One of the big media stories today is about David Healy's address to the American Psychiatric Association's Psychiatric Services meeting. Like many of the psychiatrists turned critic his celebrity and notoriety status depend a lot of the amount of controversy that he is associated with and he comments on that in the opening remark. If you carefully read through this article, you will find that the financial conflicts of interest alluded to in the article are largely historical at this point. The elephant in the room for these critics is that practically all antidepressants are generics these days and they are no longer marketed by pharmaceutical companies.
I was an early adopter of maintaining clear boundaries with pharmaceutical companies and for the past 20 years or so - did not see detail salespeople, did not accept food and did not accept any gifts. On the other hand, I have always found pharmaceutical companies to be a rich source of data in addition to the usual FDA approved package insert. As an example, I am looking at a disc sitting on my desk right now entitled "Iloperidone unsolicited slides - for education use only." I gave a lecture on newer atypical anti psychotics several years ago and contacted the scientific divisions of three pharmaceutical companies looking for basic science data on the new drugs and they all supplied me with complete clinical trials data and basic science information on the receptor profiles that I wanted. I will also call them up with possible adverse events and get detailed information about that frequently via fax the same day.
Healy appeared to have made a controversial remark about psychiatrists committing "professional suicide" by their affiliation with pharmaceutical companies. In his previous remarks he make the comment about professional suicide as a preface to the second paragraph below:
"Healy noted further that when data surfaced showing a link between antidepressant use and risk of suicide in children, the APA issued a statement proclaiming that “we believe that antidepressants save lives.”
“What I believe they should have said is that the APA believes that psychiatrists can save lives because it takes expertise to manage the risks of risky pills,” he said; if psychiatrists’ only role were to dole out drugs, then less-trained physician’s assistants could easily replace them, he noted."
I have seen the comment on his blog at least 6 months ago and there should be complete agreement with this statement. Just in the past month I have had to diagnose and address drug induced liver disease, serotonin syndrome, eosinophilia, antidepressant associated hypertension, and spent a considerable larger amount of time making sure that antidepressants could be safely prescribed and that they were not making pre-existing medical problems worse. Recognizing those problems goes beyond the diagnostic process to coming up with a plan to monitor and treat it. A considerable amount of my time is, if not most of my time is spent managing side effects and protecting the health of my patients.
Although Healy takes positions that I would consider to be inaccurate, in this case he is dead on. It is professional suicide to collude with the idea that the treatment of any mental illness resides in a pill. Marketing genius maybe, but certainly not reality. Drugs don't treat and cure depression, psychiatrists do and it goes far beyond selecting a medication. Monitoring the patient for these complications and recognizing rare complications takes time and that time needs to be available - even in visits that are supposed to be focused on "medication management".
George Dawson, MD, DFAPA