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An Interview with Peter Breggin, MD on the "Psychopharmaceutical Complex"

David Van Nuys, Ph.D.: Thu, May 23rd 2019

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Peter R. Breggin M.D.In this edition of the Wise Counsel Podcast, Dr. Van Nuys interviews Peter R. Breggin M.D., a Psychiatrist and a well known critic of what he calls the "Psychopharmaceutical Complex".  The phrase is a play on American President Dwight D. Eisenhower's famous phrase "Military-Industrial Complex" taken from his farewell address.  In the fashion of Eisenhower who famously warned Americans that their government was in danger of being corrupted by the military defense contractors, Dr. Breggin has spent much of his career warning of the corrupting influence of the pharmaceutical industry.  Dr. Breggin describes examples of drug company's corrupting influence over mental health and of psychiatry's capitulation to the drug companies in this interview:

David Van Nuys: Welcome to Wise Counsel, a podcast interview series sponsored by CenterSite, LLC, covering topics in mental health, wellness, and psychotherapy. My name is Dr. David Van Nuys. I'm a clinical psychologist and your host.

On today's show we'll be talking with Dr. Peter Breggin about the misuses and abuses of psychiatric medication. Peter R. Breggin, M.D. is the well-known author of many books and scientific papers criticizing psychiatric excesses. His two most recent books are Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry: Drugs, Electroshock and the Psychopharmaceutical Complex, and Medication Madness: a Psychiatrist Exposes the Dangers of Mind Altering Drugs. Dr. Breggin conducts a private practice of psychiatry in Ithaca, New York, where he treats adults, couples, and families with children. He also does consultations in the field of clinical psychopharmacology and often acts as a medical expert in criminal, malpractice and product liability suits. Before November 2002, he was in practice for nearly 35 years in Washington, D.C. and Bethesda, Maryland. Many of Dr. Breggin's accomplishments as a reformer are documented in detail in The Conscience of Psychiatry: the Reform Work of Peter R. Breggin, M.D. This biographical tribute to Dr. Breggin's work draws on more than a half century of media and more than 70 special contributions from his colleagues, as well as many other sources.

Dr. Breggin's background includes Harvard College, Case Western Reserve Medical School, a one year internship and a three year residency in psychiatry, including a teaching fellowship at Harvard Medical School. After his training, he accepted a two year staff appointment at the National Institute of Mental Health. He has taught at several universities, including a faculty appointment to the Johns Hopkins University Department of Counseling, and most recently an appointment as visiting scholar at SUNY Oswego in the Department of Counseling and Psychological Services in 2007 to 2008. Dr. Breggin is the founder and director emeritus of the International Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology and the founding editor of the peer revue journal, Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry. He's on the editorial board of several journals.

In the early 1990s Dr. Breggin was appointment the scientific expert for more than 100 combined Prozac suits. He participated as a medical expert in a 2001-2002 California lawsuit, whose resolution was associated with a new label warning for Paxil concerning withdrawal effects. Recently he was the medical expert in the first psychosurgery malpractice suit and also the first electroshock malpractice suit ever won in court. He's been a medical expert in many courtroom victories for individuals injured by medications, including numerous cases of tardive dyskinesia caused by neuroleptic drugs. He's also been a consultant to the Federal Aviation Agency on the adverse effects of psychiatric drugs on pilots.

Now, here's the interview.

Dr. Peter Breggin, welcome to Wise Counsel.

Peter Breggin: Glad to be with you, Dave.

David: One of my listeners suggested you'd be a good person to interview, and I was certainly familiar with your name, especially in relation to Prozac. You've been called the Ralph Nader of psychiatry. How did you get started in the crusader business, if you will?

Peter Breggin: Well, I got started in college more than 50 years ago. I was an 18 year old freshman at Harvard and a friend asked me to go out to a state mental hospital. And when I got there, the experience reminded me of my Uncle Dutch's description of liberating a Nazi extermination camp. The patients were dilapidated, locked in concrete dungeons; they were malnourished; they were abused; and the death rate was very high. And I started doing volunteer work and we found that as caring, untrained volunteers, we could actually get a lot of these patients out of the hospital by befriending them, talking to them, helping them get better clothes, taking them for walks, reintroducing them to families or taking them to homes that they could enter into in the outside community. And eventually this became quite a big deal. I ran this program, had my first significant media with my picture in Saturday Evening Post and a description of the program. And it was actually mentioned in the last of the big psychosocial reports that the government ever put out about mental illness and mental health, in 1962. It got a lot of support then. But in the following years, psychiatry just became more and more biologic, whereas when I was this young man working in these hospitals and working with Harvard professors - even co-authored my first book back then - back then there was a social wing to psychiatry, both a psychoanalytic and a community oriented social wing to psychiatry.

