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Book Review

“Medication Madness:  The Role of Psychiatric Drugs in Cases of Suicide, Violence and Crime.” by Dr. Peter Breggin

If you or a loved one take prescription medication for depression, anxiety or ADHD this book should be required reading.


The title, “Medication Madness,” may read like a tabloid headline, but don’t let that fool you. The author, Harvard-trained psychiatrist Dr. Peter Breggin, has the credentials and the experience to make this book rock-solid credible. Breggin has authored numerous books pertaining to psychiatric drugs and is a champion in the psychiatry-reform movement. Per the book jacket, Dr. Breggin “documents how the FDA, the medical establishment and the pharmaceutical industry have oversold the value of psychiatric drugs.” Breggin’s thesis, simply put, is that commonly used antidepressants, tranquilizers and ADHD medications are not only over-prescribed in America, but detrimental to the health of its citizens.

First, let it be said that untold thousands of people who suffer with depression and/or anxiety have derived great benefit from antidepressant therapy when it is managed correctly and monitored closely by reputable physicians. (This writer is one of them.) Second, the cases documented in the book are extreme examples of adverse reactions to psychiatric medications and are certainly not the norm.  Even Breggin admits that (p 19). However, the gut-wrenching accounts of wrecked lives that Dr. Breggin has documented — and the degree to which those lives have been wrecked — necessitate that this information not only be published, but shouted from the rooftop.

Dr. Breggin has framed the book around several dozen case-study stories (approximately fifty) of individuals he has worked with who have suffered negative consequences as a result of psychiatric drug therapy. But these are not your run-of-the-mill negative side-effects. These folks have suffered out-and-out, life-crashing crises due to psychiatric medications. Breggin, who has years of medical research experience, has taken careful steps to ensure the accuracy and reliability of these cases.

First, a vast body of scientific literature has been cited and referenced by Dr. Breggin, resulting in thirty-three pages of chapter notes and bibliography listings at the rear of the book. Second, Breggin has included in the book only cases where, in his opinion, other possible causative effects on an individual’s behavior were minimal to non-existent (p 33). Third, the vast majority of cases Breggin has included in the book are cases that he has followed closely for an extended period of time. Detailed medical histories for each case-study have been thoroughly documented. Patient’s family members, friends and professional associates have been interviewed multiple times. And, in many instances, Dr. Breggin has served as a medical expert in the criminal and/or civil trials of patients documented in the book.

Key to the book is a concept Breggin has developed known as “medication spellbinding.” According to Breggin, spellbinding is a condition in which “ . . . the drugs mask or hide their harmful mental and emotional effects . . . many people feel better when in reality they are doing worse” (p 18). After beginning an antidepressant, mood stabilizer or tranquilizer, an individual, according to Breggin, may experience any myriad of problem symptoms (anger, sadness, somnolence, confusion, fatigue, euphoria, disorientation, suicidal thoughts) yet attribute the newfound symptoms to other factors in their life when in reality it is the medication itself causing the problem. Breggin believes that psychiatric medications actually created and/or worsened the problems these individuals experienced.

“Spellbinding,” according to Breggin, can occur in different degrees and manifest itself in a variety of ways. Spellbinding effects can range from minor, barely noticeable personality changes to out-and-out psychotic behavior, “ . . . leading people to behave in ways that they would otherwise reject as hazardous or wrong.”

It is this extreme, out-of-character behavior that Breggin documents throughout the book. Some individual’s become so “spellbound” by medication that they begin to engage in criminal activity. This is where these cases become tragic. Breggin’s thesis here — that the drugs are to blame for such activity — is strongly supported by the fact that these individuals have no criminal history and no real need to commit a crime. Furthermore, the documented crimes are, in some cases, completely irrational. These individuals make absolutely no attempt to hide or cover up their actions, or even to properly defend themselves in a court of law. In most of the cases documented by Dr. Breggin, the bizarre actions of the individual, according to friends, family, even law enforcement personnel, are completely out of character. These indeed are tragic stories.

Here are three offered by Dr. Breggin:

A college student on a popular medication for depression and panic attacks, commits several armed robberies of convenience stores and gas stops. But he chooses establishments that both he and his parents frequent. He wears no disguise. He ignores visible video cameras, even after being informed of their presence by store personnel. And he uses the family car, a vehicle known and recognized by employees of the establishments he robs (p 113). To top it all off, this young man has no real need to steal; he resides with his parents who by all accounts have plenty of money. The young man is soon caught by law enforcement personnel.

A physician begins an odd habit of stealing construction equipment, including a fuel-tanker, a backhoe and a dump-truck. Again, no attempt is made by the individual to conceal his bizarre crimes. He even parks the stolen vehicles outside of his home (p 83).

A reputable professional, under the “spellbinding” effects of a medication widely prescribed for depression and panic attacks, begins to embezzle money from the company he works for. Again, the individual makes no attempts to cover up the crime.  He actually writes company checks to himself, documenting his own criminal activity. Co-workers are shocked at his brazen behavior. This man was “so spellbound that he had no idea he was being adversely affected” (p 117). He actually thought he was doing better since starting the medication. This particular case left even the judge scratching his head (p 117, 118).

Dr. Breggin does not adhere to the concept that depression and anxiety are caused by a biochemical imbalance in the brain. Conversely, he believes that psychiatric medications actually cause biochemical imbalances in the brain (p 270).  He has thoroughly documented many cases where individuals become worse after starting a psychiatric medication. “It is a sad, ironic and tragic tale: it’s impossible to prove that antidepressants actually relieve depression, but it’s relatively easy to demonstrate that they can worsen depression and cause mania, murder and suicide” (p 53). Again, Breggin presents ample evidence to support his claim.

In his forty years of practice, Dr. Breggin has never prescribed an antidepressant to a patient unless he is managing the patient’s antidepressant-withdrawal process.  Breggin believes that this is the reason he has never had a suicide amongst his patients (p 53 – 54).

In the final chapters of the book, Breggin dispels what he believes are myths concerning the biochemistry of the brain and the pharmacology of psychiatric drugs. He also addresses withdrawal from psychiatric drugs and provides guidance for individuals who may choose to cease psychiatric drug therapy safely. Dr. Breggin ends the book with thorough discussions concerning healthy psychotherapy and living a “principled life.” This book sets forth an agenda, for sure, but one that clearly is in the interest of people, families and public health.

This review is based upon my own reading of the work. In no way was I compensated for this review.

Source:

Breggin, Dr. Peter  Medication Madness.  St. Martins Press 2008.

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