Ed Note: This is the fifth and penultimate post in Laurie Oakley’s Pharmaceutical Rape series.
Pharmaceutical violence is a social injustice that can intersect with every other type of oppression and form of discrimination. Dehumanizing in its own right, pharmaceutical rape (and the cultural/medical denial of it) compounds the distress already experienced by persons in socially marginalized groups as well as in individuals who are dependent, frail, or otherwise in their most vulnerable states. Many (but not all) who experience other forms of institutionalized oppression turn to healthcare systems where they are too often subject to retraumatization and further stigmatization.
Industry decision makers and those who collude with them deflect attention from the systemic practices that lead to pharmaceutical rape by pointing to the life-enhancing and lifesaving potential of treatments that have been developed to benefit millions. It is true that nearly all of us have benefited from the innovations of modern medicine. It is also true that a failure of adequate warning, as well as system-wide refusal to acknowledge common adverse outcomes, has led to destructive, life-altering consequences for millions. Those who are injured have become a hidden class, a forgotten and often persecuted minority. Given that so many had been seeking relief from the effects of other oppression and marginalization, this constitutes nothing less than a reprehensible humanitarian disaster. Meanwhile, the medically privileged do not have to think about the ways the systems that benefit them deliver life-altering outcomes to others, and this willful oblivion is the basis upon which all social injustice thrives. While this type of injury can happen to anyone, it is not always recognized when medication is making one sick.
Internalization occurs when people who experience adverse events believe in the misdiagnoses of their symptoms and end up embracing additional labels and further treatment for their medication side-effects. Those who have internalized pharmaceutical oppression alter their attitudes, behaviors, speech, and self-concept to reflect an acceptance of a pharmaceutically-induced and medically-maintained sick role. The internalization of this manufactured reality can create low self-esteem, self-doubt, and even self-loathing as the individual continues to experience perpetual and worsening illness despite one’s commitment and efforts to become well. (Especially true with diagnoses of a stigmatizing nature, e.g. psychiatric labels). Internalization of pharmaceutical oppression can also be projected outward as fear, criticism, and distrust of survivors and others who speak out and/or challenge the systems in which they receive care.
Peter Gøtzsche, co-founder of the Nordic Cochrane Collaboration in Denmark, the world’s foremost body in assessing medical evidence, has estimated that adverse-effects of medications that are used as prescribed are the third leading cause of death in the United States and Canada after heart disease and cancer. Known cases are believed to account for hundreds of thousands of deaths each year.
Serious harm seems to be 10 to 20 fold more common than lethal harm. An estimated 700,000 events are reported per year, less than one third of the estimated actual occurrences. While drug side effects are said to be a leading cause of death, disability and illness, it is estimated that only 1 – 10 percent of adverse events are ever reported.
The FDA’s post-marketing surveillance system is underused, underfunded and in serious disarray. While MedWatch is said to be an important tool for monitoring the effects of medications after limited studies and quick FDA approval, doctors are not trained to utilize this as an important aspect of their work. Only 1 to 10 percent of adverse-effects are ever reported. Reasons doctors cite for not reporting include uncertainty as to whether the drug caused the symptoms, not wanting to look foolish for reporting, and a feeling that they are already too busy. Because the missing information does not get shared and acted upon within the medical system, patients end up reporting to one another “underground” via internet message boards and other forums set up to support patients who cannot find help within medical and mental healthcare systems.
When an individual reports a life-altering outcome, very rarely is there any kind of investigation. Pharmaceutical injuries that are not denied as such are simply regarded as flukes or mistakes. There has been no effort made for a serious and thorough investigation into the systems-wide problems that enable and encourage widespread pharmaceutical harms. No governmental task force or entity has taken responsibility for uncovering the full extent of the problem, advocated for the passing of legislation, or for any other changes to address these ongoing harms. Instead, pharmaceutical companies are occasionally found guilty of various errors, are made to pay fines, and then go on to rape again and again.
Justice is rare to non-existent for victims of pharmaceutical violence. Legal actions to date have done little to significantly alter the industry-government-medical behavior that is so devastating to individual patients and their families. The structured practices that systemically deliver harms remain in place while drug companies pay occasional fines and continue to earn billions.
Currently there is nothing in place for the prevention of widespread pharmaceutical harms. Despite the appearance of drug industry cooperation, efforts for prevention via full transparency in the sharing of clinical trial data have been met with resistance by pharmaceutical companies. For this and other reasons, the process of informed consent in the medical setting fails. Alternatives to drugs, devices, and medical procedures are not lucrative options from a business standpoint and so doctors, by and large, have little incentive to focus on the safer alternatives they could be offering patients.
There are no systems in place for treating those who report harms. Treatment begins with listening and recognition. Medical systems in denial currently offer victims very little in the way of validation, let alone knowledgeable and compassionate care. Many of these manufactured illness require immediate medical intervention which is sadly non-existent in most places. Person-centered protocols for discontinuing psychiatric medications are urgently needed for patients who want and/or need to stop taking them. Many mainstream doctors remain unaware of the dependency potential of several medications they routinely prescribe.Share this: