In 2015, there was a series of posts on davidhealy.org Pharmaceutical Rape, Pharmaceutical Rape is not a Metaphor, Pharmaceutical Rape: Cast of Characters, Pharmaceutical Rape: The Good Patient, Pharmaceutical Rape: Doctors Still Know Best, Pharmaceutical Rape: Discrimination, Pharmaceutical Rape: Ending our Tolerance.
The following year GlaxoSmithKline lawyers deposed me in the Dolin case, spending hours on posts on the david healy site – and positively salivated when they had a ‘Now Dr Healy, can I ask you about these posts about Pharmaceutical Rape?” Although the posts were flagged as written by Laurie Oakley, they seemed to think I’d written them. I had to disappoint them.
I had written a post they were also interested in which will feature again here in a week or two – What Would Happen if Patients Radicalized? This was written at the same time as Laurie had a post on RxISK Over the Top: Tackling Medical Power. which was the stimulus to the Pharmaceutical Rape series.
Laurie hasn’t just written many posts. and a compelling book about her own experience – Crazy and It Was, she has done something about the problems of psychotropic drug dependence and the gaslighting that goes with it by setting up the WARM network.
The death a few days ago of Ed White, who was one of the Team behind Antidepressants Risks, contributed a post here on antidepressant dependence, Avoid Doctors, and did so much to help other people suffering as he had, makes it even more important to recognise the importance of those doing something rather than just airing views.
In this post, Laurie revisits the consequences of distrust in our institutions that a history of being harmed by prescribed drugs can cause. There are some like Altostrata who have been harmed but still remain enthusiastic advocates for vaccines but also many who having been once bitten are twice shy.
For a substantial minority, vaccine hesitancy or refusal is not political or based on something they read on an anti-vaxx website, but the result of healthy fear after having a personal experience with medication injury for which they were completely unprepared. This is bigger than you might think. The aim of this piece is to add nuance to the vaccination debate by showing the profound lack of trust experienced by a significant number of people who have been injured by medication without any meaningful response by health authorities.
PHARMACEUTICAL RAPE is a relatively new phenomenon. It is a culturally invisible harm outside the domains of public, medical, and political discourse. However this type of violation is commonplace and stories of these harms are especially visible on internet forums. This new definition is meant to challenge the current, widely accepted societal assumptions about pharmaceutical harms, their prevalence, causes and consequences.
Since I was injured by prescribed medications in the 1990’s, I have done a great deal of research and found there are scores of people like me who took medication as prescribed, were harmed by it, and the doctors from whom they sought care had no real basis for understanding what had happened. Every medication that does harm is also useful when used judiciously with accurate information. Most of us are not opposed to the use of medication. But we believe that pharma marketing has undue influence in both how prescribing guidelines are set and how patients are viewed when we report an adverse outcome that is nowhere to be seen in the medical literature. It’s a complex subject for sure, but a driving factor is the fact that pharma companies fund clinical trials for their own products which means they have immense power over outcomes. Studies for FDA approval are intentionally designed to make a drug look good and any part of research on a drug that is negative tends to get shelved. Drug companies do not share unfavorable data. Even after FDA approved drugs are found to have problems and corrections are made with black box warnings added, prescribing habits are already largely set. Most doctors simply remain unaware of the changes. Lawsuits against pharma companies give little comfort as it is known that companies budget for this and continue “raping” while very few who are harmed see any justice.
THE VIOLATORS (Knowingly) – Corporate and governmental decision makers involved in the processes of production, approval, and marketing of said products; academic researchers involved in the study of said products while receiving industry funding; those psychiatrists, medical doctors or other professionals receiving financial compensation for lending their names to ghostwritten articles and other misleading materials about said products. (Key opinion leaders).
There are those whose difficulties began immediately following a vaccination. Others ended up with major problems after taking routine medications as prescribed by doctors they trusted, who had a duty to warn of risks, yet nearly always simply parroted the words problems are rare. Adverse outcomes from drugs ranging from the acne medication Accutane, to antibiotics like Cipro, to the powerful antipsychotic Zyprexa, are a common subject in a plethora of facebook groups for the drug damaged, such as Cymbalta Hurts Worse, for example. Voices of those with this type of iatrogenic injury extend from Twitter to Reddit and beyond. Organizations unheard of, like Robert Whitaker’s Mad in America, Dr. David Healy’s Rxisk.org, and Dr. Christy Huff’s Benzodiazepine Information Coalition, try to stand in the gap with the warnings that are strangely absent in mainstream medicine.
