Sunday, May 1, 2011

Halifax newspaper buckles under to threat from psychiatrist turned politician

In recent years, experts (like Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel) have warned that press freedoms are under increasing threat from economic pressures. As advertising and readers flee to the Web, they say, news outlets are more likely to cave in to pressure from corporate and political interests. Here's a disturbing example of this trend.

A few weeks ago, I was interviewed by a reporter for The Coast newspaper in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The reporter, Tim Bousquet, had discovered that the Liberal Party candidate in Halifax for the upcoming federal elections, Dr. Stan Kutcher, was one of the co-authors of Paxil study 329, a controversial clinical trial on the use of Paxil in treating depression in adolescent. When it was first published in 2001, study 329 purported to show that Paxil was safe and effective when in fact the actual data showed the opposite, as I reported in Side Effects and subsequent blogs. What New York prosecutors, several researchers and I found was that the study's authors manipulated and omitted data to make Paxil look safer and more effective in adolescents than it really was -- see background here. Given the study's serious flaws, researchers Jon Jureidini and Leemon McHenry recently called on the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry to retract the 2001 paper, according to the British Medical Journal.

Last Thursday, five days before the Halifax elections, which are being held May 2, Bousquet posted this article about Kutcher's involvement in study 329. Bousquet quoted me as saying that the researchers "essentially distorted the outcome measures." He also quoted Kutcher as saying that he stood by study 329 and didn't think it had caused any particular controversy. I thought the article was accurate except for two facts the reporter got wrong: he said that a secretary at Brown had leaked the information to me in 2003, when in fact the person who first blew the whistle on study 329 was the assistant research director in the department of psychiatry at Brown, and she first made me aware of some of study 329's flaws in 1996. As I explain in Side Effects, I was unable to pin down those particular allegations until 2004, when the New York State Attorney General's office sued GlaxoSmithKline for defrauding consumers by not telling them or doctors the full story about Paxil. In their lawsuit, the New York prosecutors found numerous flaws in the study 329, including the fact that the researchers had changed the primary outcome measures for the trial without disclosing that fact in the published paper. They also found that GlaxoSmithKline knew that the study 329's results were negative -- i.e. -- that the clinical trial didn't find Paxil more effective than placebo in treating depression -- but according to an internal memo, company officials decided to publish the study as a positive result anyway and indeed had it ghost-written by a medical contractor and then signed off on by all the co-authors, including Kutcher.

Kutcher's lawyers immediate responded to Bousquet's April 28 article by threatening to sue the newspaper for libel unless it immediately issued a retraction. Even though Bousquet backed up his article's assertions with documentation, the Coast decided to issue an apology and retraction anyway; see here. And then the newspaper simply removed the original article from its website; see here. So now readers of The Coast can see the apology but not why it was issued in the first place. Fortunately, a website called Scribd saved Bousquet's original piece along with a follow-up article about Kutcher's threat to sue The Coast if it didn't retract the piece.

As you can see from Scribd's follow-up piece, a blog here, and some comments on the original article (all of which were removed), Kutcher's hatchetmen are trying to paint me as a Scientologist in an effort to discredit me and the original story. That's a tactic as old as dirt; as a mental health reporter for The Boston Globe in the '80s and '90s, I remember when the drug industry and the psychiatrists on its payroll used that ridiculous canard to attack anyone who questioned their wonder drugs; indeed, in Side Effects, I write about how Eli Lilly, among others, attacked Dr. Martin Teicher, a respected psychiatric researcher at McLean Hospital, as a Scientologist when he first raised questions about the safety of Prozac in the early '90s.

All of this makes me wonder: where have The Coast and its editors been all these years? And do they really want to go down in history as an example of the not-so-free press buckling under to craven threats?

10 comments:

Evelyn Pringle said...

We can only hope that truth tellers like you Alison never buckle under.

Shawna Murray M.D. said...

Doctors can be threatened and intimidated as well when it comes to trying to protect patients from Pharma abuses.

An unethical Eli Lilly study from the NIMH using a placebo group for a lethal condition, psychotic depression, contributed to the death of a disabled female psych patient at UMass Medical Center. The other aspects of the case involved criminal behavior on the part of the researchers and doctors. No criminal charges have been brought despite formal complaints about the outcome.

There was intimidation with the intent of silencing dissent before and after the case.

Paul said...