David: That's one of the things I wanted to talk to you about. I remember Thomas Szasz, another psychiatrist who was critical of the medicalization of psychological problems back then, and who maintained that we should speak of "problems in living," rather than "mental illness." But it seems like the pendulum has really swung away from that.

Peter Breggin: Yes, and I basically believe that all of the things that we diagnose in psychiatry - so-called bipolar disorder, so-called schizophrenia - that there is, in fact, no scientific evidence that these are biological or genetic. Now that just sounds so strange to people because they have been totally exposed to drug company propaganda. The drug companies support associations for "bi-polar" patients; the drug companies support the National Alliance for Mentally Ill, NAMI; they support the National Mental Health Association. And so out of all these organizations and the government comes this propaganda line that so-called psychiatric problems are biological and genetic. And there's no evidence for any of them.

David: Really? Because there's all these new techniques for brain imagery and it seems like, as a result of that, psychiatry's becoming more medicalized, biologically oriented than ever.

Peter Breggin: No, it's really a scam, it's a fraud. What frequently happens, for example, in children, they'll give them Prozac and then they'll discover that Prozac is literally shrinking a part of the brain. So they'll decide that part of the brain was too big to begin with - things that we would never say if we saw marijuana shrinking the brain. We'd just say, hey, that's horrible. And in the case of children again, for example, there were a lot of claims made for many years that the brain scans were showing that their brains were different, but it turns out that every single one of the studies, the kids were taking stimulant drugs like Ritalin and Adderall, which is simply amphetamine, and that these drugs were, in fact, causing permanent brain damage to the kids. So instead of emphasizing the truth, which is that psychoactive substances of any kind taken long term are bad for the brain, they made believe that the children's behavior was somehow the cause of their brain damage, beyond all common sense. It takes billions and billions of dollars, David, to convince people of these beliefs, which we all intuitively know are wrong. I mean, intuitively reasonable people I meet, who haven't been heavily propagandized, know that if their child's behavior is out of control, they have a discipline problem. They know if the child's not doing well in school, they have an educational problem. They don't believe its biochemical; takes propaganda to push that down people's throats.

David: Yes, I read in another interview that you gave, that the big pharmaceutical companies pretty much bought psychiatry some time back in the '70s. Evidently the American Psychiatric Association was experiencing a bit of a crisis at that time. Take our listeners through that, if you would.

Peter Breggin: Well, I describe in Toxic Psychiatry how in the early '70s psychiatry was going broke because people were finding that they could, at last, get insurance coverage to go and get family therapy, counseling, psychological help outside of the medical model. And so women in particular, who make up most of the patients seeking help, were flocking to non-medical people and getting a great deal of help and improving their lives. They were especially, back at that time, going to see women who had read feminist studies and who understood the empowerment of women, who were empathic toward their problems; which was quite a difference between them going to a male doc who was even more silent, more controlling, and more patronizing than their own husbands were at the time. So psychiatry was literally going broke; the money was so tight that people weren't even joining the American Psychiatric Association.

And in Toxic Psychiatry I trace the minutes of the American Psychiatric Association and disclose how they actually debated internally the ethics of becoming partners with the drug companies - and partners is the word they used. And in fact, psychiatry then went on into a partnership with the drug companies, but it's a partnership in which the money dominates. These are the biggest corporations in the world, some of them: Johnson and Johnson and Upjohn and Eli Lilly and GlaxoSmithKline, so they dominate the picture now. They even buy buildings and research facilities for the medical schools; they support professorships - there's a Johnson professorship. And they give a lot of money to all the associations that are supposedly advocating on behalf of mental patients, when they're really advocating on behalf of the drug companies. They completely support the conferences and the journals of the Psychiatric Association and give them outright donations of money. So right now, what I call the psychopharmaceutical complex dominates the mental health field, and I actually am telling people that the most dangerous thing they can do is to go to a psychiatrist, one of the most dangerous things they can do in America today, because the odds are probably 99 to 1 that they're going to be put on a drug the first visit. I mean, it's that bad and with children it's particularly horrendous because we have kids who just need improved parenting and better education to help them calm down and get involved in their studies, and instead we're impairing their growth, their physical growth and their mental growth and their brain function, with psychiatric drugs.