You would think this level of harm would be covered by major media outlets. It is not. The Daily Mail in the UK sometimes prints a story which may comfort the afflicted but rarely afflicts the comfortable. Once in a while an article appears in Psychology Today. But even when Wendy Dolin, a Chicago widow, sued GlaxoSmithKline and won after the antidepressant drug Paxil was implicated in her husband’s death, the news did not travel far. Lack of meaningful media attention means these arguably preventable harms both continue and remain invisible.
TO SIMPLY CONSIDER the concept, pharmaceutical rape, (and the fact that it goes so widely unnoticed, not to mention unprosecuted), is to take instruction in the power relationship between the multi-billion-dollar pharmaceutical corporations and the individuals for whom their products are targeted.
Vaccine hesitancy in the drug harmed is understandable. Given that the adverse outcomes they experienced have been chronically ignored and even hidden by drug makers, overlooked by regulators, dismissed by doctors, and disbelieved by society, the vast majority say they will not receive a vaccine for covid-19. Here are a few of their stories:
The popular class of antidepressants called SSRIs like Paxil and Prozac can be lifesaving when used for something like serious depression, especially when used short term. But many patients did not expect to experience a prolonged withdrawal when trying to come off the drugs. Specialized and extensive information and support are necessary for a significant number of patients when stopping medications that are typically given for mental health and depression. Prescribing doctors, who would ideally warn of these risks through the informed consent process, almost universally disbelieve patients when they report having withdrawal problems. Patients are routinely told that the so-called “withdrawal” is their psychological illness reemerging and to keep taking the medication.
NO PHARMACEUTICAL (including vaccines) is completely safe for everyone in all circumstances. Many have more dangers than are acknowledged. In the current climate, it is difficult if not impossible to judge whether full information for a product is being made available. Whenever a pharmaceutical treatment is offered, available alternatives must also be discussed.
“I was put on these drugs when I was 19,” says Andie, who has been on SSRI’s for twenty years. In 2019, she started thinking about having a baby and sought to get herself off. She tapered over a period of eight months and experienced severe withdrawal symptoms ranging from insomnia and panic attacks to nausea, weight loss and a condition known as akathisia. Even after she got off the medications she continued to experience withdrawal-like symptoms. “It’s horrific and the doctors just tell you your original symptoms are coming back,” she says. Eventually she could no longer work and was put back on a cocktail of drugs that ended up being an even bigger nightmare. “I was put on Lexapro, Cymbalta, Trazadone, Seroquel. I had never been suicidal before and now I was losing my mind. I almost tried to kill myself. It was the scariest thing I have ever been through.”
While withdrawal syndromes from commonly prescribed mental health medications seem to go completely under the radar in the US, the Royal College of Psychiatrists in the UK actually set forth new prescribing guidelines in 2019. Wendy Burn, then president of the college, received a great deal of pushback on Twitter from patient activists when she downplayed severe and long-lasting withdrawal effects from antidepressants. Surprisingly, she listened to them and later advocated for both the new guidelines and more assistance for people having difficulty when tapering medications. Helpful as that may be, most doctors have yet to hear of it.
THE DRIVING CAUSES OF pharmaceutical rape are drug industry influence in the medical setting and the commodification of healthcare. Because this type of violence does occur, it constitutes a social problem that must become an accepted fact to be addressed within wider society.
Andie was able to find a holistic practitioner who helped her discontinue three of the four medications. “I am still on the lowest dose of Cymbalta but am terrified to be honest. I want to be off so bad, but I am so afraid of the physical withdrawal.” Her fear speaks to the difficulty many have when making that final jump off of medication.
Andie says of going back to allopathic doctors, ”It would be the end of me. My entire life has fallen apart and I am still trying to put back the pieces. It is not easy.” Asked about getting vaccinated for Covid-19, even after FDA approval she says, “I am afraid of it all. Many harmful drugs are FDA approved. Antidepressants turned out to be extremely dangerous and NO ONE told me anything about this. We aren’t given any informed consent.”
FULL INFORMED CONSENT is paramount. If any information for a pharmaceutical product is withheld, omitted, faulty, or misleading, full, informed consent is not possible. The lack of awareness of the full range of hazards about a drug should never obscure a basic acceptance that all drugs are poisons. Where adverse events are occurring and yet fail to become the subject of further attention or scientific study, this is pharmaceutical rape.
Kari was put on SSRI antidepressants in the mid 1990’s when there was an uptick in people being given freshly patented psychiatric drugs. She was in her mid twenties and this took her down a path leading to the prescription of more drugs and eventually Klonopin, a powerful benzodiazepine.
