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New advertising for antipsychotics forecasts another change in the language 02/21/2011

Posted by ALT in Mental Health News, Treatments.
Tags: , , , ,

 The Internet wants me to take drugs.

I know this, because nearly every site I visit subtly whispers things like “Seroquel…” “Abilify…”  “Adderall, for adult ADHD…” to me from the sidebars.  It shows me pictures of a perfect life, happy smiling people trendily going about their business as “productive members of society” – everything, in short, that a well-trained, successfully socialized member of the system should be wanting by now. 

Targeted advertising can often be a bit misguided.

This one kept cropping up when I was doing the research for last week's Twilight article. Charming, isn't it? (Also, note the "Ads by Google" in the bottom right)

Note to Google – you can track my keystrokes and correspondence if you like, but you need to work on interpreting those keystrokes better.  The reason I’m searching things like “antipsychotics side effects” is NOT because my doctor recently recommended them to me and I am doing a bit of Internet research.

[Note to people doing said research: be forewarned – pharmaceutical companies can and do manipulate search results so that their preferred websites come up first.  You’re going to have to dig deep to find unbiased information about these drugs and the possible side effects.]

These sidebar ads are designed to slip in under the radar (IE, your conscious mind).  They’re not meant to be the center of attention—so turning an attentive eye to them can yield some incredibly interesting results. 


Name changes; a new name = an untarnished reputation

As previously discussed, antipsychotics (the older class) were originally marketed in the United States as “neuroleptics,” and are still known by that name in Europe.  The neuroleptic label (literally meaning “brain seizure”) was dropped in favor of, first “anti-schizophrenics” and, later, “antipsychotics.”

In other words, the name for the class of drugs represented by chlorpromazine and all its relatives changed over time, and the change in name was a direct reflection of how drug companies wanted the drugs to be perceived.  Obviously, a name that implies the drug causes seizures isn’t too good for business; and “antipsychotic” is preferable to “anti-schizophrenic” because it allows for usage amongst other populations beyond schizophrenics (for example, those diagnosed with “bipolar disorder”). 

If it weren't highly illegal (false advertising, you see), they probably would've switched to "happy pills" next.

Drug classification is kind of unique amongst scientific systems of classification in this regard; a drug is assigned to a specific class based on either active ingredient or the condition it is meant to counteract.  This allows the same drug to belong to several different classes; for example Wellbutrin is both an “antidepressant” and a “smoking cessation agent.”  This also makes it possible for the same drug to be reassigned to new categories as new usages are approved.

Contrast this to the biological system of classifying life: once you are assigned to a specific category, that’s it.  If cats were both “mammals,” along with being “mice-eaters” and “milk-drinkers,” you wouldn’t really be classifying them; you’d be describing them.  Classification is definitive (one, unchanging label); description is much more subjective (what once was an “adorable kitty” becomes a “snarling furball” under certain circumstances). 

Only one label for this cat: "kittykatus furious"

So the pharmaceutical drug classifcation system isn’t a classification system at all; it’s a descriptive system.  And this is what pharmaceutical companies are really doing when they change the name of a drug class, or reassign a drug to a new class: they’re describing it differently, in order to affect the way it is perceived by potential consumers (or even the FDA).   Aside from being useful in avoiding patent expiration dates, this maneuver is a great way to escape bad press for a particular chemical in a particular context.


When I say “bad press,” you say “antipsychotics!”

That’s right… the past couple months have been one bit of bad news after another for antipsychotics.  Several recently published studies show that they cause brain shrinkage, weight gain, Parkinson’s-like symptoms, diabetes, seizures, heart problems – a whole laundry list of incredibly undesirable side effects.  And this is national news (though a few tenacious “researchers” – funded by pharma, of course – are still courageously arguing that brain shrinkage might not be so bad, after all.  Good one, guys.). 

Could it be that consumers are going to be a little wary when they hear the word “antipsychotic”?  Might they be a bit more apt to do some research, and not just click on the pharma-funded hits at the top of Google, but delve into the blogosphere, survivor testimonies, or perhaps some of the clinical literature?

Maybe, and that’s certainly a risk to the billions of dollars of profits these drugs bring in every year. 

I think it’s time for a name change, folks.


And that was my long-winded way of getting to the point, which is…

This is what I saw in my sidebar today:

Accompanied by this text [excerpt]:

Antidepressants have increased the risk of suicidal thoughts and actions in some children, teenagers, and young adults.  Patients of all ages starting treatment should be watched closely for worsening of depression, suicidal thoughts or actions, unusual changes in behavior agitation and irritability.  Patients, families, and caregivers should pay close attention to any changes, especially sudden changes in mood, behaviors, thoughts, or feelings.  This is very important when an antidepressant medicine is started or when dose is changed.  Report any change in these symptoms immediately to the doctor.  SEROQUEL XR is not approved for patients under the age of 18 years.

(from online SEROQUEL XR advertisement; emphasis added)

Wait, Seorquel?  The one classed as an “atypical antipsychotic”?  The one that is not and has never been classed as an antidepressant, nor has it been approved for use as an antidepressant?

[Note: it can be used as an augmentor, ie prescribed alongside another antidepressant if that antidepressant is not effective, and it can also be prescribed for “bipolar depression.” But it CANNOT be prescribed as sole therapy for clinical depression, and IS NOT an antidepressant.]