David: Wow. What can be done about Big Pharma? I mean, they have so much money; I gather they fund all the research for psychiatric drugs, as you've just outlined, and those drugs are a huge source of revenue for them. What can be done?

Peter Breggin: Well, what I've been trying to do since, literally, the 1950s when I was working in the state mental hospitals, is to expose the damaging effects of psychiatric drugs, and I've written 20 books, most of which deal, in part at least, with the damaging effects of psychiatric drugs. And to promote what people intuitively know to be the best approach to getting help, which is finding wise counselors - to use your term - to find wisdom and caring and psychologically oriented help. But the alternative is not even between psychiatric drugs and the kind of psychological services that you or I might offer; it's really between psychiatric drugs and the rest of Western wisdom, because people are helped by everything from spiritual groups like AA, religious organizations that help by finding someone to love. I'm sure people are getting more help from these matchmaking groups than they are from psychiatrists. People get help from devoting themselves to community activities; I get most of my help from my wife and family and from nature and God. So there are so many alternatives to drugging your brain. And drugging your brain won't allow you to fully appreciate any of the alternatives that I just describe; it will only put you out of touch with your emotions, give you some temporary relief perhaps in the form of emotional anesthesia or an artificial high, but it's not a really good thing for you. It doesn't really liberate people to live better lives.

David: Well, are any of these drugs of any value at all for some people? Is it that they are over-prescribed or that they just shouldn't be prescribed at all?

Peter Breggin: Well, if you look in terms of, say, non-psychiatric drugs, I think you get the answer because the question is, is alcohol good for some people? Is marijuana good for some people? Well, if you want to be mildly intoxicated in the evening with a couple of martinis rather than deal with your wife and children, that's a help I guess. If you want to smoke dope and lose some of your motivation and not care so much about what happens to you and have a little memory loss to boot, then that's good for you. But you can see from what I'm saying that I don't think intoxicating the brain - which is what we do with all psychoactive substances - I don't think intoxicating the brain is the answer to our emotional problems. And I've conducted a psychiatric practice since 1968 - hate to count those years; actually it's a joy to count them, really. But I've been in practice since 1968; I have never started a patient on a psychiatric drug; I have a lot of drug expertise because I take patients off psychiatric drugs. And I have seen people, over the years, right out of state mental hospitals on multiple drugs. I see kids out of the home on multiple drugs and I carefully take them off the drugs. And all of my books, including my two recent ones, Medication Madness and my medical book, Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry, both have chapters on how to come off psychiatric drugs because it's an important issue.

David: That is an important issue and I understand that that's one that you've addressed pretty extensively. And, boy, I could have used that knowledge some time back. I had been put on Valium for a stomach problem that I had at the time, and the doctor thought that Valium could be helpful. And I discovered I was having a paradoxical reaction to Valium; in fact, it was lowering my inhibitions to things that should be inhibited. I was kind of getting hypo-manic. And so I quit taking it and I quit cold turkey, not knowing that you're not supposed to do that, and I went into a deep depression.

Peter Breggin: Well, I appreciate your honesty, David. There's just no doubt that this is a biological phenomena. It's funny, we can't show that schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are biological; they seem to be things we learn growing up and through choices and reactions to stresses - although actually we don't have any final data on it. But we do know for sure that psychiatric drugs all the time produce psychiatric disorders. In fact, every single time a psychiatric drug is studied, compared to the sugar pill, patients are being made crazy by the drug. This happens with every psychiatric drug and every time it's tested, so we know with certainty that the drugs do this. In Medication Madness, I tell over 50 stories in a very easy to understand, dramatic way, but they're totally in detail true about people who have gone crazy on psychiatric drugs: committed suicide, committed murder, embezzled money, shoplifted, as you said become disinhibited, often in very bizarre, out of character ways. And in these 50 or more cases, I actually not only evaluated the patients if they were still alive, but their families; I had interviews with people who knew them; I saw police reports; I saw legal reports; I even saw autopsy reports; sometimes I went to crime scenes. And all this is in Medication Madness and it's just a remarkable document that is fun to read, too. But what happens, is a book like that, you're only going to hear about it on a radio show like this because the press won't cover it because it's such an open description of the horrific outcomes of taking psychiatric drugs, and the press gets a lot of money and support from these drug companies.

