Reflections on ‘Drowned in a Stream of Prescriptions’

Times-T-logoI applaud the New York Times for publishing Drowned in a Stream of Prescriptions, by Alan Schwarz, on the front page of the Sunday Times, Feb. 2, 2013.

It is a painful and horrifying story. There can be no consolation for his poor parents. The article is very well written and captures the insensitivity, uncaring and destructiveness of my fellow psychiatrists in a straightforward and understated manner that is effectively and appropriately chilling.

Sadly, the story of Richard Fee is not unique. Amphetamine abuse is commonplace and standard practice in our schools and on our streets. And amphetamine psychosis should not be minimized because it doesn’t happen with every user. In point of fact during my residency in the 1970’s, mental hospitals were filled with amphetamine psychoses. Why? Because the sixties and seventies were an earlier period of prevalent amphetamine use (like today). Those psychoses were particularly frightening and violent and especially intractable because of the fierce drug dependence. I’ve seen Richard Fee before, many times.

This article itself even honors the idea that there are legitimate uses for amphetamines. Amphetamines are now such a part of acceptable psychiatric practice, that it actually seems extremist to suggest that they are not only inappropriate, but destructive.  We’re talking about speed here. Speed has always been a bad drug.  ‘Speed kills’. Contemporary psychiatry has fallen under the sway of biological psychiatry, where patients no longer receive proper care. It views the cause of human suffering to be the brain itself, and not the person. And the prescribed treatments for its phantom brain diseases are psychoactive drugs. The cure for human struggle has been reduced to a pill, as if pharmaceuticals address the agency of human suffering.  This has resulted in a destructive psychiatric drug epidemic, with psychiatric drug sales topping $70 billion a year.

Richard Fee’s story should be a morality tale for our times. It  is the tip of an iceberg about something that is very wrong. Amphetamines have a sorry history. It’s claim to fame was its first serious use by the Nazi’s for the Blitzkrieg and the bombing of Britain. Amphetamines were big in the seventies and eighties, when they were passed off as an antidepressant, as a diet drug, and of course college kids used them to stay up all night to study etc.  They were principally used to get high with devastating results and devasting dependence. Eventually, amphetamines were discredited, and they seemed to disappear from view. But as often happens with drugs, amnesia set in. Psychiatry invented a phantom disease ADHD, and guess what was its treatment of choice? You guessed it. Amphetamines are back. We are drugging a generation of our children with amphetamines.  And now that its being promoted that adults have phantom ADHD too. There’s a whole new market for amphetamines.  We’re being told that adults should be taking speed too.

Here’s the list of amphetamines:

amphetamine (Adderall);

atomoxetine (Strattera );

dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine and Dextrostat);

laevoamphetamine (Benzedrine),

methamphetamine (Desoxyn, Methedrin), street names: crystal, meth, ice, speed, glass, chalk, crank; and methylenedioxymethamphetamine – street names Ecstasy, MDMA, E, or X.

There are going to be many more Richard Fees. There already are. In a society that is so conscious of the dangers of drugs.  How is that we are promoting the use of speed, and it’s being seen as a really good thing?

 

Robert A Berezin, MD

4 replies
  1. Mary carol
    Mary carol says:

    Thank you for site full reply, this was my nephew , but next time it could your son or daughter, grandchild or friend.

    Reply
  2. Tina
    Tina says:

    I was so saddened after reading about Richard Fee. I couldn’t help but wonder if Richard Fee was also showing symptoms of a bi polar disorder. Could that have been masked by the addiction?

    Reply
    • Robert Berezin
      Robert Berezin says:

      You certainly raise a legitimate question. However, we can never know. It is not really possible to diagnose at a distance. In fact there is far too much of that takes place in the media by ‘experts’ these days, and I do not wish to participate in that practice. I am deeply aware that I have no real knowledge about somebody that I read about. From my experience with patients, I am often struck by the dissonance between somebody’s public image and the real story behind the story that nobody knows about. This certainly keeps me humble when tempted to diagnose from afar. What I’ve come to know is that I don’t know about somebody I haven’t seen. Obviously there are certain things a psychiatrist may notice that could raise a red flag. However, I didn’t pick up anything about Richard Fee that suggested anything but an amphetamine psychosis. It’s also important that clinically when I’ve evaluated patients who are psychotic and substance abusing, it’s impossible to tell what is causing what. Is there an underlying psychosis or is it just drug or alcohol related? To evaluate an underlying psychosis, one has to be substance free for a considerable period of time. I’ve been surprised a number of times when I suspected an underlying psychotic process, and this turned out to be wrong. Likewise, I’ve also seen patients diagnosed with a drug-induced psychosis, and it turned out to be a schizophrenic process that was triggered by a drug.
      I want to raise one other point that may sound like semantics. I do not use the term –‘bi-polar’. I reserve ‘bi-polar’ to refer to batteries that have a (+)pole and a (-) pole. This term seems to characterize a person as a thing and not a human being. I use the classical ‘manic-depressive’, because that is an accurate description of this major and debilitating process. Mania is a very real psychosis that is very serious and always results in repeated hospitalizations. And furthermore, I am very concerned that far too many people have been incorrectly diagnosed as so-called bi-polar. A lot of people have fluctuating moods in their psychiatric symptomatology. This is a fairly common symptom among people of a particular temperament. It does not mean they are manic-depressive. Real manic-depression is not something to be taken lightly.
      So I take Richard Fee’s story as it was told. And the moral of the story is that he was ‘Drowned in a Stream of Prescriptions’.

      Reply

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