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Medication Madness

Updated on November 15, 2013

ANATOMY OF AN EPIDEMIC by Robert Whitaker -- Book Review

A must read. Usually, I don’t open with my bottom line, but in this case, it should be stated up front – you absolutely must read this book. Since "one in every eight" of us "takes a psychiatric drug on a regular basis" you or someone you know will be profoundly influenced by Robert Whitaker’s Anatomy Of An Epidemic. Using thorough research, flawless logic, and an almost overwhelming number of studies, he reveals that psychiatric drugs are prescribed under false assumptions. Furthermore, these drugs are often detrimental, especially over the long haul. He traces the history, the motives, and the manipulation of media that has led us to accept that they are good for everything from mild depression to schizophrenia.

Conventional wisdom assumes that mental illness results from a chemical imbalance in the brain. However, Whitaker contends, compellingly so, that no evidence supports this claim. None. In case after case, he debunks this widely accepted notion and weaves this into his persuasive narrative. What he finds is that these drugs interrupt synaptic neurotransmissions; the brain then compensates in various ways to revive itself, to return to its pre-drugged transmissions. This accounts for such things as the delay period before the medication "works," and various side effects such as mania, insomnia, suicidal ideation, and actual suicide. He shows us, with plenty of supporting data, that the treatment itself is a side effect, not a simple adjustment back to a "normal" or "balanced" brain.

Whitaker started his investigation wholly accepting of the seemingly rational view that these "magic bullet" pills worked (and I began reading with the same assumptions). He started on his investigative journey when reporting on what he considered medical abuse (psychiatrists withholding medicine from patients for research purposes). By asking "impertinent" questions, he began trying to explain how and why we so readily accept doctors prescribing a psychotropic drug just as they would an antibiotic.

I read Anatomy Of An Epidemic from start to finish and couldn’t put it down. However, even with Whitaker’s astounding ability to make this a compelling read, some readers may be daunted by the data, and the number of psychiatric terms. He acknowledges this and promises "not just a book of statistics." He delivers, weaving in plenty of tragic and uplifting stories. For me, the terms didn’t interfere much, probably because I worked extensively with troubled teenagers and dispensed medicine throughout the day. (I was following doctors’ orders but whose orders were they following?) The medication seemed to help, at least in the short term. But Whitaker shows that efficacy of these drugs are based entirely on six-week trial periods, and statistics for long-term benefit show the opposite of what you might expect.

Whitaker presents a one-sided case. Given the depth and intractability of prevailing views, he has to. It takes just such an persuasive assault to effect even minor change. To his credit, he does not rule out the use of these medications entirely. He merely proposes that their use should be based on scientific fact. Seems reasonable enough. We can learn by studying the past, and Whitaker does an excellent job investigating the recent history of psychiatry and its relationship to pharmaceutical companies, government, and advocacy groups.

Most of us, professionals in medicine, education, parents, the public in general, have been duped. We have wholly swallowed this nicely packaged psychiatric pill. We unquestionably accept that these pills fix brain imbalance. When physicians suggest psychotropic drugs, we need ask why. We need to ask for reasonable explanations. Robert Whitaker’s book Anatomy of an Epidemic provides a rock-solid foundation for asking these "impertinent" questions.


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    • Jeff May profile image

      Jeffrey Penn May 6 years ago from St. Louis

      Hi Pat,

      Thanks for your intelligent comments. I was principal of an alternative school for troubled teenagers and dispensed lots of psychiatric medicine (and my experience with them doesn't end there). While in dire cases, pills can help save lives, but the long-term effects are much less clear. But, as you imply, it is big business, and clearly your experience in finance applicable.

    • 2patricias profile image

      2patricias 6 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

      (Pat writes) This is a very interesting hub for me because I have relatives who have been taking "psychiatric" drugs for years. I have seen the long term effect on general health - although of course the health of these people might have deteriorated anyway.

      Also, for a time I worked managing finance for Social Services, and was on a joint board to manage an National Health Service budget. In this country (UK) an astonishing amount of money is spent on prescription drugs. (I guess there is a similar situation in the USA). From a long term financial point of view, I believe the money could be spent more effectively (in most cases) on personal intervention. However, in the short term, it may appear to cost less to give the patient drugs and let them sleep a lot - rather than provide counselling, a day centre, therapy etc.

      From a cynical point of view, I think that the drug companies don't want things to change - so they lobby politicians and bombard the medical profession with free goodies and research documents.

      But then my background is finance, not medicine, so what do I know?

    • Jeff May profile image

      Jeffrey Penn May 6 years ago from St. Louis

      Hi Ralph,

      Yes, those ads are interesting. I especially like the Abilify ad about how to add more medication on top of your other one because the first one wasn't working.

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 6 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Nice job on an important topic. Have you noticed Abbot Labs "Low T" ads recently on Television? Our drug companies are harming many people's health while making miracle cures possible on others.

    • Jeff May profile image

      Jeffrey Penn May 7 years ago from St. Louis

      Thanks masona. Yes, I see your point, not all conclusions should be readily accepted, but should be questioned, and he does a great job of getting us to question unfounded assumptions.

    • masona1 profile image

      masona1 7 years ago

      I really liked this book and your review on it was very well done. Thank you. I am not inclined to agree with Whitaker on every conclusion that he reaches in his book but it definitely made me think which made the book worth reading in and of itself.