There’s a healthcare scandal brewing in America. It’s bubbling beneath the surface. Every once in awhile it breaks through — when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shoot up Columbine High; when Loughner shoots Giffords; when Michael Jackson, Ann Nicole Smith and 4-year-old Rebecca Riley die. When it explodes it will rain down on the healthcare system.

Millions of Americans are taking psychotropic drugs — anti-depressants, anti-anxieties, anti-psychotics, and mood stabilizers. More money is spent on anti-psychotic drugs than on any other class of drugs in the country. Over the past 10 years there has been a meteoric rise in the number of adults on antidepressants and the number of children diagnosed with bipolar disorder and prescribed anti-psychotic drugs.

But these drugs are of very limited effectiveness. They don’t deal with the causes of the “disorders.” They just work on symptoms. By impairing the ability of people to sharply process their emotions and use their thinking ability, they make it harder for people to learn from their symptoms and use the symptoms to become healthier. People say the drugs make them feel better. But is it a good idea to feel good when you’ve lost something precious to you — a person, your sense of security and certainty in the world — or when you are deeply concerned about whether you are going to be able to live the way you want to live?

Worse than that, the drugs are extremely harmful to people. Antidepressants are associated with increased incidence of suicide and violence. Many of the people who shoot up schools, workplaces and families are on them — including the Columbine killers. They are also associated with akathisia, mania, loss of conscience and sexual dysfunction.

Anti-anxieties are extremely addictive. Withdrawing from them is very difficult, sometimes taking years of agony and dysfunction. They also keep people from using anxiety to do what they have to do. They keep people from dealing with the issues that are making them anxious — an approach that is associated with poor outcomes.

Anti-psychotics cause tardive dyskinesia, neuroleptic malignant syndrome, cognitive impairment, brain shrinkage and increased risk of diabetes. People who use them become chronic mental patients and die on average 25 years younger than other people. These are what killed Rebecca Riley. To give you some idea of how damaging they are, in 2008 Eli Lilly and Co., the maker and marketer of Zyprexa, paid out $1.4 billion in claims to people who sued because of suicide, violence, criminal acts and diabetes. All of the suits were settled out of court so none of the court testimony is available to the public. But Eli Lilly made $4.8 billion on Zyprexa in 2008. Millions of children are being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and put on these drugs, even though they have never been tested on children and have not been approved by the FDA for use with children.

This problem is clearly described with lots of scientific evidence by Robert Whitaker in his book “Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America.”

The ultimate irony is that these prescription drugs work in the same way as the illegal drugs. All psychotropic drugs either enhance or retard the operation of neurotransmitters in the brain. If you take a combination of Wellbutrin and Effexor, you are inhibiting the reuptake of the same neurotransmitters as does cocaine. Ritalin is a controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration. The only essential difference between the prescription drugs and the illegal drugs is that some are made and marketed by Fortune 100 companies and some are made and marketed by organized criminals.

This issue is the focus on the upcoming conference of the International Society for Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry (ISEPP) scheduled for Oct. 28 and 29 at the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel in Culver City. The conference theme is “Alternatives to Biological Psychiatry: If We Don’t Medicate, What Do We Do?” We are going to be learning about and exploring various ways of helping people who are diagnosed with mental disorders without using drugs or electroshock. The entire conference is devoted to illuminating this explosive situation, exposing the harm that is being done and describing more safe, humane, life-enhancing and empowering ways of helping people.

To learn more about the conference or register, you may go to

ISEPP is an organization of mental health professionals and others who are skeptical of the value of biopsychiatry, i.e. the belief that mental disorders are caused by genetic and chemical dynamics and that drugs should be the primary modality of treatment. We find, study, develop and promote safe, humane, life-enhancing approaches to helping people who are diagnosed with mental disorders. To learn more about ISEPP visit

Al Galves, Ph.D., is the executive director of the International Society for Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry. Galves is a retired psychologist who lives in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

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