Pharmaceutical Industry Successfully Altering Standards of “Crazy”


Surprisingly, the highest selling prescription drugs in the United States do not treat common conditions like high blood pressure, acid reflux, high cholesterol, or diabetes. Instead, the top selling class of prescription drugs is antipsychotics.

Years ago, these drugs were dispensed sparingly and were reserved for individuals suffering from serious mental illnesses that cause hallucinations, delusion, or major thought disorders. But today, these drugs are freely prescribed to just about anyone who exhibits even a minor deviation from what is considered “normal” behavior. This includes unruly, hyperactive children and elderly people who might be in the early stages of mental decline.

Pharmaceutical companies have been able to dramatically boost the sales of these drugs by targeting psychiatrists who have the ability to prescribe these drugs based on subjective diagnoses. By providing these doctors with substantial incentives to dispense these drugs, pharmaceutical companies have actually been able to change the criteria for mental illness and disability payments. This has effectively resulted in an explosion in the prescription of antipsychotic drugs, often to patients for whom these drugs were never intended.

According to former New England Journal of Medicine editor Marcia Angell, the number of individuals qualifying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is more than two and a half times greater than it was 20 years ago, increasing from 1 in 184 people to 1 in 76 people. These numbers are even more dramatic for children and as a result, mental illness has now become the most common disability in children. Over the last 20 years, the number of children with disabilities has increased by 35 times.

Angell has argued that, “Under the tutelage of Big Pharma, we are simply expanding the criteria for mental illness so that nearly everyone has one.” Young children and elderly people are most vulnerable to being prescribed unnecessary medication since they are often unable to advocate for their own health care.

Between 1994 and 2003, there was a 40 times increase in the number of children diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and 20% of children now leave a psychiatric evaluation with a prescription for an antipsychotic drug.

This trend is especially alarming considering the high risk of pharmaceutical injury associated with many of these antipsychotic drugs. Clearly, pharmaceutical companies are placing profits over patients’ best interests. It is doubtful that such a large percentage of the population truly requires such potent and life-impacting medication.

While the federal government has been slow to crack down on the pharmaceutical kickbacks responsible for this increase in the proliferation of antipsychotic drugs, there has been one major qui tam judgment against Big Pharma. In 2009, Eli Lily agreed to pay $1.4 billion, including a $515 million criminal penalty, in a pharmaceutical fraud case involving their antipsychotic drug Zyprexa. This was the largest ever judgment in pharmaceutical fraud case.