Just FYI the "follow up article" about the lawsuit is actually a press release from Kutcher. Thanks for the post.

GetBack said...

It is brave of you to publish SIDE EFFECTS and brave to call this guy down for advocating a dangerous drug for teens in his research study in an interview. Obviously people who didn't vote for him thought you have a good point. I think we need to publish a central list broadly of all doctors who prescribe toxic medicines like Paxil so that parents who care about their teen's safety can avoid them. It would probably be a huge list but it would only be in the interest of teen and public safety.

tom_boles said...

Your piece reminded me once again about the power of journalism and the need for a free press. Thank You!

GetBack said...

UMASS seems like a facility where threats and intimidation against doctors needs to be fully investigated. Five year old Rebecca Riley died of a apparent lethal combination of apparently overprescribed psychotropic drugs. Her parents were jailed and apparently took the fall for forcing Rebecca to take all the pills but not for the prescribing protocols that made all those pills available to be taken. They just didn't have the protection of a medical degree that Rebecca's psychiatrist had. And Dr. Joseph Beiderman apparently still operates out of UMASS. He is a Harvard research professor who continues to advocate dangerous psychotropic drugs for five year olds. Just like we need home schooling, we need safe home medical care without the dangerous drugs.

You Suck at Kijiji said...

Yeah! Alison and the rest of you are right! If you can't treat these conditions without drugs, you shouldn't be treating them at all! I think we can all agree that people just need to get on the cans and get audited and that would put the psychs out of business once and for all. And I'll say it again, when's a scientist ever told the truth about anything? Glad to see you agree!

Judith said...

Most opinions,including the ethically derived ones, concerning the efficacy of psychopharmacological agents --both pro and con--are short-sighted due to the relative absence of knowledge and understanding that the current scientific paradigm as operationalized in most forms of modern medicine, including many of the so-called alternative modalities, is wrong.

Biological systems--whether they be human brains, or zebra livers, or whatever--are information-rich, self-regulating, complex, chaotic adaptive systems. That is, they are NONLINEAR.

And that is why, as Welsh psychiatrist, David Healy, explains in his workshops on psychopharmacology that sometimes the medications do nothing; sometimes they are extraordinarily effective; and sometimes they actually worsen the very symptoms they were designed to treat. This truth is requisite to a more informed understanding of why it is that most psychiatrists continue to prescribe these drugs and why so many people continue to try them.--because sometimes they work!

Psychiatrists,including myself, have witnessed extraordinary, life-saving responses to psychotropic medications by severely ill people.

Healy also says, but we don't know why it is that the drug effects can be so varied. In fact, "we" do--at least,those scientists who are knowledgeable of chaos/complexity theory and many clinicians trained in neurofeedback and osteopathy, do. They can also explain how it is in the long run, most psychotropic agents end up affecting brain structure and function in adverse ways.

The concept of brain "disease" is based on archaic math and physics; the concept of disorders of mind:brain non-local coherence or disorders of mind:brain communication function is based on modern math and physics. It is a huge conceptual shift from where we are today. However, the good news is, in the real, non-linear world, shifts into new attractors can happen overnight once all the dynamic elements are present.

Due to the absence of knowledge of state of the art math and physics, a psychiatrist is more likely to say, oh shit (which is what I once overhead a fellow psychiatrist say at a conference) when faced with the fact that the placebo effect is getting "stronger" rather than hey, that makes sense AND that's good news.
He/she is saying oh shit because without pharmaceuticals, they could be left without anything effective to offer. Remember--sometimes these drugs save lives and without a statistically significant efficacy (greater than placebo) drugs can't be marketed.

We live in a time of enormous growth of scientific knowledge concerning our worlds, both inner and outer. Relatively speaking, the integration of this knowledge into mainstream consciousness, is happening quickly--at least when one looks at human history overall. Nevertheless, I can humbly appreciate how for those who suffer the torture of mind:brain communication disorders, it is not happening quickly enough.
Certainly, in the meantime, blowing the whistle on any and all researchers who are unethically/illegally influenced by the pharmaceutical industry is a critically important task of all socially conscious people and I applaud the endeavours of consumers, clinicians, and all others who have exhibited such courage and fortitude. You are my heroes/heroines.

paxildepression said...

I just find it sad that politics can make media publications like this buckle. The side effects and possible Paxil Birth Defects have been known to the public for years. Just goes to show you what someone can do with enough political power.

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