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Drug Marketing Scheme Hits Nation's School System

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TeenScreen, the elaborate drug marketing scheme concocted by the pharmaceutical industry and a front group operating out of Columbia University, is being promoted by the Bush administration's recommendation to screen the nation's school population for mental illness.

The Bush appointed New Freedoms Commission on Mental Health issued a report in July 2003 urging the screening of students in all 50 states and recommended TeenScreen as the model program for the job.

Although touted as a suicide prevention tool, TeenScreen backers also claim it can diagnose a host of mental health disorders in students with the completion of the 10-minute survey. On March 2, 2004, the program's Executive Director, Laurie Flynn, testified at a congressional hearing and said that in the screening process, "youth complete a 10-minute self-administered questionnaire that screens for social phobia, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, major depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and suicidality."

Warnings against the mass screening of children are coming from every segment of society, including parents, medical professionals, investigative journalists, and human rights groups, in large part, because the influence of pharma in TeenScreen is so blatantly obvious.

For example, prior to joining TeenScreen, Flynn served as the executive director of National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) for 16 years. NAMI calls itself as "a grassroots organization of individuals with brain disorders and their family members."

But in reality, NAMI is pharma's number one front group, dedicated to promoting the sale of as many "legal" drugs as possible. Which means prior to her promotion to the position with TeenScreen, Flynn was the number one "legal" pusher for 16 years.

While employed by NAMI, Pharma paid Flynn's salary. Internal NAMI documents obtained by Mother Jones Magazine, for the period between 1996 and mid-1999, show that 18 drug companies gave NAMI a total of $11.72 million. The firms include Janssen ($2.08 million), Novartis ($1.87 million), Pfizer ($1.3 million), Abbott Laboratories ($1.24 million), Wyeth-Ayerst ($658,000), and Bristol-Myers Squibb ($613,505).

The group's top donor during that period was Eli Lilly with total contributions of $2.87 million.

Flynn even wrote an article titled, "Before Their Time: Preventing Teen Suicide," which said: "The TeenScreen Program developed 10 years ago by Columbia University and offered in partnership with the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill helps communities across the nation identify teens with mental illness who might be at risk for suicide."

Now NAMI can hardly dispute the charge that it serves as a funnel for drug money when its web site lists "Corporate Partners, Grants, and Foundations," as Abbott, AstraZoneca, Bristol-Meyers-Squibb, Eli Lilly, Forest Lab, Glaxo-Smith-Kline, Jannsen, McNeil, Pfizer, and Wyeth.

So if TeenScreen is "offered in partnership," with the NAMI, its logically safe to assume that drug money is involved in the development of the program.

Pharma constantly funnels money through groups like NAMI, which in turn become conduits for the promotion of industry marketing schemes. According to psychiatrist, Dr Peter Breggin, founder of the International Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology, "these groups hold national meetings that bring together drug advocates to talk directly to consumers. They also put out newsletters and other information that praise medications. Sometimes they actively suppress viewpoints that are critical of drugs - for example, by discouraging the media from airing opposing viewpoints."

In some states, pharma money funded TeenScreen openly. On June, 2002 the Update Newsletter published by the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, reported that 170 Nashville students had completed a TeenScreen survey conducted by the NAMI and Columbia University and according to newsletter, the survey was funded by grants from AdvoCare and Eli Lilly.

The TeenScreen program is actually a brilliant idea from a marketing standpoint. The promotional talking points include the mantra that the program is free and TeenScreen receives no government funding. Those assertions are false with a capital F.

Tax payers are funding this recruitment scheme from start to finish. Tax dollars are being used to set up TeenScreen in schools all over the country and tax dollars are being used to pay for the resulting treatment and prescription drugs for children.

For instance, on November 17, 2004, officials at the University of South Florida announced receiving $98,641 in funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to expand the TeenScreen Program in the Tampa Bay area.

In Ohio, the implementation of TeenScreen sites in five counties was funded through a grant of $15,000 from the Department of Mental Health for each of five mental health boards who participated in the pilot program.

According to a July 11, 2005, Peoria Illinois Journal Star, in Brimfield Illinois, "organizing the system and employing a part-time counselor specifically for the program is estimated to cost about $100 per student." Overall, the "Brimfield High School program alone will cost around $20,000 for the first semester," the Journal wrote.

During Flynn's testimony to Congress, she said, "close to 750,000 teens are depressed at any one time, and an estimated 7-12 million youth suffer from mental illness."

