Her 12-year-old daughter, Candace, hung herself from the valence of her bed on January 10, 2004, after being prescribed the antidepressant drug Zoloft for "test anxiety" at school.
Experts in the field of psychiatry and child development from all over the world attended this year's annual conference in Washington with the agenda aimed at ending the mental health screening programs put in place by the Bush Administration's New Freedom Commission and the mass-drugging of children with psychiatric drugs.
During her presentation, Ms Downing said she objected to placing Candace on drugs but was assured that Zoloft was safe and did not learn until after her daughter's death that "up to four children out of every hundred run a risk of dying by their own hand or at least attempt to."
Had she been given the opportunity to have informed consent on the dangers of SSRI's, she said, "my child would still be alive."
"I never would have allowed my child to be placed on a drug with no proven efficacy and a history of possible harm," Ms Downing stated.
She described how she tried to contact doctors at the FDA numerous times to express her concerns, and no one was ever available to speak to her. She filed a complaint with MedWatch on March 18, 2004, and, "I am still waiting for my reply," she stated.
"One would think that the FDA would support the needs of Americans over the greed of the various pharmaceutical corporations," she said, "but that continues to be a pipe dream of mine rather than a reality."
Critics say TeenScreen, billed as a suicide prevention tool, is nothing more than a drug marketing scheme developed by the pharmaceutical industry and a front group operating under cover of Columbia University to establish a customer base within the nation's 50-odd million school children for the new generation of psychiatric drugs, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressants (SSRI's) and atypical antipsychotics.
These so-called new "wonder drugs" include the antidepressants Prozac and Cymbalta by Eli Lilly; Paxil from GlaxoSmithKline; Zoloft by Pfizer; Celexa and Lexapro from Forest Labs; Effexor by Wyeth, as well as generic versions of the drugs. The atypical antipsychotics include Zyprexa by Lilly; Risperdal, marketed by Janssen Pharmaceuticals; Abilify by Bristol-Myers Squibb; Clozaril by Novartis, and Geodon by Pfizer.
Best-selling author of "Mad in America", Robert Whitaker, tracked the profits of these "wonder drugs" since the first SSRI, Prozac, arrived on the market in 1987 and found a tremendous rise in the cost to taxpayers. In 1987, psychotropic medication expenditures were about $1 billion, but by 2004, in a 40-fold increase, the cost had risen to $23 billion.
According to Mr Whitaker's analysis, global sales of antipsychotics went from $263 million in 1986 to $8.6 billion in 2004, and antidepressant sales rose from $240 million in 1986 to $11.2 billion in 2004.
In the paper, "Psychiatric Drugs and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America," published in the Spring 2005 issue of the Journal of Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, Mr Whitaker also reports that, in addition to breaking sales records, within 10 years on the market, "Prozac quickly took up the top position as America's most complained about drug." He further states:
"By 1997, 39,000 adverse-event reports about it had been sent to MedWatch. These reports are thought to represent only 1% of the actual number of such events, suggesting that nearly 4 million people in the US had suffered such problems, which included mania, psychotic depression, nervousness, anxiety, agitation, hostility, hallucinations, memory loss, tremors, impotence, convulsions, insomnia and nausea."
According to the paper, "It is well-known that all of the major classes of psychiatric drugs - anti-psychotics, anti-depressants, benzodiazepines, and stimulants for ADHD - can trigger new and more severe psychiatric symptoms in a significant percentage of patients."
Ms Downing has been on a non-stop crusade to prevent the death of more children since her daughter died and the family's tragedy is featured in the documentary, "Prescription: Suicide," which also includes the story of 6 families effected by their encounters with SSRIs and how their lives changed forever. A copy of the film is available on the Participate Now web site at www.participatenow.net.
Candace should never have been given Zoloft because it was never approved for use with kids. Prozac is the only SSRI approved for children in the US because it is the only drug reportedly shown to be effective in two pediatric clinical trials, a requirement that must be met to obtain FDA approval.
But according to ICSPP founder and leading SSRI authority Dr Peter Breggin, the term "effective" has little meaning because all a drug company has to do is show better results in kids treated with an SSRI than in children taking a placebo and can conduct 100 trials if need be to get the two positive studies. It stands to reason that with 50-50 odds, if enough trials are conducted, an SSRI is bound to do better than a placebo eventually.
However, with that in mind, experts say it's important to note that, other than Prozac, the SSRI makers have not been able to provide the FDA with 2 positive studies out of all the clinical trials that have been conducted in hopes of obtaining FDA approval for the sale of SSRI's to kids.
