Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Another one bites the dust

Last week it was GlaxoSmithKline. This week it's AstraZeneca. Who'll be next? Is Big Pharma poised to just abandon the psychiatric enterprise of neuroleptizing the world?

It wouldn't be a big surprize in some ways. Drug companies want to make money, and they're pretty good at predicting market trends. I'd love nothing so much as to believe that these guys figure the public will no longer worship at the altar of the Great Pill once the current generation is sufficiently disabled by age alone to no longer require psychotropic meds. That won't be this year, of course. Drug research runs in a cycle of decades, but if Glaxo and A-Z are backing away from psych meds now, it's a good sign.

What might become very interesting is, if other pharmaceutical companies follow suit, an oddly cruel historical verdict will pronounce. So many bureaucrats, professional mental patients, professional families of the mentally ill, a whole panoply of NAMI fellow travellers, may come face to face with the fact that they've been conned. They've created identities and entire lives around the problem of diseases which, it turns out, were never in anyone's brain after all. They've made huge emotional/intellectual/existential investments in an idea which may be suddenly and utterly discredited, ejected from reality. The psychiatric project, the mental illness game, could just ... end. Lots of people would feel like cult members standing on the roof the day the flying saucers didn't arrive.

Drug companies would pay billions in damages as their cost of doing business, and escape essentially unscathed. Individual psychiatrists would get busy establishing how they were, each and every one, really on the correct side of these technical issues all along. A handful might be criminally prosecuted or justly fined for ruining countless lives and degrading all humanity. There might even be an exemplary Samuel Sewell somewhere in the mix.

But will anyone learn much about what and who we are? Maybe, maybe not. If Ely Lilly and Pfizer join the rats abandoning ship next week, the wreck will be looking pretty grizzly.

It will be damned hard to talk about medical progress against mental illness when the captains of science and industry are all admitting there's no future in it, and giving up.

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