Jeff Weise, teen slayer of 10 including himself at the Redlake Indian reservation in northern Minnesota, was on Prozac, prescribed by some doc.
How did the consultation go? “Here Jeff, take these, they may help you get over life’s little problems — like the fact that when you were ten your dad committed suicide; when you were 12 your cousin was killed in a car wreck which left your mom with partial paralysis and an injured brain. Then your grandpa died. And let’s face it Jeff, most likely you’ll never get off the rez. You’re here for the rest of your life.”
Cut to shot of the doc holding up the Prozac bottle, like the kindly fellow in the white coat and one of those mirror headbands in the Fifties Lucky Strike ads, telling the world that Luckies were a fine way to soothe a raspy throat.
The minute the high command at Eli Lilly, manufacturers of Prozac, saw those news stories about Weise being on Prozac you can bet they went into crisis mode, and only began to relax when Weise’s websurfs of neo-Nazi sites took over the headlines. Hitler trumps Prozac every time, particularly if it’s an Injun teen ranting about racial purity.
How many times, amid the carnage of such homicidal sprees, do investigators find a prescription for some anti-depressant at the bloodspattered murder scene? Luvox at Columbine, Prozac at Louisville, where Joseph Westbecker, killed nine including himself. Scroll through the last fifteen years and you’ll find plenty such stories.
By now the Lilly defense formula is pretty standardized: plenty of self-righteous handouts about Lilly’s exhaustive and costly research and rigorous screening, crowned by the imprimaturs of that watchdog for the public interest, the FDA. And of course, there’s the bogus comfort of numbers: if Lilly’s pill factory had a big sign like MacDonald’s, it could boast, Prozac: Millions Served.
Each burst in the sewage pipe brings its own very special challenges to Lilly’s sales force which has featured some pretty heavy hitters down the years including President George Herbert Walker Bush (one-time member of the Eli Lilly board of directors), former Enron CEO Ken Lay (one-time member of the Eli Lilly board of directors), George W. Bush's former director of Management and Budget, Mitch Daniels (a former Eli Lilly vice president), George W. Bush's Homeland Security Advisory Council member, Sidney Taurel (an Eli Lilly CEO), or The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (a recipient of Eli Lilly funding).
At the turn of this year there was a five-alarm incident when the British Medical Journal went back to the 1994 Westbecker suit against Lilly and reminded the world that the company had been involved in some very shifty footwork involving a backdoor payoff for the plaintiffs in an arrangement which successfully secluded from Judge John Potter’s Louisville courtroom the regulatory case-history of Oraflex, a highly compromised Lilly product, which displayed the company’s supposed disclosures with the FDA in an unpleasing light.
Lilly rose magnificently to the challenge of that one, successfully persuading a gullible New York Times reporter that the real story concerned one lonely freelancer writing for the BMJ and not a powerful pharmaceutical company with a huge advertising budget. The press dutifully shifted its focus from Lilly’s outrageous efforts to suppress discreditable evidence to the technical question of whether this evidence had really and truly been unavailable in the public record in the years since 1997 when Judge Potter changed his verdict to “dismissed as settled,” very far from the victory Lilly had been claiming.
That’s the trouble with time. As Paul Krassner joked about Waldheimer’s Disease, you get old and forget you were a Nazi. But it’s never too late to go the dim distant origins of the Depression Industry in the late Eighties and early Nineties, and the saga of what happened after three researchers working for Lilly concocted a potion in the mid-1970s they christened fluoxetine hydrochloride, later known to the world, to Westbecker and to Weise as Prozac.
Long years of rigorous testing? When Fred Gardner and I investigated the selling of depression and of Prozac in the mid-1990s we found that the clinical trials of Prozac excluded suicidal patients, children, and elderly adults — although once FDA approval is granted, the drug can be prescribed for anyone of any age. According to Dr. Peter Breggin, the well-known Bethesda-based psychiatrist who analyzed the FDA's approval of Prozac, it was based, ultimately, on three studies indicating that fluoxetine relieved some symptoms of depression more effectively than a placebo, and in the face of nine studies indicating no positive effect. Only 63 patients were on fluoxetine for a period of more than two years.
By 1987 the National Institute of Mental Health was launching its Depression Awareness, Recognition and Treatment (D/ART) Program, which not only put the governmental stamp of approval on the corporate-funded depression research, but created a mechanism whereby corporate money and personnel could be employed to stimulate demand for corporate products.
Psychiatrists — a breed whose adepts, so stated a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry in 1980, commit suicide at twice the national rate — have been central to the entire enterprise. The process linking their alchemy to the corporate bottom line has a robust simplicity to it. As Prozac came off Lilly’s research bench and headed for the mass production line, psychiatrists, some in receipt of Lilly’s money, labored to formulate conditions to be installed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, whose chief editor in the 1980s was Robert Spitzer MD, an orgone box survivor and adept copywriter skilled at coining the DSM’s arsenal of “disorders,” sanctioning treatment, medication, and most delightfully of all, reimbursement by insurance companies.
When troubling questions were raised about Prozac’s possible linkage to violent acts, psychiatrists were there to douse the flames of doubt. In 1991 the FDA’s Psychopharmacologic Drugs Advisory Committee met to decide whether Prozac should carry a warning label about possible links to suicide. Five out of the ten members of the panel (eight of whom were shrinks) had active financial interests in the drugs the committee was convening to investigate and all of them voted against the requirement of any such warning, their obvious conflicts duly sanitized by the toothless watchdogs of the FDA. Other shrinks in the hire of the drug companies urged ever wider application of Prozac to remedy social angst, rediagnosed as curable individual indispositions.
In 2000 when hundreds of farmers in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh were committing suicide because of neoliberal policies that had destroyed their livelihoods, the then government of the state announced it was sending out a team of shrinks to determine why the farmers were depressed. The implication was that these were people who were mentally unstable. If Lilly had been on its toes there was a big market opportunity, offering the farmers drafts of fluoxetine hydrochloride to give their shattered lives a rosier tint. But in India credulity about the causes of depression is not so far advanced. The plan for the shrinks provoked a storm of ridicule and in the elections that followed the government, the darling of western governments, was wiped off the face of the earth.
No such happy chance in the US, where all possible governments are in the pay of the drug companies, and prescriptions for anti-depressants have long since taken from any political manifestoes to cure “depression” by collective social action. How they must have cheered at Eli Lilly when Congress wiped out Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy statutes, creating family violence, heightened crime and a vast new potential market for Prozac and kindred potions at the stroke of a pen.