So this means pharma has its eye on capturing 7-12 million new customers from the nation's 52 million students.

Dr Jane Orient, Executive Director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, had a few comments to offer on the topic of school screening. "Teams of experts are awaiting an infusion of cash," she said, "they'll be ensconced in your child's school before you even know it."

And an added "bonus," Orient says, "is that your little darlings will probably give them quite a bit of information about you also, and then you can receive therapy you didn't know you needed."

There are already too many people using the expensive and dangerous drugs TeenScreen is pushing. On January 13, 2005 WebMD Medical News reported a government study that showed more Americans than ever are being treated for substance abuse, depression, and other mental health disorders, and that the treatment they are getting is increasingly limited to prescription drugs alone.

The study reviewed changing patterns in the treatment of mental illnesses from the mid-1990s to 2001, and determined that the cost of mental health drugs rose 20% each year.

According to Economist Samuel H Zuvekas, PhD, who conducted the analysis, about 80% of the growth can be explained by the increase in the use of SSRIs and other antidepressants, and high-priced schizophrenia drugs called "atypical antipsychotics," like Risperdal, Zyprexa, and Geodon.

Tax payers are already unwittingly footing the bill for the mass drugging of children. For instance, an investigation by the Columbus Dispatch, found that nearly 40,000 Ohio children on Medicaid were taking drugs for anxiety, depression, delusions, hyperactivity and violent behavior as of July 2004, and that overall, Ohio spent over $65 million on mental-health drugs for children in 2004.

The investigation also revealed that doctors in Ohio had prescribed sedatives and mood-altering medications for nearly 700 babies and toddlers who were on Medicaid in 2004.

Robert Whitaker, author of the best-selling book, Mad in America, tracked the profits of the new so-called wonder drugs since 1987, and reviewed government data that showed not only an huge increase in the use of the drugs, but a tremendous rise in the cost to taxpayers.

According to Whitaker, in 1987, psychotropic drug expenditures were approximately $1 billion, but by 2002 the price tag to tax payers had risen to $23 billion.

The May 8, 2005 issue of Lab Business Week, reported on an analysis by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration that revealed that Medicaid is now the largest payer of mental health services, exceeding private insurance, Medicare, or other state and local spending. The report also noted that one out of every $5 spent on mental health care now goes for psychotropic drugs.

The increase in the use of these psychiatric drugs with children has already lead to tragic results. For example, the SSRI, Paxil, was said to be a wonder drugs when it was prescribed to children while relatively untested.

The drug has since been linked to deadly side effects. Lawsuits have now identified Paxil as the culprit in cases of murder, suicide, debilitating disease and school shootings. In June of 2003, the FDA issued a warning that Paxil should not be prescribed to patients under 18 due to a large number of reports of suicides by children on the drug.

In his book, Robert Whitaker, reported that one in every 145 subjects who entered the trials for the atypical antipsychotics Zyprexa, Risperdal, Seroquel, and Serdolect had died. Despite these known effects, children between 6 to 11 were recruited for a clinical trial at the University of California Los Angeles soon after Zyprexa was approved for adults.

The children were not schizophrenic, but were diagnosed with other disorders. According to the published report on the study, all of the children experienced adverse effects and none were helped. The study was terminated less than 6 weeks after it began, Whitaker reported.

Yet to this day, doctors continue to prescribe atypicals to children even though they have never been FDA approved for the treatment of any illness with children. In fact, every one of the so-called "wonder drugs," is now required to carry a black box warning listing the serious and often deadly adverse reactions experienced by both children and adults.

TeenScreen swears that it always obtains parental consent before screening students and that it does not provide students with a diagnosis.

However, an Indiana family disputes both of those claims. Michael and Teresa Rhoades say the TeenScreen survey was administered to their daughter without their consent.

In December 2004, their daughter came home from school and informed her parents that she had been diagnosed with an obsessive compulsive disorder and a social anxiety disorder, after she completed the TeenScreen survey.

When things go according to plan, at this point, parents are supposed to head to the nearest pharmacy. However, Michael and Teresa were outraged, and things did not go according to the plan.

Instead, they filed the nation's first lawsuit charging that their daughter had been tested, diagnosed, and labeled mentally ill in a public school without their consent.

And no doubt many more lawsuits will be filed as TeenScreen continues to spread out across the country inflicting life-long damage on children by labeling them mentally ill for the sole purpose of getting them hooked on expensive but lethal drugs.


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