Anatomy of an epidemic


Robert Whitaker will spoke at Brooks Memorial Library in Brattleboro, on March 31. He is the author of "Anatomy of an Epidemic" and maintains His thoroughly researched perspectives on mental health were very helpful.

Some updates from the Vermont legislature: The House passed a bill to establish new standards for law enforcement use of Tasers. The new standard is for officers to continue to shoot them at citizens in the same manner they were already doing, they must try some verbal de-escalation first, and there will be some training. This bill was introduced because Tasers keep maiming and killing people./

Most psychiatric drugs cause heart arrhythmias, and antipsychotics do to such a degree that they cause a three-fold increase in the risk of sudden cardiac death. Add a Taser to that and there is an unacceptable likelihood of death. Perhaps it’s a bad idea to shoot them at people with mental health issues? These weapons kill people, so they should be treated as weapons that kill people. Regardless of whether the legislature writes a responsible law, I urge law enforceent officers to limit Taser use to situations in which it would be acceptable to risk killing a person, because obviously anytime you shoot a Taser, you are risking killing the person.

The Senate passed a bill to expedite involuntary medication of psychiatric patients. They did everything they could to avoid listening to or taking seriously questioners of the bill, especially mental health system consumers and survivors. They dismissed as irrelevant, direct rebuttals of the proponents’ main arguments, such as the idea that involuntary medication is good for patients’ physical and mental health. Discussion of adverse mental and physical effects of involuntary drugs was deemed irrelevant. A reason stated for this was that the bill is only for short term forced drugs. However, there is nothing written in the bill saying that.

Reasons why senators disregarded the testimonies of mental health system survivors included that they tended to agree with each other (they don’t disregard the testimony of other types of people for this reason), and that they were just venting. (If it really was true that all the psychiatric survivors did was vent, that would speak volumes about the effectiveness of current approaches to "mental health care" in creating highly functional outcomes; however, it is also possible this perception was just another form of prejudice.)

The ratio of testifying time was designed with a similar philosophy. Most people who had been harmed by forced drugging got two minutes to testify, while people affiliated with organizations such as hospitals and NAMI, that make money off of the drugs, who spoke as though drugs are the only "treatment" in existence, got as much as a half hour to testify.

The hospitals are allowed to force drugs on patients over the FDA’s maximum approved dosages and force drugs on patients for unapproved uses of those drugs, even though marketing drugs for unapproved uses is a crime.

Here is an excerpt from the transcript of testimony by Laura Zeigler, advocate: "If you look at the orders, they also include astronomical dosages. There were two -- just of the ones I looked at, which wasn’t the entirety of the ones for this past year -- that had double maximum of ziprasidone. There was one with double maximum of Zyprexa. It is absolutely routine to apply for an order of 30 milligrams a day of Zyprexa. And if you look at what the FDA says, it says, no safety studies after 20 milligrams a day, you can use 30 milligrams a day intramuscular for agitation, but not on an ongoing basis -- and none of those orders had any strictures about that. So in terms of quality of care, and health and safety -- and with Act 114 there was supposed to be a strict protocol to insure health and safety suggestion

is that there be a requirement, not just no experimental drugs, but no dosages at a level or duration that’s above the FDA recommended maximum. And I think that that is already in the enactment in the part that says ensure health and safety. It doesn’t encourage it, insure it. How can you insure it when there’s no safety studies?"

The Health and Welfare Committee kept a public website on which they displayed written testimony, except for the content they didn’t feel like sharing, such as the evidence that one reason the Vermont State Hospital was decertified for many years leading up to Irene’s destruction of it, was due to patient deaths from involuntary medication.

One senator, Ann Cummings, joined the Health and Welfare Committee very late and was not listed in the committee; this meant that members of the public who were concerned about this bill did not have the opportunity to discuss it with her or write to her about it before she voted on it in committee. This greatly impacted the influence of mental health system survivors, for whom one on one communication with senators was the only meaningful avenue of advocacy, since they were not given reasonable opportunities to testify. The committee passed the bill 3-2.

The hearing process in the Senate was a test run as to the effect of expedited hearings on due process. The hearings about this bill, in the Senate, were expedited -- the bill was being rushed through. The effect was to all but completely squelch the voices of the people who the bill would ultimately affect the most, the people who have mental health struggles. This is very telling of what effect the content of the bill would have on due process.

The resulting bill is of such high quality, and is so very oriented toward good patient care, that not one of the relevant advocacy organizations is in favor of it.

I hope the Senate and House can do better on each bill, respectively.

Heidi Henkel is a math tutor, dance teacher, fitness trainer and massage therapist who lives in Putney.


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