Like all drugs, benzodiazepines can affect each person differently. While many seem to have no problems at all, others, through no fault of their own, find their health deteriorating while taking the medication as prescribed. By this time, a doctor is likely to look for and recognize addiction, but when it comes to other problems, like interdose withdrawal or increased anxiety, the doctor is likely to attribute problems to something other than the drug and reach for the prescription pad.
“I know medicine has its place,” Kari says, “but I barely survived and now I live with permanent damage.” Kari, like so many others, was told she had a chemical brain imbalance and that she would need the drugs for the rest of her life. She says she did find some relief at first and even felt at the time that they changed her life, at least in the short term. “Yet at the same time I had some very bizarre issues that I could never find answers to from the medical industry, “she says. “They could never figure out what was wrong with me exactly and had me running from test to test, always adding more drugs.”
SOCIAL CONDITIONING THROUGH direct to consumer advertising firmly establishes this pharmaceutical rape culture. When individuals are daily encouraged to “talk to your doctor,” the implicit message is that the starting point for good health is regular visits to a doctor who will prescribe medications to be taken regularly. Accustomed to turning to pharmaceuticals for what ails us, we have all but forgotten that all medicines are poisons which pose risks of harm, even when instances are rare.
Trusting they had her best interest at heart and listening to what they told her, she was eventually on 10 to 15 medications. She was actually prescribed two different benzodiazepines and two antidepressants at the same time and she knew she needed off. She says it was absolute hell getting off several of these medications, but the benzodiazepines and antidepressants were the absolute worst. “I did see a psychiatrist and many other specialists over a period of years, but eventually it was my general practitioner who was overseeing all of my medications and she had no idea how to get me off the psych drugs.” Kari continues, “she advised me to taper too quickly and I ended up in the ER and later hospitalized, further traumatized, and then left to withdraw on my own.”
Describing the withdrawal she says, “I had the most intense symptoms both physically and mentally, but the suicidal ideation getting off those drugs blew my mind. My nervous system is so damaged from the chronic use of medications. I have cognitive issues. I still have intense muscle spasms all over my body and chronic pain issues that limit my ability to work.”
THE VICTIMS – Persons who experience unexpected physical, emotional, mental, and/or psychological adverse effects (immediately or from longer-term use) as a result of being prescribed products where insufficient or misleading information has been given. Parents who unquestioningly follow doctors orders and suffer the trauma of having harmed their children after procuring pharmaceutical treatments. (Also victims are doctors who have been led to prescribe said products without giving full safety information, whether because of drug industry influence or by following accepted prescribing protocols within medical and mental healthcare systems).
Kari says her general practitioner of fifteen years whom she trusted, disbelieved her when she still had withdrawal symptoms beyond a year. “She always said it was anxiety. Well yeah, I had anxiety, from all of the damage that was done.” When her doctor would not believe her and kept trying to put her back on meds, she quit going and worked to heal herself. She views getting off of those medications as a huge accomplishment and has barely been to a doctor since despite living with the physical damage.
“When I go to doctors now, which is rare, I always leave with a prescription in my hand, but I have made it very clear that I will only take it as a last resort. If I get a prescription for migraines or muscle spasms, I might get it filled to have on hand, but I will try everything holistic first. When it’s for antidepressants (often prescribed for pain) I never fill it. My new doctor is more open to holistic approaches yet In my online chart I’m still labeled non-compliant.”
IN OUR SOCIETY we learn a social script in which a “good patient” obeys the orders of doctors as authority figures. The ideal patient is a passive patient, subordinate to the physician. We are expected to relate to doctors as experts whose judgment we should trust when being prescribed medication. Because of drug industry influence, this everyday scenario invites pharmaceutical violation. Thus a pharmaceutical rape culture exists that fosters widespread harms to individuals.
When asked about getting vaccinated she says, “If I get injured or have adverse effects from the vaccine, I’m screwed. No one will be held accountable. Even after FDA approval I am still highly skeptical. I’ve endured so much suffering, loss, trauma, and despair from all of these pharmaceuticals over the years that now I’m terrified of being coerced or possibly forced to inject something for the ‘greater good’ into my wrecked body and brain. I’d rather die from Covid.”
Albert, who is now 28, reflects back on when he was first prescribed acne medication. “I had pretty bad acne as a teenager so when I was 14, with the encouragement of my GP, my parents took me to see a dermatologist who put me on a drug called Roaccutane.”
Roaccutane, as it is known in the UK, is marketed in the US under the trade name Accutane. Both are isotretinoin.
