DURING ONE OF THOSE LATE-NIGHT research sessions forGENERATION RX, I stumbled upon a wonderful commentary written by a group of academic researchers in Canada. It sucked me in immediately—and the work itself was full of insights into the way our friends up North view the issues surrounding ethics in medicine. For the most part, Canadians seem far more engaged in these ethical debates than do we Americans, and the commentary spoke of “tarnished institutional reputations, one-sided marriages” between business and universities, and “unsettling incidents” involving “intimidating tactics by industry that profoundly affect researchers' lives and careers.”
Many of you will recall my interview with Professor Sheldon Krimsky of Tufts University for GenRx that detailed how funding cuts in Academic research during the Reagan years helped propel a “blurring of the line” between academic/scientific research and commercial interests—and how this manifested recently as gross conflicts-of-interests worldwide. “What the Reagan administration thought they would do is to create a closer linkage between the corporate world and the academic world,” Krimsky told me. “So they created incentives for corporations to invest in universities. At the same time, they kept proclaiming that . . .the federal budget was going to be mean and lean, and that got university administrators became very concerned. How were they going to make up the financial downfall in the university budget?” The answer, Krimsky stated, was that universities often buckled under the immense pressure of drug and petrochemical companies. “You want the dollars,” they'd say, “then you'd better play ball.”
University presidents, Krimsky pointed out, were between a rock and an economic hard place in the Reagan/Bush years—and opted for survival by creating a new era of commercialized academia. It soon became acceptable for scientists to have a commercial affiliation while being paid as a basic researcher... but therein lies the problem. “The duty of universities is to seek truth,” wrote the Canadian researchers, and to ignore that premise could alter the ethos of science, perhaps forever.
In the old days — and by ‘old’ I mean the 1970s — academic and journalistic interests worked hand-in-hand to root out the best of scientific research. Integrity of the information was paramount — in fact, it was the stated goal. During that era, skepticism was a hallmark of the academic mission. It kept what some brilliant Canadian conflict-of-interest researchers called “the premature enthusiasms of industry,” in check.
As journalistic stalwarts like Robert Whitaker have discovered, those safeguards were abandoned years ago.He put forth many of the shocking details in GENERATION RX, but he and Sheldon Krimsky knew all of this would come to pass, sooner or later.
Krimsky tells viewers how there are two rules that operate within the federal advisory committees—the groups responsible for making recommendations on whether any given drug should be available to consumers. “Rule number one says that anyone who has a substantial conflict of interest cannot serve on a federal advisory committee,” Krimsky says with a knowing smirk. “Rule number two says that rule number one can be waived. And rule number one is waived; in some cases the evidence shows 50 percent of the time.”
So there you have it. The very rules written into law to protect the public from conflicts-of-interest actually make allowances for the rules to be broken — at least one-half the time. “One culture’s pursuit of the truth is supposed to be unencumbered by money,” Krmsky concludes, “and the other culture, for which money is the medium of exchange, is the bottom line.”
As the film points out, at least 56% of those serving on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM) have conflicts of interest with the very drugs they are charged with approving. God knows how many of these DSM panel members began their questionable behavior during the Reagan years, but in 2010 it is a massive problem, and one which challenges the integrity of all of medicine.
The Canadian conflict-of-interest researchers recognized this ethical landmine as the most dangerous and daunting test for today’s academic research programs. They coined the perfect term to describe what it is like when academia, researchers, and the pharmaceutical companies are joined at the hip.
“Some bargains are Faustian, and some horses are Trojan,” the researchers wrote. “Dance carefully with the porcupine, and know in advance the price of intimacy.” It's the perfect description of the steep and painful price that we all pay when the cherished institutions we rely upon for truth — go awry.
IT GIVES ME GREAT HOPE when I receive thoughtful questions from students about world affairs — and the topics covered in Generation Rx. Thanks to Tom for forwarding these questions to me.
Jessica's Questions About Generation RX
1. After making GenRx & knowing what you know today, would you ever take or give your loved ones anti-depression or ADD medication?
KPM: Personally, I would never take SSRI drugs for depression or methylphenidates for ADHD, but it should be said that I rarely take a prescription medication for anything. After researching this area for nearly 25 years, I have determined that there are better alternatives for me.
Regarding my family, well, my sons are both adults now. Obviously they have seen Generation Rx many times and know my research as well as my thoughts and fears about these drugs. Having said that, I would never try to impose my will on my sons. If they were considering using one of these meds, I would merely discuss the “big picture” with them and be supportive. If they chose to use ADHD or SSRI meds, however, I would certainly keep a watchful eye on them, observe their behavior etc.
2. What was it that "lit the fire" to make this documentary?
I first discovered footage of civilians testifying before a 1991 FDA public hearing (about Prozac/SSRIs) in late 1993. It disturbed me, but I didn't know what to do with the footage, so I put it “on the shelf” where it collected dust. Then in 2004, there was another FDA hearing about the safety and efficacy of SSRIs (antidepressants). Then again in 2006. So I had all of this footage and when I began to watch and listen to the stories, it was deja vu … and it dawned on me that I had heard these nearly identical stories 13 or 14 years prior: the same heartbreak, the same terror, the same sad tales. I sat with that for quite a while—almost a year, in fact, before saying to myself that nothing had changed ...and nothing was going to change if I didn't try to tell this “untold story.” So that's the genesis of how Generation RX came to be. That footage – of people standing before their government regulators — the FDA — is clearly identified in Generation Rx, so it's safe to say that it was the voices of those “real people” — desperately trying to tell their government of the potential harm of SSRIs, is what truly motivated me to create the film.
