Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Asenapine Chronicles?

I'm not sure what to make of this. A lot of documents have become available on the Shearlings Got Plowed blog, which deal with the new antipsychotic drug asenapine. If I had the time, I'd be burying myself in the documents, as SGP claims that something fishy is going on. I encourage all interested readers to take a good, long look at the documents to see what (if anything) is happening.

Documents such as this one will catch your interest...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Thanks For Your Service, Now Take This Pill

According to a freshly published study, one in five depressed patients receiving services through the VA healthcare system in the United States is taking an antipsychotic. Of those taking antipsychotics, 43% were taking them at high doses (schizophrenia doses rather than lower doses typically used in treating depression). The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, excluded patients with schizophrenia or bipolar diagnoses -- this means that the antipsychotics given to the depressed folks weren't mainly used to treat psychosis or mania. The sample size was over 190,000 patients, so one can't fault the study for not including enough patients. The researchers examined drugs taken within one week of their last antipsychotic prescription and found that 24% of patients were taking multiple antipsychotics at that point.

The most used medication was Seroquel. This is not suprising. Patients seen in mental health speciality clinics were the most likely to receive antipsychotics. So what are the consequences? Well, let's see. There's the high rate of akathisia and medicore efficacy of Abilify. And there's some tricky research involving Risperdal that seemed to suggest the manipulation of the statistics was more impressive than the actual drug in treating depression. Seroquel's unimpressive efficacy and problematic side effects are also not a ball of fun. And so forth. Isn't "progress" beautiful?

I know what some people are thinking, so before you waste your valuable time with a comment, consider this. I'm aware that many of these patients are suffering much more than a simple case of the blues. That doesn't mean we should throw heavy duty antipsychotics at them, particularly at high doses. Certainly there has to be something else. What might that be? Some psychotherapy, some medications, some case management - I ain't saying it'll be easy. But I'm willing to bet that chucking antipsychotics at them en masse is not the solution.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Will Pharma's (Tax) Free Speech Be Limited?

Dan Neil has an absolutely marvelous column in the LA Times about pharma's bitching/moaning regarding increased regulation of its advertising and its potential loss of tax writeoffs associated with drug ads. It's nice to know that when I'm watching a misleading advertisement for, say, Cymbalta or Abilify, pharma is writing off the advertising cost on its tax bill. Big Pharma's legal consultants have weighed in for years on this topic, using such terms as "starkly unconstitutional," "censorship," "plainly violates the First Amendment", and adding that taking away the tax deduction is "Draconian punishment" - see this document from the pharma-friendly Washington Legal Foundation and just try to keep a straight face.

Neil writes that:
Currently in draft form, these [FDA] rules would dramatically raise the legal bar for risk disclosure. Not only would advertisements have to fully explicate serious side effects, the nature of adverse reactions, the risk of dependence, dangerous drug interactions and so on, but all of that would also have to be communicated in the most direct, unambiguous and, if you will, artless form possible.
And, picking some of the low-hanging fruit, Neil goes on to describe two of my most hated ads:
Consider, the current 75-second spot for Abilify, a powerful antipsychotic drug marketed as a potential add-on to antidepressants. At the 33-second mark, the warnings start: "thoughts of suicide," "elderly dementia patients . . . have an increased risk of death or stroke," "uncontrollable muscle movements [that] may become permanent" and so on. The astonishing thing is that Bristol-Myers Squibb spent more than $35 million in the first quarter alone to market this witch's brew.

Seizures, death, trouble swallowing. Jeez, I get depressed just watching the ad. Maybe that's the idea.

Another wonder drug -- as in, I wonder if this will kill me? -- is Wyeth's Pristiq. Again, the potential adverse reactions are alarming: "Antidepressants can increase suicidal thoughts and behaviors in children, teens and young adults," the ad says. "May cause or worsen high blood pressure, high cholesterol and glaucoma."

Scary stuff. And yet, the FDA might say, not scary enough. Because the voice-over rambles on with a litany of potential side effects, some of which is quite hard to follow, the commercial seems to violate the FDA's constraint that advertisements not overwhelm viewers' "cognitive load." On a more prosaic level, the imagery of this suffering woman suddenly redeemed by this medication, so that now she's playing with her family at the park, seems to vastly over-promise relief.
Vastly over-promising relief, indeed. Watching Congress, the FDA, the pharma-funded academic hired guns, and lawyers on these issues will make for an entertaining spectator sport. Not nearly as engrossing as watching the DSM-V drama unfold (1, 2, 3), but still a lot cheaper than going to a Yankees game.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Award Winning Journalism (?)

Erroneous reporting wins prestigious award, starring Charles Nemeroff. Oy. Brought to you courtesy of Health Care Renewal. Read the full story and shake your head. Teaser:

Something about the simultaneously complex and sympathetic nature of mental health reporting is making reputable journalistic organizations and well-meaning reporters sloppy.