“I learned later that the drug has been associated with a long list of side effects for as long as it’s been on the market, many of them fairly horrific,” Albert says. He experienced several of these including premature epiphyseal plate closure (i.e. it stunted his growth), persistent digestive problems, and extremely fragile skin. None of these have fully resolved over 14 years later.
“I also got hit with a side effect that wasn’t mentioned in the patient information leaflet at the time but is now widely recognised – sexual dysfunction. Albert continues, “I can’t really convey the devastation as well as the cognitive dissonance I experience after medical professionals I’ve seen have repeatedly denied any possibility of a connection to the drug; suffice it to say, it changed my life.”
PHARMACEUTICAL RAPE stems from the collective decisions of powerful individuals within an industry-government-medical trade alliance. It is an abhorrent offense that results in an invasive violation of bodily autonomy for the victim. A pharmaceutical product is introduced into one’s body that causes harm — something one did not consent to — something that one had a legal right to more information about so that a different choice could have been made. Most often, it involves trusting and having that trust violated.
“None of the medical professionals whose help I sought entertained the idea it could be an iatrogenic issue. Everyone told me it was psychosexual,” Albert says. No one even conducted any sort of physical examination, even though he has learned since that there are a number of simple, effective and low-cost methods for making a diagnosis.
“On some level I always knew something was deeply wrong but I was too young and too traumatised to be able to challenge any doctor’s authority. It was many years later that I came across information online that enlightened me to the probable cause.” Albert says that even after making this discovery, when he went back to a GP asking for a referral to a sexual health specialist, the GP, who affirmed there was an established connection between Roaccutane and sexual dysfunction, opined that in Albert’s case it was much more likely psychosexual – this without any sort of physical examination and within just a few minutes of meeting Albert for the first time.
AS WITH SEXUAL RAPE the victims of pharmaceutical violation are everywhere, walking among us unrecognized. Many may not even connect what they experience to their medications. This is a violation involving physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual damage at the hands of those holding power over medicines, who deny any wrongdoing and remain free to do the same to others.
Isotretinoin is under review again by the MHRA, (the UK equivalent to FDA) which has received reports of harms such as what Albert has experienced as well as a significant number of suicides. There are safeguards in place for the well-known risk for birth defects, but when it comes to rarer side effects such as the long-standing gastrointestinal problems, enduring sexual dysfunction and suicide, many believe the warnings are not strong enough. While these effects appear to be rare, many say their suffering could have been prevented if only they’d had this information up front. Isotretinoin, originally a powerful cancer drug, was repurposed for the most extreme cases of acne only, yet doctors are now prescribing it widely because it works so well. While victims and their families continue advocating year after year for stronger warnings, more judicious prescribing, or even an outright ban, the MHRA drags its feet.
THE CULTURAL TENDENCY to focus only on a drug’s benefits has been set in place by pharmaceutical companies and reinforced by the medical establishment; this denial of potential risks prevents patients from being able to make an informed choice. While many of us benefit from medications sold as “safe and effective,” individuals like Albert pay the horrendous consequences alone.
“I contacted the MHRA at the age of 27, thirteen years after taking the substance,” Albert says. With help from some very dedicated patient-activists, he was invited to take part in a meeting at their London HQ and tell his story. “I had these very senior MHRA people offer me their ‘personal sympathies’ but without action this is all fairly meaningless to me.” He says. As part of the MHRA reevaluation of the safety of Roaccutane, there was also a call for patient responses where Albert was able to contribute written testimony and a short video presentation. The group is currently drawing up their conclusions.
“Knowing what I know about how regulators work, the revolving door with industry and so on, I am not hopeful anything will get done – but I’d love to be proven wrong,” he says.
WHEN IT COMES to pharmaceutical rape, it is no simple task to determine just who the “rapists” are (or to determine the safety or lack of safety of the treatments that they promote), but we are certain that the behavior exists, and that decisions are being made with no regard for the lives that are damaged and/or ended by the reckless promotion of pharmaceutical products. This type of industry behavior, and the behavior of all who are in collusion with it, makes it clear that the untold suffering of millions is not too great a price to be paid for the satisfaction these individuals get from their advancing prestige and monetary gain.
This accumulated negative experience has given Albert a very dim view of the medical profession as a whole. He can’t help but see it as a protection racket for the pharmaceutical industry for whom the most vulnerable groups such as children are just easy prey. He believes this applies also to the Covid-19 vaccine situation.
