Editorial Note: This is part 4 of Laurie Oakley’s series on Pharmaceutical Rape.
Many who experience life-altering, adverse outcomes after taking their medicines as prescribed do not receive acknowledgment of what they have experienced, let alone the medical care they need. Medical systems do not recognize many treatment related outcomes and patients are therefore denied knowledgeable, compassionate treatment for the iatrogenic illnesses they experience after following doctors orders. While health practitioners can generally make a good living within healthcare systems, thousands of patients end up on disability after adverse pharmaceutical outcomes. Without the support of a doctor to verify one’s condition, there are others who, tragically, end up on the streets.
The privilege of one who benefits within a system that uses pharmaceutical products to improve one’s own life and well-being while denying or remaining oblivious to harms suffered by others within same system.
Deriving benefit from and/or being complicit with healthcare systems while refusing to consider or acknowledge pharmaceutical harms suffered by others; routinely ignoring, denying, and/or explaining away harms reported by others.
In regard to pharmaceutical rape, this is an emotionally reactive, often arrogant stance that is taken when an individual (medical professional or otherwise) is exposed to suggestions of widespread iatrogenic drug induced harms. It is defensiveness on the part of the individual who often exhibits behaviors that include automatic skepticism, extreme unease, an unwillingness to listen, impatience, condescension, anger and argumentativeness.
Persons who demonstrate this fragility are unable to consider or acknowledge a medical reality that challenges a status quo that benefits them. They automatically discount information or ideas that make them uncomfortable and often attack those who are making claims. This stance is rooted in deeply ingrained ideas about the power of science and the prestige of the medical profession, as well as in the “goodness” of modern medicine. For many, one’s very identity as a doctor or as a patient depends upon viewing the systems in which one gives or receives care as safe places of care. Reflecting on or seriously considering the many ways people are harmed by pharmaceutical products is intolerable, as one believes these kinds of things “just don’t happen” in modern medicine.
Medical professionals who think in this way dissociate themselves from the idea of systemic, iatrogenic harms, and instead think of the injuries they do recognize as solitary incidents resulting from the “bad” behavior of others (whether the patient, drug industry or other medical professional). Doctors tend to be high achievers with a perfectionist bent. While attaining the high degree of competency required to practice medicine, many also acquire a deep sense of earned superiority. Any challenge to this core identity, or to the systems in which one is enmeshed, is intolerable.
Story: doctors in denial
I never set out to become a medical heretic. That job was ascribed to me by certain pharmaceuticals that are said to work wonders for the majority of the human race, but not for me: miracle drugs like the SSRI anti-depressants and the ever safe benzodiazepines. So when I described to doctors all that had happened to me while on these medications, most stared at me as if I’d just grown a second head. My report, it seemed, was over-the-top.
One doctor congratulated me for kicking my “benzo habit” even though I had told her I’d taken only a small dose as prescribed by my doctor. When I tried to explain how tolerance withdrawal symptoms had been repeatedly misdiagnosed as somatization, and for that I had been given more psychiatric drugs over a period of several years while my physical and mental health deteriorated, she may as well have plugged her ears and shouted, la la la la la! Instead, she said, “uh huh,” before opening my chart and recording my history with benzodiazepines in the illicit drug use category.
After she left the agency, I started seeing a different doctor who listened to my stories in utter amazement. My experience was unlike anything he had ever heard in his many years of prescribing psychotropic medications. When I suggested that my ongoing, chronic insomnia might be a residual effect from having been prescribed a benzodiazepine for eight full years, he responded by saying there was no way of knowing for sure, and at one point even asked, if the benzodiazepine had helped me to sleep, why didn’t I just keep taking it?
Time for a new doctor.
I jumped from the frying pan into the fire. This new psychiatrist had a penchant for sighing and rarely looked at me. He mostly just shuffled papers and wrote things down. He wasn’t interested in knowing what my experiences with medications had been, my complex history, or anything else about me. He was interested in prescribing a certain medication for my insomnia which he pushed even after I had educated myself about side-effects and informed him I didn’t want to risk it. I did finally end up trying the medicine, which I didn’t like and didn’t continue. Then his impatience with me turned into disgust as he no doubt thought my fear of taking medications was irrational. He went on to tell me that millions of dollars and years of study went into the research and development of the drugs he prescribed and he was confident that they were safe.
—Rxisk. January 13, 2015
Pharmaceutical rape apology
An umbrella term for arguments suggesting that serious pharmaceutical violation does not exist or that it is not a widespread cause for concern. “Apology” in this context means defense or justification, like in Christian apologetics, not as a statement expressing regret.