David: This is one of your two most recent books. Is there a story that comes to mind from that book that you could relate to us?

Peter Breggin: Well, yes, the opening story of a man I call Harry Henderson is a man who was a kind and gentle soul. He was active in his religious community. If he had a fault, he did too much for other people. For example, he invited his mother-in-law to live next door and spent a huge amount of time renovating the building for her, even though she wasn't grateful and didn't treat him well. And he had a certain amount of sadness about him that comes with too much sacrificing, but he lived a very good and satisfying life.

And one day he's in the doctor's office and he sees what he doesn't know is an advertisement; he thinks it's an educational pamphlet, you know, put out by GlaxoSmithKline for Paxil. So he talks to the physician's assistant whom he sees that day for a physical problem and mentions the pamphlet and is put on Paxil. And within days, he gets extremely agitated and anxious; he feels so horrible, he wants to die. Then his mind starts going in bizarre places, like he should kill his wife too. But he can't bring himself to do that, even though he knows it's right in his really drug crazed mind; it's right to kill himself but kill his wife first so she won't miss him. And he decides he can't bear to kill his wife so he'll kill himself.

But he's so naïve and unsophisticated that he can't any way to get a gun; so he decides he's seen guns in police cars down at the station, these shotguns sitting upright in cars, and he'll go down there and he'll get a shotgun, break into a car and shoot himself. He had no idea about guns, he doesn't know about cocking the gun or safety catches. He doesn't know about whether a shotgun's too long to even point at your own head. And on his way down to the police station, he sees a policeman getting out of his car to give a ticket, and so he revs up his car and as the policeman steps out he rams his car into the officer, knocks him down, breaks some bones, leaps out of the car screaming, "I don't want to hurt you. I just want to take your gun to kill myself." Tries to get the gun from the cop; the cop and a bystander, a good Samaritan, subdue him and, of course, he's thrown in jail for this horrendous act of driving his car into a policeman.

So I wrote a detailed report on what kind of man this was, how the drug affected him, how it causes agitation and anxiety and suicideality. And the result was that even the policeman thought that this man had been driven into this state by the drug, and sided with him. And this individual spent very little time in jail. This is many years ago; this is even before, I think, the drug labels said that the drug could cause suicide. I was saying these things way ahead of the drug labels and the FDA, and we were still able to influence the judge and the prosecution and the policeman. He's been out of jail, now, for years and years living a good life. And of all the cases in the book, teenagers who want to stab their mothers, teenagers who fire guns at the people they're mad at, men who embezzle money, all the cases - there hasn't been a single repeat after stopping the drug, no recidivism, zero recidivism that I know of in all the case where I've come to a conclusion - these are dozens and dozens - that the drug was the cause.

David: Wow. I can remember reading in the paper something about controversy around people trying to mount defenses for murders based on psychiatric drugs that they'd been taking - Prozac, I think in particular.

Peter Breggin: Right. Well, I was the medical expert in all of the initial, combined - more than 100 - Prozac cases, which is how I ended up doing this. I got asked to be that scientific expert. And to show you the power of the drug company, Eli Lilly, the first trial we went to, fixed the trial. There's a description of that in Medication Madness. It's very dramatic because it nearly destroyed my confidence in my sense of what is reality in terms of the legal system, because they fixed the trial so that our side presented a watered down case so they would lose and Lilly paid them off. And part of the deal was to not prepare me to be an adequate expert so that Lilly would not only win its case, but get rid of Breggin who was their worst enemy. Time Magazine, just before the trial, had a headline and in the profile of me, "Prozac's worst enemy." Well, Lilly was trying to get rid of their worst enemy. And after the trial was over, I had enormous fights with the attorney on our side because he wasn't presenting information. My wife figured out that this was fixed, but I couldn't dare see it. And then a year or two later it comes out; the judge does an investigation, finds out the trial was fixed, and vacates the verdict.

David: Wow.

Peter Breggin: Now, the initial victory is covered by the press, but they don't cover the vacating of the verdict and the accusation by the Kentucky Supreme Court that Eli Lilly had perhaps committed fraud in what they did. So, you know, it's a really fixed world out there by the drug companies to a great extent. And my books, I think, do the best job I can to try to communicate the human destruction this has caused, but also to document the behavior of the drug companies.

