The People's Perspective on Medicine

923 Surviving Pharmageddon

Tune in to our radio show on your local public radio station, or sign up for the podcast and listen at your leisure. Here’s what it’s about:

More than 150 million prescriptions are dispensed each year for antidepressant medications. It seems counterintuitive that medicines designed to fight depression might trigger suicidal thoughts or actions. Perhaps that is why so many doctors seem not to have recognized the evidence of this potential side effect. It can also be extremely difficult to stop taking an antidepressant. Prescribers rarely mention that withdrawal symptoms can be disorienting and can take weeks or even months to disappear.

In the book Pharmageddon, Dr. David Healy talks about the pharmaceuticalization of medicine. How did big Pharma seduce so many doctors?

Guest: David Healy, MD, is a professor in psychological medicine at Cardiff University School of Medicine in Wales. He is also the director the North Wales School of Psychological Medicine and former secretary of the British Association for Psychopharmacology. He is the author of Pharmageddon, along with 20 other books and more than 200 articles. His websites are   and,   which is designed to collect online direct patient reports of drug effects so that adverse effects can be detected more quickly.

The podcast of this program will be available the Monday after the broadcast date. The show can be streamed online from this site and podcasts can be downloaded for free for four weeks after the date of broadcast. After that time has passed, digital downloads are available for $2.99. CDs may be purchased at any time after broadcast for $9.99.

Rate this article
0- 0 ratings
About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
Tired of the ads on our website?

Now you can browse our website completely ad-free for just $5 / month. Stay up to date on breaking health news and support our work without the distraction of advertisements.

Browse our website ad-free
Join over 150,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

We're empowering you to make wise decisions about your own health, by providing you with essential health information about both medical and alternative treatment options.

Showing 14 comments
Add your comment

Thanks for your suggestion – I’ll call him.

To the Graedon’s for “The People’s Pharmacy”
I continue to have amazing results to switching from Synthroid to Armour Thyroid in terms of my mind, my body (skin, teeth, hair, etc). My primary doctor raised the dose from 30 mgm to 60 mgm after a blood test she had ordered in 1 month. I truly cannot believe this. I shall be consulting with my psychiatrist in another month about perhaps reducing one of the 4 medications I take which are more specific to bi-polar 2 (mostly for depression).
Maybe I said it before, God bless you for all you are doing.
Thanks for your kind words. When you meet with your physician, please make sure that the medicine you are taking does not in any way interfere with your thyroid gland.

Your recovery is a joy to hear. I am SO glad you sustained through the “medical landscape” of this country and came out I e and well. Keep telling your story, ppl need to hear it. Too many drugs being prescribed! And not enough attention to the “whole person”. God bless-

It’s great you were prescribed a low dose of Serequel and were able to get off. I feel the psych meds do help for a month or so but then things go downhill- at least for me. When things changed for me with my meds my doctor(s) consistently prescribed more and more stuff trying to tinker with my brain chemistry. I think low doses and a good doctor might be a better key for more people but unfortunately this is not a common approach. A better approach is nutritional. See my other comments in the blog.

I wish you would say more– I weaned myself off of all meds via supplements and I have a new life! Have you read the book Nutrition Power by Walsh?

I agree with you and your thoughts. I did an intensive supplement approach which worked for me. I lost so many years of my life being on those psych meds.

It is helpful to understand that antidepressants etc are not for everyone. I was prescribed antidepressants by a neurologist decades ago– I was being beat up by my husband so I was understandably depressed. More and more drugs over years and years. I was more and more depressed but on a ton of meds– antipsychotics and anti anxiety meds too. I was always moderately or more depressed.
Then I started having ‘episodes’. After a major episode I was so angry I researched and found a way to wean myself off those drugs. It took me 9 months and my doc was on board (always wondered why I was so compliant…) within a month. I took specially formulated supplements. LOTS. After 7 years I kind of stopped with the supplements and then lost my job which caused a depression. I went to a shrink who immediately prescribed 5 medications. Some of the drugs that took me months to get off and took away years of my life. I called the company where I had ordered the supplements from originally and they in turn referred me to a holistic psychiatrist.
It’s been 5 weeks and my brain chemistry is settled and I am doing fine. I lost so many years of my life taking drugs. I weighed almost 100 lbs more. If you do your research you can find various nutritional venues and Nutrient Power (Walsh) ways to go. Psych drugs are big business and smoke and mirrors.

We were told about antidepressants triggering suicidal thoughts at Northwestern Med in 1977.
I have a viable theory, but it’s so off the mainstream that it’s not ready for prime time. Too bad.

I was prescribed antidepressants for minor depression more than 30 years ago and had a life of moderate to severe depression after that.
I then was ‘bipolar’. I wasted so much of my life being compliant and taking psych meds because a variety of docs just did what the last one did and more.
I DO believe meds work for SOME people as I worked with severely trouble students for years but I also know that psych meds are big business and have little to do with getting a lot of people well- truly well.
I finally weaned myself off the meds about 8 years ago– it took about 8 months. I followed the regime from and have been psych med free.
I have a LIFE and a personality again. Psych meds would ‘help’ me for a few weeks/months but then I would always crash and burn not long after.
Do your research– save your life. Find a holistic psychiatrist who truly wants you to get better not just exist.