Pharmaceutical rape apologists frequently view patients and doctors who recognize serious adverse events as misguided persons who are anti-science, conspiracy theorists, anti-vaccinationists, or some other type of deviant. Pharmaceutical rape apologists disbelieve pharmaceutical harms because evidence of harm is not forthcoming in the scientific literature. They deny any adverse outcome that does not conform with harms already commonly noted within the medical establishment, and dismiss reports of adverse effects when they have witnessed the drug in question work well for others.
Pharmaceutical violations are dramatically under-recognized. There is an enormous amount of misunderstanding and stigma associated with people who claim to have been harmed. Physician skepticism and outright denial prevents victims from having their claims validated, let alone officially reported to regulatory agencies. Instead of gaining support from a doctor to make sense of what has occurred, adverse effects are often trivialized or misdiagnosed as separate conditions (usually needing additional treatments).
Allegations of false reporting of injury often occur (within the realm of childhood vaccine administration, for instance). The medical establishment maintains that most pharmaceuticals, with rare exception, are safe and effective when taken as prescribed. There is very little room left for discussion of even the known risks of harm. Serious adverse events are said to be “rare,” yet when they occur, victims and/or their families often find it difficult if not impossible to convince medical authorities that the event is related to medication.
Pharmaceutical rape myths
- The FDA protects the public.
- Drug safety is assured through hard science.
- Doctors have access to clinical trial data and are aware of all known risks.
- Serious adverse events are extremely rare.
- Development of drug dependence or addiction is unrelated to accepted prescribing protocols.
- Adverse events are always recognized by doctors and a connection to the drug is normally made.
- Harmful drugs are always recalled.
- “Safe” drugs are always safe.
- Pharmaceutical injury occurs only as a result of medication error or malpractice.
- All vaccines are completely safe and effective.
- A good relationship with one’s doctor protects one from a pharmaceutical injury.
- Individuals who make claims about pharmaceutical harms are against all medications and do not value the contribution of pharmaceuticals to society.
- Those who warn about pharmaceutical products are anti-science, refusing to listen to reason or to think rationally.
Secondary victimization is the re-traumatization of the pharmaceutically injured through negative social responses from medical, mental health and/or legal professionals, as well as from others (sometimes including one’s own family). This is a nearly universal experience for those who have been harmed and may be especially insidious for those who are diagnosed with mental illness, chemical dependency, as well as the vaccine injured (and their families). Behaviors associated with secondary victimization include:
- Societal as well as individual denial of pharmaceutical harms. The tendency to remain oblivious in the face of evidence of harm.
- The trivialization of pharmaceutical violation. A response to harm denying that real damage was done.
- Skepticism and distrust of those who report harms instead of recognizing the harm potential of the treatment.
- The misdiagnosis and false labeling of individuals who have experienced adverse effects from their medicine.
- Reducing the patient to an “unusual anecdote.” Accepting evidence from controlled clinical trials only, to the exclusion of what the patient says about effects of a drug treatment.
- Failure to report a patient’s adverse events.
- Victim blaming: when the victim of a crime or any wrongful act is held entirely or partially responsible for that harm. It is your fault you were hurt because you did x, y, z. If you hadn’t done x, y, z, you would not have been harmed. You went to the doctor, you asked for medication, you consented to the treatment, you kept going back to the doctor, you didn’t do your homework, you should have known better, you should have listened to your body, I knew better and I didn’t do those things.
- or, what you experience is your own illness: caused your poor diet, your lifestyle, your lack of exercise, your use of alcohol or other drugs, your age, your family genetics, etc. Claims are easily neutralized or discredited because health is subjective and adverse effects are easily attributed to other causes.
- or, you are at fault because you are a drug addict, (even though the addiction came about through or was aided by what is considered legitimate prescribing).
Pharmaceutical violence typically leaves the individual with an array of new problems that were not present when the treatment in question was first initiated. Many hurtfully deny or disbelieve the iatrogenic nature of the person’s condition, and additional physical and/or mental effects caused by treatments often bring about additional stigmatization. The alienation suffered as a result of these acts is deeply felt:
“I am a wreck after 8 years on Effexor, but of course once on the drugs your credibility is gone, so who listens to a person with a psychiatric “label” even though the label is false? Not only victims, we are totally ignored, while the psychiatrists somehow get put on a [false] pedestal. Challenge them at your own risk of getting a “label.” No other doctors on earth have this sort of irrational power; just because they judge someone as this or that, often in a 10 minute appointment. I would like to know of just one person who ever went to a psychiatrist and didn’t get [labeled].”