David: Yes, well, what about the FDA? Aren't they supposed to be protecting us?

Peter Breggin: Yeah, the FDA is supposed to be protecting us, but it's just hand in glove with the drug companies. It's not a watchdog any more; it's a drug company pet. For example, a fellow named for Paul Lieber, who for many, many years headed the FDA's division on psychiatric drugs, the section on psychiatric drugs, well, as soon as he retires he goes to work as a consultant to drug companies. I was producing data in 1991 and 1992, just two years after Prozac went on the market, that it was causing violence and suicide. The FDA finally puts a suicide warning for children and young adults in 2004-5-6, and I had the data 10 years earlier and more. And I often would write the FDA, I would address the FDA in public, I would go to FDA meetings and say, look, why don't you, instead of giving me two minutes here at the FDA public meeting, why don't you invite me in to be briefed for you, everything I've learned from looking inside Eli Lilly? For example, I looked inside Eli Lilly and found studies they had hidden, showing an increased suicide attempt rate in their control clinical trials by somewhere between 6 and 12:1, depending on how you counted. There were more suicide attempts among the Prozac patients than among the same kind of patients being given placebos, so Lilly just never let the data out from in-house. I said, "I have this data, FDA. Look at this; you can't trust their data." The FDA didn't want to have anything to do with me, but I have published this data in scientific journals and in my books.

David: This is a perfect plot for John Gresham. You ought to team up with him.

Peter Breggin: Well, it is; and my life is like that. If you can image a threat, pretty much it's been aimed at me over the years. And, by the way, just this week on my website, we have an advanced offer for a new book put out by the center that I founded in 1972 - but I don't run the center any more, I'm just a grandpa. But the center has put out a book called The Conscience of Psychiatry: the Reform Work of Peter R. Breggin, M.D. and if you go to my website, which is just, if you buy it in advance, you get a free 70 minute interview which, in combination with this interview, will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about me.

David: Well, that's great. We'll put a link to that in our show notes. You brought out two books last year and the one that you've been talking about is Medication Madness: a Psychiatrist Exposes the Dangers of Mind-Altering Drugs, and I gather that's available in paper.

Peter Breggin: Right.

David: You also brought out a hard-bound book titled Brain- Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry: Drugs, Electroshock and the Psychopharmaceutical Complex. Dare I ask, what's the thesis of that book? Is that intended for a different audience?

Peter Breggin: Somewhat, but it's a medical book. Brain Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry is a medical book published by a very esteemed medical publisher, Springer, who has great faith in my work. And that book is an evolution over many years from other books, so that it contains well over, I'm sure, a thousand citations of the scientific literature. And the basic principle of it is the same basic principle of Medication Madness, but instead of presenting 50 amazing, interesting stories with some scientific background, it presents the basic scientific background in great detail about drugs, electroshock, and even lobotomy. And what it shows is that all psychiatric treatments work by disabling the brain. Prozac doesn't help out chemical imbalances, because there aren't any in depressed patients that we know of; it causes them. And, in fact, the way you develop a psychiatric drug, is you give a lot of different chemicals to rats and when one causes a biochemical imbalance, literally, when you find one that disrupts normal brain function, you think, hey, we may have a psychoactive substance that we can use as a psychiatric drug.

David: Oh, my goodness.

Peter Breggin: And then we'll market it the opposite of what we've discovered; we'll market it as fixing biochemical imbalances. And so the book is all about the brain-disabling principle of psychiatric drugs and then the newer concept, which is in both books - with more science about it in Brain-Disabling - which is "medication spellbinding." It's a key new concept I've that developed that came out of looking at more than 100 studies that I was looking at for Medication Madness. And I found these consistent themes that I call medication spellbinding. I've even given it a scientific name for my paper, that's "intoxication anosognosia" - not knowing you're intoxicated. So you can see the comparison to alcohol, marijuana or any other drug. And the details of medication spellbinding, the principles are this: first, people have difficulty identifying mental adverse effects from drugs.

David: Right, because you still feel more or less like yourself.

Peter Breggin: Yeah. I bet when you were getting disinhibited on the Valium, it took you quite a while to realize you weren't just doing what you wanted to do.

David: That's right. My wife recognized it and was concerned, whereas I objected, "What do you mean?"