“I will not be getting the jab whatever social consequences I have to suffer.” He cites an approval process for pharmaceuticals which is already hopelessly corrupt, and adds, “as I have learned more about these products, I have only grown more alarmed. I actually know people personally who have suffered serious side effects from these products: a friend’s grandmother had a stroke within three hours of the jab and a guy my age, previously completely healthy, is now living with a chronic heart condition.”
Albert says this is a rare case where he feels like his past experience with the pharmaceutical industry is actually a blessing. “My experience shows me how worthless MHRA approval really is. It’s money and politics more than anything to do with good science.”
PHARMACEUTICAL RAPE CULTURE is a culture in which iatrogenic harms are pervasive and normalized due to societal attitudes about medicine and health care. It is a complex set of beliefs that tolerates the commercialization of healthcare and supports everyday harms in medical and mental health care settings. It is a society where harm is only acknowledged as rare, yet is accepted as necessary, and inevitable. In a pharmaceutical rape culture, doctors and patients unknowingly trust what are oftentimes pseudo-scientific facts put forth by drug makers about drug safety. Both doctors and patients end up disbelieving the reality of the adverse events they see, and instead believe alternate explanations for such events. A pharmaceutical rape culture condones widespread medical harms that are rooted in reckless practices within the industry-government-medical trade alliance because multiple societal systems are involved in producing, reproducing, and disseminating “information” about pharmaceutical products. This “information” saturates the public and reinforces that alliance.
Rachel is a certified registered nurse with boots on the ground in Cincinnati’s vast medical industrial complex and is no stranger to prescribing medications. “This subject is hard for me as a nurse because oftentimes I give antidepressants and benzodiazepines to patients.” Rachel says that around a third of the time these medications are helpful. “Benzodiazepines have great uses in certain clinical pictures. End of life comfort, pre-surgical interventions, suicidal and homicidal ideations, and severe debilitating anxiety would be some of the big ones.” She says she has seen amazing, life changing transformations with medication treatments and at the same time acknowledges that some people are injured or left in worse shape than they had been originally.
On the near impossibility of covering all the bases when it comes to informing patients of risks, she says, “Informed consent is definitely an issue within our overpopulated healthcare system. Providers really don’t have time, myself included, to sit down and go over every risk or side effect of the medications administered to patients.”
She says of informed consent in outpatient settings, “If a patient comes in with say, a UTI, gets a script for the antibiotic Cipro, the doctor can go over some side effects but oftentimes they won’t unless the patient asks.” She continues, “After the patient picks up Cipro from their local pharmacy, did they read the paper that came in the bag with the drug? It is probably three feet long when totally unfolded, and filled front and back in small print about drug warnings, uses, side effects, adverse effects, pharmacokinetics, pharmacology – basically everything related to the drug. They likely threw that paper away.”
THE ACCOMPLICES (Unwitting, assumed unknowingly) – Shareholders, government officials, the psychiatric establishment, persons in academic institutions, medical journals, medical and mental health care systems, front groups, pharmacists, other prescribers, and the media. In practice, doctors act as accomplices; because many are unaware of the extent to which the drug industry permeates medical education and culture, they are also victims.
She agrees that our healthcare system is broken and says there are many culprits in this, not just healthcare providers. “Insurance providers sometimes contribute to the problem too.” She says that while she believes providers need to give patients as much information as possible, it is also the patient’s job to have an active role in the management of their health. “There are so many moving parts to all of this. It’s really sad, honestly.”
Incidentally, Rachel is not vaccinated, either. She contracted covid early in the pandemic while treating covid patients and hopes that her natural immunity will prove superior to the artificial immunity of the vaccines. “Since I already had covid (and covid pneumonia), I feel that my odds of making a great recovery, should I get covid again, will be high.”
She says she will decline the vaccine as long as possible, citing among other things, multiple cases of myocarditis in particularly female covid vaccine recipients she has seen. “While this is treatable, I still have no desire to go through a hospital stay, especially with cardiac issues.”
While cautious about the rapidly evolving situation with covid variants, the current vaccines, and ever changing CDC recommendations, she is anything but an anti-vaxxer. Her children have had all of their recommended childhood vaccines, and she is grateful that her parents have both received the Pfizer covid vaccine. In regard to her parents she says, “I am hopeful that the vaccine will be effective, but I am seeing a lot of cases of hospitalized covid patients who are vaccintated.
Rachel says if it came down to her losing her job and being unable to provide for her family, she would likely get vaccinated, though she adds,
“A mandate on healthcare workers is a violation of our rights. Last year’s heroes should not become this year’s unemployed.”