—Commenter, DavidHealy.org. May 14, 2015
Post traumatic stress reactions and pharmaceutical violation
Unlike sexual rape, pharmaceutical violations almost always occur over a more prolonged period of time. Where a sexual assault survivor may experience a post traumatic stress reaction in the months and/or years following the event, pharmaceutical victims oftentimes experience these physical and psychological symptoms as adverse-effects while taking psychotrophic medications. Prolonged discontinuation syndromes upon stopping some medications are common and may overlap with a post-traumatic stress reaction from taking psychotropics. The trauma experienced from pharmaceutical violation can include disruptions to normal physical, mental, emotional, cognitive, and interpersonal behavior. Whether from a discontinuation syndrome or from the medications themselves (which are often reinstated to avoid this withdrawal-like condition), pharmaceutical survivors end up suffering, often for many years, with symptoms identical to PTSD.
Effects associated with both sexual rape and pharmaceutical violation include but are not limited to:
- Diminished alertness
- Dulled sensory, affective and memory functions
- Disorganized thought content
- Paralyzing anxiety
- Pronounced internal tremor
- Hysteria, confusion and crying
- Acute sensitivity to the reaction of other people
- Profound inner turmoil
- Poor health in general
- Sense of helplessness
- Inability to maintain previously close relationships
- Experiencing a general response of nervousness known as the “startle response”
- Persistent fear and or depression at much higher rates than the general population
- Mood swings from relatively happy to depression or anger
- Extreme anger and hostility
- Sleep disturbances such as vivid dreams and recurring nightmares
- Insomnia, wakefulness, night terrors
- Panic attacks
- Reliance on coping mechanisms, some of which may be beneficial (e.g., philosophy and family support), and others that may ultimately be counterproductive (e.g., self-harm, drug or alcohol abuse)
- Sense of personal security or safety is damaged
- Feel hesitant to enter new relationships
- Unable to re-establish normal sexual function
- Discontinue previously active involvements, social groups
- Acute somatoform disorders (physical symptoms with no identifiable cause)
- Physiological reactions such as tension headaches, fatigue, general feelings of soreness or localized pain in areas of the body
- Dissociation and trying to get back to life before the assault
- Fears and phobias
- Nightmares, night terrors
- Violent fantasies of revenge may arise
- A fear of being in crowds
- A fear of being left alone anywhere
- A fear of going out at all, agoraphobia
Prior to taking Seroxat (Paxil), I had symptoms of tiredness and nausea. My general practitioner (GP) diagnosed me with anxiety and prescribed an anti-psychotic drug. Within 3 days I couldn’t eat or sleep due to severe agitation. I was vomiting, pacing the floors, and crying uncontrollably. My GP diagnosed this as an anxious state and started me on Seroxat. (During this time it was discovered that I was badly anemic and needed a hysterectomy due to severe blood loss. This was more than likely the cause of the original tiredness and nausea). Even though I had informed my GP of heavy bleeding, etc., it seemed easier for him to give my symptoms a label of anxiety and start me on a roller coaster of dangerous psychiatric drugs .
I remained on Seroxat for 6 years as every follow up I was just given more prescriptions. I decided to take myself off the drugs during my 6 years of use with disastrous consequences. I became obsessed with trying to hang myself and couldn’t function due to multiple horrendous symptoms, both mental and physical. Needless to say, I admitted myself to hospital as I had no idea what was happening to me. [I] felt better after Seroxat was reinstated.
I then decided to wean off again with instructions from my GP to taper for 9 months using alternate days[…]That was September 2004. I am now 8 years drug free and still living with damage incurred from taking Seroxat. The first 3 years of quitting were hell. Symptoms included anxiety, panic attacks, paranoia, agoraphobia, hives, itching, tingling, agitation, aggression, suicidal thoughts, homicidal thoughts, weak muscles, vision coordination issues, cognitive problems, dizziness, nausea, headaches, manic behaviour, racing thoughts, gastric upset, balance problems, burning sensations, heartbeat irregularities, palpitations, night sweats, insomnia, and total feelings of despair.
Eight years later to date I still have all these symptoms randomly. They come and they go, and although not as intense as the first years, it still gets pretty scary at times. Is this anything like prior to taking the drugs? No. I felt tired and nauseous. Was it worth taking this drug? No. The side effects of insomnia, muscle pain, blurred vision, weight gain, and feeling null and void of everything was worth nothing. Zero. Zilch. Will I ever recover? Who knows? GP’s offer no validation or support. Will anyone be accountable for the damage I have? No. Everything is denied.
—Rxisk.org. August 29, 2012