Peter Breggin: Yeah, I'm feeling great, man.

David: Yeah, exactly.

Peter Breggin: Well, your honesty has made for a perfect interview on this because this follows the four principles. The first is we don't really identify that we have an adverse effect to a drug, like we're getting high or we're getting angry or we're getting depressed. Secondly, to the extent we know we're changed in a bad way - for example, we're very angry, we're very depressed - we again don't blame it on the drug; we blame it on our wife. We say she's provoked me to be angry, just like a person on alcohol does; same thing on Prozac or Xanax or Valium in your case. Or you say, hey, I'm to blame and then you get depressed, which also happened to you. So instead of saying, hey, this drug is giving me these weird feelings, we say, I'm angry for a reason, I'm depressed for a reason. The third thing is, which also happened to you, is that you often think you're doing better than ever when your family can tell you're doing worse than ever. And that's frequently in the form of mania or manic-like responses you were describing, or disinhibition, in a milder form. And then the fourth thing, thank God, David, didn't happen to you, but it happened to almost everybody in Medication Madness, which is that people end up doing bizarre, violent, over the edge crimes that are totally alien to their normal selves, that they would never think of doing or consider doing when they weren't on the drug - the 16-year-old who gets preoccupied with sticking a knife in her mother and, thank God, tells her mother. Oh, God, one of the saddest stories, a little boy on stimulant drugs who gives this terrible monologue on his computer - and it just sounds spellbinding - about how he's going to end his life, and then he hangs himself. Just terrible stories of what happens when people go over the edge on these drugs.

David: Yes, and one of the things in your subtitle is electroshock. Is electroshock still being practiced somehow? I had the impression that it had sort of died out.

Peter Breggin: No, no, no. They just figured out they had to go underground. In fact, electroshock never died out; almost every single psychiatric hospital does shock treatment because it's the one way they can stay in the black. The hospital, the doctor, can make more money with one electroshock treatment than with a day of counseling patients. Let's say doc gets $200 for a shock treatment; he can do five of them in an hour. And, obviously, you can't do that counseling. And then you get to see the patient on the ward; the patient doesn't even remember whether you came or not, so you can charge that too. So these guys make a lot of money and the hospitals make a lot of money from doing shock treatment. So practically every mental hospital has it now, and they're doing outpatient shock more and more. And just recently there's a case out in Minnesota where they're doing involuntary outpatient shock. And survivor groups - you know, we form groups of people who have been injured by psychiatry - have been fighting against that. I do a weekly radio report and my last report is on shock treatment. You can download the transcript or listen to it on my website, No one knows how many are done because the doctors fight every effort by the states to keep a tally. They literally have managed, backed by the American Psychiatric Association, to keep secret how many they do. But their nearest guess is probably up around 200,000 patients a year in the US, but nobody knows. And recently there was a long-term follow-up study that confirmed everything I've ever been saying about how most patients are horribly injured and become demented from shock treatment. It hasn't been covered in the press, hasn't been covered in the psychiatric newspapers and hasn't dented what the docs are doing.

David: Wow. So if somebody wants to find out more about that, I guess the place to start probably is your book, right?

Peter Breggin: Well, yeah, the most up-to-date chapter on electroshock is not in Medication Madness, but in my scientific book, Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry.

David: Okay, you know, you mentioned Adderall earlier. There was a fascinating article in The New Yorker recently about students and academics taking "neuroenhancers" to help them concentrate and perform at higher levels, and I believe Adderall was one of the drugs mentioned. Did you see that article?

Peter Breggin: No, I didn't, but I've seen a lot of articles about students taking them to cram for tests, but that's a really sick one you're describing about professors enhancing their performance.

David: Yes, they actually name various professors and researchers and so on who are taking it fairly openly.

Peter Breggin: If you could send that to me, I'd be extremely grateful.

David: Oh, yes, I can do that.

