CCHR Says Congress Should Look at Conflicts of Interest Influencing VA’s Failure to Investigate Psychotropic Drug Deaths

CCHR believes that conflicts of interest on the part of psychiatrists serving the VA and the pharmaceutical companies may provide answers to why sudden deaths from antipsychotics, and suicides linked to antidepressants, are still are being ignored.

By Kelly Patricia O’Meara
September 11, 2014

While Congress currently is focusing on the VA’s alleged poor quality of care due to long wait times for medical access, still little, to no, attention is being given to the hundreds of veteran cardiac arrests and suicides that occurred after being prescribed cocktails of dangerous psychotropic drugs, especially antipsychotics. Why?

The Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), the nation’s leading mental health watchdog, presented written testimony this year to Congressional hearings into military and veteran deaths and believes that conflicts of interest on the part of psychiatrists serving the VA and the pharmaceutical companies may provide answers to why sudden deaths from antipsychotics, and suicides linked to antidepressants, are still are being ignored.

During a July hearing of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, noted that although VA spending on mental health had doubled since 2007 (currently at $7 billion), “it’s not working.” Michaud concluded, “We have to figure out why.” An in-depth look into the source of the information being provided to Congress may yield interesting answers.

psychiatric-drugs-money_250The VA responded to a host of questions raised during the July hearings and, despite ample evidence to the contrary, “disagreed” that antidepressants “greatly increase their risk of suicide.” The studies cited as evidence in support of antidepressants being effective were conducted by psychiatrists who, between them, report financial ties to over 20 pharmaceutical companies, including financial interests with Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Abbott Labs, Forest Labs, GlaxoSmithKline and Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Additionally, the VA also responded that it did not believe that antidepressants “stop working” and can lead to chronic depression. Adding to the pattern of conflict of interest, the study cited in support of this statement reveals that at least two of the researchers received financial support from antidepressant makers.

Finally, the VA relies on the American Psychiatric Association’s 2010 Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Patient’s with Major Depression Disorder to discount the evidence that shows antidepressants are no more effective than a placebo (sugar pill). Six of the seven psychiatrists that comprised the Work Group that developed these reported financial ties to 50 pharmaceutical companies between them, with several having shares or equity in the companies.

One can only speculate how the relationship between the psychiatrists conducting studies on the pharmaceutical dole affect the decisions made by the VA about psychotropic drugs, but it is clear that a conflict of interest exists. The use of psychotropic drugs in the VA and military is increasing despite the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) “black box” warning attached to antidepressants for increased suicidal thinking and behavior.

Antidepressants, specifically SSRIs, all of which carry the “black box” warning, “are recommended as first line agents in treatment” of PTSD. Antidepressants like Zoloft, Wellbutrin and Celexa account for slightly more than half of the psychotropic prescriptions for 18-34 year olds in the military health care system, according to an investigation by the Military Times.

The Department of Defense spent at least $2.7 billion on antidepressants in the decade after 9/11 and the free dispensing of psychiatric drugs continues after soldiers’ care passes to the VA.   Pharma’s big winners were Pfizer, with more than $8 billion in sales from the Department of Defense since 2002, while Abbott Pharmaceuticals sales jumped 300 percent and Novartis more than doubled its military sales to nearly $400 million in 2011.

military-suicides-funeral-250Veteran suicides began rising in 2007 and, by 2012, the VA’s Suicide Prevention Program reported 18 veterans suicides daily, while a “Suicide Data Report” issued by the same program in the same year put the number at 22. By 2013, the VA and Department of Defense published a clinical-practice guide reporting that 18-22 die daily.

Add to the suicides the antipsychotic drugs implicated in the little reported sudden deaths of veterans and military personnel. Dr. Fred Baughman, Jr., a California neurologist, raised the alarm years ago after collecting a list of nearly 400 questionable soldier and veteran deaths, which he says are all “probable sudden cardiac deaths” likely caused by cocktails of psychiatric drugs.

Despite several published studies linking sudden cardiac deaths with antipsychotic drugs, including one conducted by the Army supporting the drugs causing cardiac arrhythmia, no formal investigation has been conducted to determine the role of these deadly drug cocktails.

Unlike the civilian world, where prescribing doctors have been tried and sentenced for toxic and lethal prescribing, no psychiatrist has been held personally accountable for the lethal combinations of psychiatric drugs routinely prescribed to soldiers and veterans, resulting in death.

As the Congress continues its investigation into the VA’s alleged sub-standard medical services, tough questions need to be asked about the obvious conflicts of interest among those psychiatrists within the VA and the military supplying the data used to make life and death decisions. Our military personnel deserve no less.

Watch the chapter “Epidemic: Suicide” from CCHR’s documentary, The Hidden Enemy here:

CCHR is a non-profit, public benefit organization.

CCHR is a non-profit, public benefit organization.

Kelly Patricia O’Meara is an award-winning former investigative reporter for the Washington Times’ Insight Magazine, penning dozens of articles exposing the fraud of psychiatric diagnosis and the dangers of the psychiatric drugs—including her ground-breaking 1999 cover story, “Guns & Doses,” exposing the link between psychiatric drugs and acts of senseless violence. She is also the author of the highly acclaimed book, Psyched Out: How Psychiatry Sells Mental Illness and Pushes Pills that Kill. Prior to working as an investigative journalist, O’Meara spent sixteen years on Capitol Hill as a congressional staffer to four Members of Congress. She holds a B.S. in Political Science from the University of Maryland.