Seroquel, made by Astra-Zeneca, which just paid literally the biggest fine in the history of corporate America [$520 million] for deliberately marketing a drug for off-label uses?  And that drug was…


Check it:

Seroquel is AstraZeneca’s second best-selling pharmaceutical and made sales of $4.87 billion in 2009, up 12% on 2008. The drug was first granted FDA approval in 1997 for the treatment of manifestations of psychotic disorders. Three years later FDA proposed narrowing the approval to the short-term treatment of schizophrenia only. In January 2004, U.S. approval was also given for the short-term treatment of acute manic episodes associated with bipolar disorder. Finally in 2006, the drug was sanctioned by FDA for the treatment of bipolar depression.

The government’s investigation was brought about as a result of a whistleblower lawsuit. The resulting allegations stated that between 2001 and 2006 AstraZeneca promoted Seroquel to psychiatrists and other physicians for disorders not covered by FDA approval. These off-label indications spanned a broad range of conditions including aggression, Alzheimer disease, anger management, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar maintenance, dementia, depression, mood disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and sleeplessness. Moreover, it is claimed, AstraZeneca promoted Seroquel to physicians who don’t normally treat patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, the two approved disorders for the drug.

(from a recent news story)

Oh, ok.  That Seroquel.

That Seroquel that’s getting really bad press as an antipsychotic; that’s the one they’re starting to call an “antidepressant” or an “antidepressant augmentor.”  Actually, they’re doing the same thing with Abilfy (another atypical antipsychotic), as demonstrated in this recent commercial.  Notice that they don’t use the word “antipsychotic” anywhere; the emphasis is on antidepressants:

It’s an antipsychotic wide trend.  They’re not really antipsychotics anymore (since they’re increasingly getting such a bad rap); they’re antidepressant augmentors, or maybe just plain ol’ antidepressants.  Or at least they will be, as soon as pharma can get the FDA fully on board. 

Keep watching these Orwellian language changes.  It’s doubleplusgood fun, don’t you agree?

About these ads


1. Leif Jimmeeeson - 02/21/2011

Wow! What a great blog. It’s so true, big pharma wants to get you on their dangerous drugs for life. That’s their meal ticket. They deceitfully promote their product to no end, claiming implicitly that their drug is your ticket to happiness. At the same time there is the reality of the situation. These drugs destroy a person’s physical and mental health. And word games and marketing are definitely one of pharma’s favorite tricks. The author really made some good points.

In my unprofessional opinion I think that a lot of people have poor physical and mental health due to the environmental toxins that they are continuously being subjected to. Whether it be in the form of un-nutritious food, fluoridated water, vaccinations, or lord knows what else. Adding more toxins to a sick person’s system does not seem like a good solution to me. People should look to natural cures like homeopathy, healthy diets, and good living to solve these problems.

2. Sunshine - 03/02/2011

When I asked my psychiatrist why in the world he prescribed me Seroquel (among others) he said it was to help my anti-depressant.How ludicrous.
No matter the bogus description its still a powerful anti-psychotic that has no business at all being so freely prescribed.

3. Susan - 03/03/2011

“Antidepressants have increased the risk of suicidal thoughts and actions in some children, teenagers, and young adults. Patients of all ages starting treatment should be watched closely for worsening of depression, suicidal thoughts or actions, unusual changes in behavior agitation and irritability. Patients, families, and caregivers should pay close attention to any changes, especially sudden changes in mood, behaviors, thoughts, or feelings. This is very important when an antidepressant medicine is started or when dose is changed. Report any change in these symptoms immediately to the doctor. SEROQUEL XR is not approved for patients under the age of 18 years.”

For 15 years I reported side effects, that these drugs were not working. For 15 years I was told to “give it time” and in the end….the side effects were used to justify and validate “mental illness”. Not one psychiatrist listened to me when I reported these side effects from the first drug I took (dexidrine) to the last in 2007. I am now free of the drugs but not the long lasting effects of them on my cognitive abilities or my body.

altmentalities - 03/03/2011

Sunshine and Susan, it sounds like both of you were in the care of doctors who did not respect your voices. I am so sorry. It’s a shame that this is only too common with the so-called “helping profession.” I hope that you have found more supportive people in your healing path since then…

4. Rhiannon - 03/03/2011

LOL again! Brilliant!

I’m just going to put links to your blog on my blog, since I don’t seem to be able to write right now, and you write exactly the way I like to, when I can.

It’s a trend…(I got here from Gianna’s blog…)

5. Arjuna Subanandan - 09/30/2011

This is interesting. Just a point of clarification. I think neuroleptic comes from the Greek or Latin for seize the nerves.

What’s interesting to me is the term “antipsychotic” means against psychosis in lay-person’s language. This means they work against the delusions and hallucinations. This is what many patients with schizophrenia want but this is not what the research is targeted at.

What I mean is if you look at PANSS or BPRS (two commonly used measures) they have lots of factors and the effects of the drugs on psychosis – the delusions and hallucinations core to the pathology of schizophrenia – are just two.

There’s never been a review of the trial data to see which one of these drugs is truly antipsychotic. It’s not clozapine. That’s for sure.

In fact the main effect of these drugs may simply be as tranquillisers.

6. New advertising for antipsychotics forecasts another change in the language « ALTmentalities « KIP Central - 10/08/2011

[…] New advertising for antipsychotics forecasts another change in the language « ALTmentalities. […]

7. Jane - 10/10/2011

Actually, Pfizer holds the honor of largest criminal fine ever paid in the U.S. at $1.19 billion. http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=a4yV1nYxCGoA

8. BOB FIDDAMAN (@Fiddaman) - 10/12/2011

Excellent post


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