That said, SSRI makers have made a fortune by getting doctors to prescribe the drugs for unapproved uses. A University of Georgia study in the June 2006 Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that 75% of persons prescribed antidepressants received them off-label. The researchers reviewed records of more than 106,000 Medicaid recipients in 2001 to examine the rates of off-label prescribing of drugs that act on the central nervous system and found 75% of antidepressant patients received the drugs for unapproved uses.
"More than two-thirds of the studies of antidepressants given to children showed that the medications were no more effective than a placebo, and most of the positive results came from drug company sponsored trials," Dr Karen Effrem reported in her presentation at the ICSPP conference.
Litigation against drug companies has established this fact. In 2004, New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer brought fraud charges against Glaxo for hiding studies that "not only failed to show any benefit for the drug in children but demonstrated that children taking Paxil were more likely to become suicidal than those taking a placebo." Two months later, Glaxo agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle the charges.
Mr Spitzer pointed out that Paxil was never approved to treat any condition in children, and yet doctors prescribed the drug to kids two million times in 2002, the same year that Paxil became Glaxo's top seller with $3.8 billion in sales.
On November 1, 2006, the Associated Press reported that Glaxo "has agreed to pay $63.8 million to settle a lawsuit's claims that it promoted its antidepressant drug Paxil for use by children and adolescents while withholding negative information about the medication's safety and effectiveness."
Critics say it's not difficult to track the industry money involved in the promotion of TeenScreen. The program's Executive Director, Laurie Flynn, was the Executive Director of National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) for 16 years, which bills itself as a patient advocacy group, but in reality is the most heavily industry-funded front group in the US.
Mother Jones Magazine obtained NAMI documents for the period between 1996 and mid-1999, while Ms Flynn was running the show, which revealed that NAMI received a total of $11.72 million during that 3-year period from 18 drug companies, including Janssen, $2.08 million; Novartis, $1.87 million; Pfizer, $1.3 million; Abbott Laboratories, over $1.24 million; Wyeth-Ayerst, $658,000, and Bristol-Myers Squibb, $613,505.
NAMI's top donor during that period was none other than Lilly, the maker of Prozac and Zyprexa, which coughed up a total of $2.87 million out of the goodness of its heart.
Ms Flynn also wrote an article promoting TeenScreen entitled, "Before Their Time: Preventing Teen Suicide," in which she stated: "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."
If TeenScreen is "offered in partnership" with NAMI, critics say, it goes without saying that millions of dollars of drug company money was invested in the program.
The efforts to implement TeenScreen by use of "this partnership" cannot be understated. A video-taped presentation at the annual convention of NAMI, obtained by researcher Sue Weibert, shows the TeenScreen crew telling the army of NAMI members from all across the country that helping set up TeenScreen might require contacting a child's insurance company to check on coverage or driving a child to an appointment with a psychiatrist.
The video also shows the presenter passing around a notebook for signatures from members who would be willing to act as volunteers and rise up against anyone who speaks out against TeenScreen.
The presenter also explains the importance of bribing kids with movie coupons, pizza or other perks, because parents won't agree to allow the children to be screened, so they need to win the kids over first and send them home to talk the parents.
Early on, NAMI and TeenScreen did not even hide the fact that drug money was funding the screening. In June 2002, the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Update Newsletter reported that NAMI and Columbia University sponsored the screening of 170 Nashville students with TeenScreen and that the survey was funded by grants from AdvoCare and Eli Lilly.
But two years later, in March 2004, Ms Flynn appeared at a congressional hearing trying to drum up the allocation of tax dollars to set up TeenScreen in public schools. During her testimony, she as much as defined the customer base the drug companies were after when she told the lawmakers that, "close to 750,000 teens are depressed at any one time, and an estimated 7-12 million youth suffer from mental illness."
On September 27, 2007, psychologist Michael Shaughnessy, professor in Educational Studies at the Eastern New Mexico University and columnist for the educational news and information site, EdNews.org, was interviewed about his views on TeenScreen by Doyle Mills, an independent researcher in Clearwater, Florida who was instrumental in blocking TeenScreen from setting up shop in schools in Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties, two of Florida's most populated counties, and has published several articles critical of TeenScreen.
Mr Mills shared his interview with Dr Shaughnessy at the ICSPP conference, in which the Professor called TeenScreen "a program aimed at locating, identifying and procuring new customers for the mental health industry."
He says TeenScreen is a creation of psychiatrist David Shaffer, a paid spokesman for Lilly and paid consultant for drug companies Hoffman la Roche, Wyeth and Glaxo.
