theory was put forth that low serotonin causes depression. Leading psychiatrists began to say that depression is largely a matter of brain chemistry...a deficiency of serotonin and other neurotransmitters. Therefore, a serotonin booster, like Prozac (fluoxetine), should be just the ticket for treatment.

Unfortunately, The “leading psychiatrists” were wrong.

The serotonin deficiency theory was not correct. Attractive as that theory sounded, the truthful answer is “It’s just not that simple.

Author David Oaks, of Mindfreedom International, put it this way:

“The problem, you see, is that there is no proof for the things we were told: that our problems were due to brain-based diseases. Depression is not simply a matter of low serotonin. He went on to say that the APA (American Psychiatric Association) “could not scientifically justify what we were led to believe as patients.”

The House of Prozac really began to fall apart in the new millennium when families, patients and doctors reported that the pills were making some suicidal patients worse, especially younger patients, age 18-25. In 2007, the FDA, concerned about these increased risks of suicidal thoughts and behavior slapped Prozac (fluoxetine) with a black-box warning, the most stringent precaution a drug can carry before it is pulled from the shelves. The name “black-box” refers to the ominous black border that surrounds the warning information on the drug’s packaging.

In addition to the FDA warning, Prozac was dealt another blow: a new consensus was developing among enlightened psychiatrists that Prozac actually worked no better than sugar pills.

Professor Irving Kirsch of Harvard Medical School analyzed 38 clinical trials of antidepressants and came to a startling conclusion: the new wave of antidepressants, once heralded as wonder drugs, work no better than sugar pills for the vast majority of patients: “85 to 90 percent of people being prescribed antidepressants are not getting any clinically meaningful benefit from the drug itself.”

Dr. Kirsch continued, “What we expected to find was that people who took the antidepressant pill would do far better than those taking the placebo, the sugar pill. We couldn’t have been more wrong. Perhaps in the future, twenty years from now, antidepressants will be seen as bloodletting is seen today.”

Those were harsh words from a respected Harvard professor.

Dr. Walter Brown, professor of psychiatry at Brown University, concurred. “We pretty much found the same thing as Kirsch”, he reported. For mild to moderately depressed patients, he continued, “antidepressants offer no advantage over placebos, alternative therapies, or even moderate exercise.”

He concluded that “There is no question that these drugs are overhyped to the general public. The research shows that they are not as good as the psychiatric establishment and the pharmaceutical industry claim they are.”

Of course, many other SSRIs have come onto the market since Prozac, including Citalopram (Celexa, Cipramil), Escitalopram (Lexapro, Cipralex, Seroplex, Lexamil), Paroxetine (Paxil, Aropax), Fluvoxamine (Luvox), Sertraline (Zoloft) and Vilazodone (Viibryd).

Despite this competition and despite the black-box warning, Prozac and its generic fluoxetine equivalents remain popular and have become the third-most-prescribed antidepressant in the United States.

Sarafem: Prozac Repackaged and Renamed

Big Pharma's Big Game

With patent protections on Prozac running out, the Eli Lilly Corporation knew that marketing Prozac under a new trade name would effectively extend patent protections for many more years. Instead of spending millions to come up with a new drug, the marketing department came up with a better idea (better for Lilly): repackage the Prozac (fluoxetine), pretty in pink, rename it Sarafem, and remarket it to millions of women as a treatment for PMS (aka PMDD or Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder). 30 million dollars was spent on a Sarafem ad campaign to market the new "disease," PMDD, and the new "cure," fluoxetine (Sarafem).

Sarafem was a clever play on words with Seraphim, the Hebrew word for “Angel." "Just give me my Angel, and I will be OK” was the marketing message. The truth was that Prozac and Sarafem are one and the same: the same fluoxetine with the same side effects, including the possibility of sexual dysfunction, increased suicidal ideation and even birth defects when taken by pregnant women.

Unfortunately, the USA is the only country besides New Zealand that allows direct marketing to the general public via TV ads.I've often wondered how many women were prescribed Prozac for PMS, without realizing they had been duped by corporate deception, by a clever bait and switch.

According to Paula J. Caplan, Ph.D, "The creation of Sarafem has extended Lilly’s patent on Prozac by seven years, adding untold millions to its bottom line. This is an example of a company taking cynical advantage of the legal and regulatory system to increase its profits at the expense of women’s health."

The Real Cause of Depression

If serotonin deficiency is not the problem, what is the real cause of most cases of depression?

Leading Ayurvedic physician Dr. David Frawley has the best answers. According to him, most cases of depression are caused by a lack of love and connection...not by a deficiency in brain chemistry. Lack of love and connection cannot be treated with pills and capsules. This lack can be treated holistically with Ayurveda and Yoga, both of which emphasize union with Spirit and connection with each other as human beings.

Ayurveda, the “Science of Life,” is the system of holistic medicine from India. Yoga is the spiritual aspect of Ayurveda, while Ayurveda is the healing branch of yogic science,. The yogic path leads to a feeling of Oneness with Spirit, something that pill-based psychiatry can never do.

Both Ayurveda and Yoga have given us tools to cultivate positive emotions like love, gratitude and joy and to banish negative emotions like anger, sadness, jealousy and resentments. To find out how, please see my next blog, Alternative/Ayurvedic Treatments For Depression.

Harrison Graves MD FACEP

About Dr. G

About Dr. G

Born near Athens, Georgia, Dr. Graves attended the University of Georgia and the Medical College of Georgia before moving to Minneapolis for internship and residency in Emergency Medicine. His many accolades over the years include Medical Director, EMS, associate professor of Emergency Medicine, UNC-Chapel Hill and election to Fellow status (FACEP) in the American College of Emergency Physicians.

An avid world traveler, Dr. G has hiked the Himalayas, done missionary work in Honduras, staffed the clinic on St. John (U.S. Virgin Islands), sailed the high seas as a Holland America physician and taught yoga in the Dominican Republic.

In 2005, Dr. Graves left the ER behind to pursue a new interest: Ayurveda, the holistic medicine from India. Ayurveda means “Knowledge of Life.” His years in the ER taught him that many illnesses, especially those that are anxiety related, can be prevented by Ayurveda, lifestyle changes and yoga.

Ayurvedic physicians are teachers, first and foremost:

“The doctor of the future will give no medication, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.” Thomas Edison 1903


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    • profile image

      Mary Garrett 

      3 years ago

      I hope you will continue exposing the offensive practices of pharmaceutical companies and their partners in the medical community. Thank you for a fascinating article.

    • CorneliaMladenova profile image

      Korneliya Yonkova 

      3 years ago from Cork, Ireland

      Thank you for this post. Doctors really don't inform us about side effects of our medication. Alternative medicine is a great way of overwhelming many diseases :)


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