by Evelyn Pringle and Martha Rosenberg
Where do parents and teachers get the idea there’s “something wrong” with their kid and only an expensive drug can fix it? From Pharma’s seamless web of ads, subsidized doctors, journals, medical courses and conferences, paid “patient” groups, phony public services messages and reporters willing to serve as stenographers.
Free stenography for Pharma from sympathetic media includes articles like “One in 40 Infants Experience Baby Blues, Doctors Say,” on ABC News and “Preschool Depression: The Importance of Early Detection of Depression in Young Children,” on Science Daily.
For many, the face of the drugs-not-hugs message is Harold Koplewicz M.D. author of the pop best seller It’s Nobody’s Fault , and former head of NYU’s prestigious Child Study Center. In a 1999 Salon article, Koplewicz reiterated his “no-fault” statement, assuring parents that psychiatric illness is not caused by bad parenting. “It is not that your mother got divorced, or that your father didn’t wipe you the right way,” he said. “It really is DNA roulette: You got blue eyes, blond hair, sometimes a musical ear, but sometimes you get the predisposition for depression.”
Many regard the NYU Child Study Center which Koplewicz founded and led before leaving in 2009 to start his own facility, as helping to usher in the world of brave new pediatric medicine in which children, toddlers and infants, once expected to outgrow their problems, are now diagnosed with lifelong psychiatric problems. The Child Study Center is “a threat to the health and welfare of children,” and its doctors are “hustlers working to increase their ‘client’ population and their commercial value to psychotropic drug manufacturers,” charged Vera Sharav, president of the watchdog group, the Alliance for Human Research Protection.
A look at the Center’s stated mission provides no reassurance. Its goal of “eliminating the stigma of being or having a child with a psychiatric disorder,” and “influencing child-related public policy,” sounds a lot like a Pharma sales plan. And its boast about having “a structure that allows recruitment of patients for research studies and then provides ‘real-world’ testing for successful controlled-environment findings,” could send chills down the back of parents afraid their kids will be guinea pigs or money-making subjects.
In 2007, the fears of the Center’s skeptics were confirmed when it launched an aggressive, scare tactic marketing campaign called Ransom Notes in 2007. “We have your son,” said one ad, created with bits of disparate type like a ransom note from a kidnapper. “We will make sure he will no longer be able to care for himself or interact socially as long as he lives. This is only the beginning”Autism.”
“We have your daughter. We are forcing her to throw up after every meal she eats. It’s only going to get worse,” said another ad signed “Bulimia.”
“We are in possession of your son. We are making him squirm and fidget until he is a detriment to himself and those around him. Ignore this and your kid will pay,” said another add from “ADHD.” Other ransom ads came from “kidnappers” named Depression, Asperger’s Syndrome and OCD.
Created pro bono by advertising giant BBDO, the ads were planned to run in New York magazine, Newsweek , Parents, Education Update . Mental Health News and other publications and on 11 billboards and 200 kiosks said the press release.
The hostage campaign drew immediate public outrage and more than a dozen advocacy groups joined together in an online petition calling for an end to it. “This is a demonstration of the assaultive tactics used by psychiatry today–in particular, academic psychiatrists and university based medical centers that are under the influence of their pharmaceutical partners,” Vera Sharav wrote in alerts to AHRP’s mailing list. “If Dr. Koplewicz et al are not stopped, the campaign will be hitting the rest of the country,” she warned, and informed readers that the campaign was formulated by BBDO, “a major direct to consumer prescription drug advertising firm,” asking the New York State Attorney General’s office to investigate.
Days after the backlash, the Center revoked the advertising campaign “after the effort drew a strongly negative reaction, ” reported the New York Times. Koplewicz told the Times the decision was made by the Center with no pressure from New York University and they planned to introduce a new campaign in the next three months. However, he left the Child Study Center at NYU in 2009 to start his own facility, initially called the “Child Study Center Foundation,” but changed to the “Child Mind Institute,” in 2010.
Though Koplewicz’ Child Mind Institute is supposedly a “non-profit,” it is ensconced on Park Avenue in Manhattan and Koplewicz’ hourly rate “can be as high as $1,000 (three to four times that of the average Manhattan therapist),” says the Times . In a chilling interview on Education Update Online about the Institute Koplewicz says the reason the facility works closely with schools “is simply that’s where the kids are,” drawing an analogy to Willy Sutton who said “the reason he robbed banks is that’s where the money is.”
Last month in the Wall Street Journal , Koplewicz wrote that “no studies have examined the effect of long-term use” of ADHD meds, but they “have been in use for 70 years, and there is no evidence that suggests any adverse effects.” But there has been a large federal study of the long-term effects of the drugs and it shows they are “ineffective over longer periods,” and “that long-term use of the drugs can stunt children’s growth,” reported the Washington Post. Oops.
Two features that characterize the pediatric medicine practiced by the pill enthusiasts are they term the “diseases” they identify under-treated and under-diagnosed and they urge early treatment when symptoms first appear. (Before the symptoms go away say cynics.)
Yet the very fact that such diseases are lifelong conditions is reason to wait to medicate kids say highly respected doctors. Nor can parents with medicated children know if their kids even needed the drugs since symptoms from the drugs are often called the “disease,” says Peter Breggin, M.D. in a recent interview.
One thing doctors on both sides of the pediatric drug controversy agree on is the decision to put a child on drugs will likely sentence him or her to a lifetime of medications. What they disagree about is whether that is good or bad thing.
Related: Preschool Depression: The Importance of Early Detection of Depression in Young Children
Johnny get your pills
Millions of Children Held Hostage by Psychiatric Disorders
Are ADHD Medications Overprescribed?
Conscience of Psychiatry