I take less medication for bi-polar illness than I ever have over 30 years and am doing better. I began with the usual Lithium which was very often prescribed. It worked for awhile and then did not. Thanks to that, I have had to take Thyroid ever since. Up until 1 month ago, I took Synthroid. After reading 2 of your columns, I spoke with my primary doctor about taking Armour Thyroid (after getting your leaflet). Fortunately, she agreed, although this was obviously not her first choice. She ordered 30 mgm qd and a blood test in 1 month, which I had last week. She then increased the dose to 60 mgm qd.
Meanwhile I have felt better than I have in years. Of course I shall have to see if this lasts; however, it’s hard for me to believe that this change is doing me any harm (my husband agrees) (I am an RN and it seems this illness was in my father’s family – my sister who is 88 also has this problem, I am 75). Of course, my father was born in 1898, so it is hard to be clear about the diagnosis. I also take Divalproex 250 mgm BID, Mirtazapine 45 mgm, Clonazapam 1 mgm, Lorazapam .5 mgm hs, prescribed by a very nice and seemingly competent psychiatrist. Needless to say, I would be glad to hear from you. I am going to order Dr. David Healy’s book at the library.
I would not want a lot of mail from others for obvious reasons. Although I had my story in the Buffalo News paper years ago and I make no secret of my illness. God bless you for your work and being, and all you do to help others in the world!
Much thanks, Joan J.

I agree with CC about the tone of this program. In fact, quetiapine and aripiprazole are now FDA approved for augmentation therapy for depression, so they are not even off label for this use. Whether something is FDA approved has very little to do with what it is or what it works for, however, as your guest explained in the case of Cymbalta being used for chronic pain. It has much more to do with which indication the pharmaceutical company can make the most money on.
Additionally, if you look at the pharmacological properties of second generation antipsychotics, they function in the brain more like medications in the antidepressant class when they are given at low doses. Please refer to the work of Stephen Stahl for more information about this.
While I certainly agree that medications can be overused and over-prescribed, as a nurse practitioner working in the specialty of psychiatry, I have also seen second generation antipsychotics work wonders for people with severe mental illness and also for people with less severe disorders. Undoubtedly they can have some serious side effects, but like in any situation, one has to weigh the risk/benefit ratio and decide whether it is better to subject someone to the great suffering of incapacitating psychosis, mania, or severe depression or to allow them to function as contributing members of society with the risk of some other side effects. It’s certainly not an easy decision, but throwing the baby out with the bathwater and condemning antipsychotics or antidepressants in general is not the answer either.

Could you please document the research that was cited about SSUI being responsible for early onset of dementia and/or death? I want to show it to my doctor. Thank you

I have to protest the tone of this show. I have suffered with major major depression and horrible anxiety my entire life. I have tried medicine, counseling, a combination. I finally was prescribed a LOW DOSE of Seroquel during the worst depression ever when I was 45. With the first dose, it was figuratively like finally getting into a warm bath when your muscles have been sore all your life. The extended release allowed me ROOM TO THINK so that counseling could actually help. And 4 years later, I am OFF of antidepressants AND the Seroquel – for the first time in my life.
So before you go slamming off label uses of meds, you might want to put a little disclaimer out there that there ARE patients who will live and be able to work and contribute when they otherwise wouldn’t. I went back to work and have finally finally been able to get a handle on my anxiety and depression. You all have done a disservice by painting all off label uses of anti-psychotics with such a broad brush.

Too many Primary Care, GPs, etc have been recklessly prescribing Antidepressants (with terrible accompanying adverse effects) without even a semblance of depression assessment. I Know from personal experience: I needed attorney for financially abusive divorce, also was working in a corrupt public school district that had misappropriated funds & failed to fund my retirement for 1 year. Dr recklessly prescribed antidepressant to shut me up, cover up. (Conflict of interest & malpractice.)
Then when I had ADVERSE EFFECT THAT HOSPITILIZED ME, he entered into my medical records BLATANTLY FALSE Diagnosis of “Borderline” to cover his “Mistake.” Never were there any behaviors to suggest, no evaluations done to support such a False, Damaging, Stigmatizing Diagnosis. Never any witnesses of anything but my responsible, normal behaviors. But DR. deliberately wrote FALSE DIAGNOSIS to COVER UP HIS OWN RECKLESS ANTIDEPRESSANT PRESCRIPTIONS. (and I had previously told him that I did not want, did not need & had previous 20 year history of sensitivities to, Adverse Reactions to many RXs. Many Doctors have ignored & violated Hippocratic Oath: “Do no harm.”
I still hear of many women being recklessly, needlessly, carelessly prescribed Antidepressants when they don’t need & don’t want. Doctors using Antidepressants as Placebos or worse. And thus doing much harm to many patients.

* Be nice, and don't over share. View comment policy^