TeenScreen started out by claiming the program was free and required no government funding. But as it turns out, taxpayers are funding this marketing scheme from start to finish. Government money is being used to set up TeenScreen in schools all over the US and tax dollars are paying not only for the follow-up visits to prescribing shrinks but also for the majority of drugs prescribed.
The pilot programs of TeenScreen in five counties in Ohio were funded by five $15,000 grants allocated by mental health boards within the Ohio Department of Mental Health.
Medicaid record show that taxpayers in Ohio are footing the bill for most of the child drugging as well. In July 2004, over 39,000 children covered by Medicaid were found to be taking drugs for depression, anxiety, delusions, hyperactivity and violent behavior, and Medicaid spent more than $65 million for mental health drugs prescribed to children in 2004, according to an investigation by the Columbus Dispatch.
The massive drugging of patients covered by public health care programs is similar in states all across the US. In 5 years, prescription costs for Iowa Medicaid increased 82.5%, and by class, antipsychotics reflected the largest increase for mental health drugs.
In 2005, while the average cost for a first generation antipsychotic to Medicaid was only $36 a month, a month's supply for a new antipsychotics cost between $100 - $1,000, according to the December 8, 2005, Mental Health Subcommittee Report to the Medical Assistance Pharmaceutical and Therapeutics Committee.
For the record, TeenScreen is not free, and it is costing tax payers a bundle. On November 17, 2004, the University of South Florida announced the receipt of a grant of $98,641 from the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to expand the TeenScreen program in the Tampa Bay area.
Florida Medicaid is also being bilked. On July 29, 2007, the St Petersburg Times reported that, in the last 7 years, the cost to taxpayers for atypicals prescribed to kids rose nearly 500%, and on average it cost Medicaid nearly $1,800 per child in 2006.
The Times reported that more than 18,000 kids on Medicaid were prescribed antipsychotics in 2006, including 1,100 under the age of 6 and some as young as 3, even though guidelines from the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration says that, with children under 6, psychotropic drugs should "only be considered under the most extraordinary of circumstances."
In setting up TeenScreen to screen students in Brimfield, Illinois, "organizing the system and employing a part-time counselor specifically for the program is estimated to cost about $100 per student," the July 11, 2005, Peoria, Illinois Journal Star reported.
Overall, the "Brimfield High School program alone will cost around $20,000 for the first semester," the Journal noted.
The TeenScreen gang claims that it always obtains parental consent prior to screening students and that it does not diagnose students with mental disorders.
However, Michael and Teresa Rhoades, from Indiana, attended the DC conference and as a featured speaker, Teresa described how her daughter was TeenScreened in December 2004, without parental consent, and was told that she had not one, but 2 mental illnesses.
Teresa recalled the day that her distraught daughter came home and informed her parents that she had been diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder and a social anxiety disorder.
Michael and Teresa say they were furious to the point that they filed the nation's first lawsuit against TeenScreen, charging that their daughter was wrongly screened, diagnosed, and labeled mentally ill in a public school without their consent.
"TeenScreen itself is a questionnaire with invasive and probing questions which indoctrinate young people into a belief that all their feelings and behaviors are indications of a mental disorder," Dr Shaughnessy told Mr Mills in the interview.
He said, "the child is convinced of it, the parent is convinced of it, and then the child becomes a customer of TeenScreen's local mental health 'partner,' which sells counseling or drugs and profits tens of thousands of dollars per child."
Dr Shaughnessy acknowledged that adolescence is a hard time for everyone but said, "maybe it's supposed to be," that's how we learn.
He says TeenScreen labels the normal pain and uncertainty of adolescence as a mental disorder for profit and asks, "When did adolescence become a disease or something unnatural or deadly that needs intervention if anyone is going to make it through?"
""What a ridiculous concept," Dr Shaughnessy added.
He also points out that school records for children are intended to be secure but says, once committed to paper or computer, nothing can be 100% secure. "Normal school records are fairly harmless no matter who sees them," he states.
"TeenScreen records on the other hand," he warns, "contain unscientific evaluations which can be taken to mean that the child has a permanent, incurable mental disorder."
He also says these records can then be used against a child as an adult, to take away his rights, limit his opportunities or "just as a horrible embarrassment."
"As there is no scientific way to prove that anyone has a mental disorder," Dr Shaughnessy points out, "there is likewise no scientific way to disprove it."
He told Mr Mills that this is one aspect that parents are never made aware of prior to allowing TeenScreen access to their children. "Once a person is diagnosed, he may never be able to escape that label," he warns.
Advocates against school screening have set up a web site that lists the TeenScreen locations throughout the US, which also posts a petition for people opposed to the program to sign at [TEENSCREEN-LOCATIONS]