3. What was the most surprising or even disturbing thing you learned?
Well, again, the most disturbing thing I learned was that our FDA was NOT listening to it's citizens...that in fact, they were helping plan public relations to address the “side effects of bad publicity,” rather than determining that there was a problem with suicide and violence with SSRIs — and aggressively creating a strategy to alert consumers and protect them from potential harm.
The other thing which was surprising—and disturbing—was discovering how shoddy most of the science for these “mental health drugs” really is...and how deep the conflicts-of-interest run throughout the profession. I was stunned to learn how the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders) — the so-called “Bible” of mental disorders, is pseudo-scientific at best, and outright corrupt at worse. I have conducted a lot of medical/scientific research for my films and writings over the years...but I never expected to discover how woeful the research and the ethics of “mental health drugs” really are.
4. What message was important to you that audiences walk away with?
I take my job incredibly seriously. I know that if I use conjecture instead of facts, that I am hurting not only myself, but millions of others. So I hope that the audience walks away feeling that their minds have been well-fed, if you will, and that the movie has great integrity. That is really important to me.If you are a parent considering ADHD or Bipolar or SSRI meds for a child, you need all of the information provided in GenRX prior to making a decision about whether these drugs are appropriate. This film provides the kind of depth of knowledge that is needed in order to make a fully informed choice.
5. How do you personally deal with seeing first hand how corrupt the world is?
That's a great question! As a humanistic writer, my main focus is always on the way medicine or government legislation or trade policies or multinational corporate activities affect “real people.” Ultimately, I have great faith that the People will win; that they will force reform; that they will insist walking a different path than the international power brokers want.
We must be accountable and active and aware so that we might change the world around us.
Lastly, only my true friends know my secret:
As serious as I am about these issues (and more), I am every bit as goofy, at times. I LOVE to laugh, some times over the silliest and most sophomoric things. It's a built-in defense mechanism for me. Humor is an important balance to one who has witnessed what I have over the years. It keeps me from getting too “down,” and helps me realize that even at the end of a bad day, there is always beauty to revel at or something to smile about.
I wish you peace and success, happiness (and much laughter) on your journey, Jessica. Keep questioning...keep probing...and keep the faith.
Kevin P. Miller
The teaser video for LETTERS FROM GENERATION RX is coming your way soon . . . here's a low-grade still from the video. Please help spread the word!
You or loved one is suffering under the diagnosis of ADHD, bipolar, schizophrenia, or depression. You’ve done everything the doctors have instructed – from a mind-boggling array of medications to perhaps even an aggressive regimen of electro-convulsive therapy, but you or your loved one continues to slip further into darkness.
You are frightened – fearful of the life you – or they may have to lead.
What would you do – accept the condition as fait accompli, or search the world to find a cure?
It is a question millions face every day.
In his previous film, Generation Rx, international award-winning writer/director Kevin P. Miller explored how frighteningly narrow the treatment options are, and why the science being used as the rationale for treating millions with mental health conditions often falls so desperately short. Miller’s work prompted famed Hollywood Director Paul Haggis, the only person in the past half century to win an Academy Award® in consecutive years, to endorse his groundbreaking film. But more importantly, Miller received thousands of letters from real people: mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers of those who had labored under the influence of psychiatric drugs for many years.
It was then that he decided to produce one final documentary on the topic, and call it Letters From Generation Rx — in homage to the thousands who wrote to him following the release of Generation Rx.
The new film is designed to spur an international conversation about mental illness, and to exorcise any unnecessary fears that ADHD, bipolar, and other mental health diagnoses may have wrought. Miller spent two years interviewing some of the world’s most respected researchers, MDs, journalists, politicians, and academics, and focused on dozens of others whose lives became inextricably linked to the medications they were prescribed. In doing so, the director features a breathtaking array of stories, from those who lost it all – to those who came back from the brink of agony and angst and desperation to a place of true wellness.
Miller’s conclusion: there is hope for those suffering, and it may not lie in the toxic elixirs we have come to know by name. Rather, there are remedies and therapies being overlooked, to our detriment.
While the film does include stories of violence and addiction – a side effect of both the illnesses and the medications prescribed to treat them – Miller weaves together an astonishing tapestry of highly personal stories from those who overcame the worst that mental illness could dish out, but who still made their way to wellness.
In the end, Letters From Generation Rx could change how many of us view mental health. By employing powerful personal stories and credible, easy-to-understand science, the film shows how the cavalier use of psychotropics created an avalanche of unintended medical and societal consequences — and why the use of less invasive methods often combats the worst mental illness can dish out.
Letters From Generation Rx is where darkness meets light and science meets truth. Like Generation Rx before it, this film will be essential viewing for those interested in an intelligent conversation about both the causes of mental illness and the treatments that are being deployed in the latest battle for the brain.
Kevin P. Miller is an international award winning Writer, Producer and Director whose filmsThe Promised Land, The War Within, Kids in Crisis and more have won numerous international Film and Television awards. Academy Award® winner Paul Haggis called his film Generation Rx “a powerful and often chilling eye-opener.”