Peter Breggin: Let me tell you, we can start with basic research. To take a chimpanzee - who's genetically very near to us - they're like children. They like to play and romp and socialize; they like to pick lice from each other and eat it; they like to give hugs and kisses. And they want to escape from any cage they're in; they escape from restraint. In fact, they'll get violent if restrained by human beings, but they rarely get violent in the wild. And if you take a chimp and you give the chimp Adderall - that is amphetamine, Adderall's just amphetamine - or you give them Ritalin, which is very much like amphetamine, all those wonderful, spontaneous behaviors are crushed. The chimps don't socialize, they don't hug, they don't kiss, they don't even try to escape, they don't explore. They become like good, caged monkeys; they look happier in the cage. You see them free range, though, they're spontaneity is clearly suppressed. And then they develop what the animal researchers tend to call perseveration, but which is really in humans would be obsessive-compulsive behavior. They pick at their skin, they play with pebbles, they stare out bars, they chew on bars. They do repetitive, meaningless, stupid things. And they're really described, pretty much, in those words by the animal researchers.

Now, if you take a child who's bored in class, out of control in class, undisciplined in class for whatever reason and you give them a drug that makes monkeys less spontaneous and willing to do stupid, boring tasks, and it's perfect. And in no studies done by teachers ever have the teachers noticed that this was an abnormality, or the researchers noticed that it's an abnormality. They always think that the crushing of spontaneous behavior and the enforcement of compulsive, over-focusing behavior is actually an improvement. It's a form of brain dysfunction, and long-term it causes permanent abnormalities in the brain and there's even evidence for worse damage to brain cells than that. And it suppresses growth and it doesn't do it just by suppressing appetite; these drugs suppress growth by disrupting growth hormone production. So that means that overall growth - your brain, your body, your liver, everything - is being suppressed in its development.

This is a dreadful thing to do to children, and the adverse effects are subtle but often lead to additional psychiatric drugs. For example, you get obsessive-compulsive disorder because that's what the drug does; you get depression because that's what the drug does; or you get psychosis, which is more of a side effect than a direct primary effect. And then you end up on four and five drugs. I see kids who started out just didn't want to go to school or didn't like school or didn't focus as well, or kids who were even getting B pluses instead of As, and is put on Ritalin or Adderrall or Strattera or some other drug. By the time I see them as a result of the side effects, they're on five drugs; they're on antipsychotic drugs. And I peal back the drugs and mom and dad, they come in in tears, "We're getting Johnny back. We're getting Janie back. We forgot what a sparkling kid he was, we just got to think he was just this chronically mentally ill kid. These are all drug effects. Thank you, thank you, thank you." And, "How could the doctors do this to us?"

David: Wow. Have you been able to have any impact on your colleagues? Have you been able to win over other psychiatrists?

Peter Breggin: Well, there are psychiatrists who join our organization that meets every year. I just had the wonderful experience of a psychiatrist who had, on his own, come to the same conclusions and who had for three years been taking all his patients off drugs, and feeling very lonely and nervous. Found out about me, just spent the weekend with me; he's feeling more empowered. There are occasional people like that, but the psychiatrist who chooses that route is going to lose most of his authority and power and gain the enmity of his colleagues. It's a tough row to hoe. I've had a bigger influence, curiously, on places like the FDA, because I do believe that the current new labels for antidepressants read like my books. And I know the panel that made these changes saw my stuff because the FDA gave them my scientific articles. So I think I'm having an impact on the FDA, as bad as it is, and I'm having an impact on mental health professionals around the world. You'll get an idea about that if you look in The Conscience of Psychiatry. It's going to come out in August, but if you buy it now on the website, you get another interview with me, one of the most honest ones I've ever done, just about my feelings about what I do. And you'll see all of the psychiatrists from around the world who felt inspired by my work. But I'm not changing the direction of the profession. I think I'm scaring them and making them more cautious, but psychiatry is economically wedded to drugs and shock treatment; they haven't got an alternative.

David: Yes, the financial incentives clearly are just stacked all wrong.

Peter Breggin: Right, and you know, David, they're not trained in psychotherapy so they can't do what's right, they don't have the ability.

David: Yeah, I know. They've just really moved away from that, and the financial incentives - you can see four or five people an hour to check on their meds as opposed to one person an hour to do counseling.

Peter Breggin: Yeah, there you go.

David: Well, as we wind down, are there any other thoughts that you have that you haven't had a chance to express here?

Peter Breggin: Well, it's a great interview.

David: Well, thank you.

Peter Breggin: And will it be live somewhere? I mean, will it be on the Web?

David: Yes, it will be on the Web and people can download it and it will stay there and I'll send you a link and you can put it to your own website.

Peter Breggin: Yeah, I'd love you to do that. It's a great interview and any time you want to pursue these issues some more - I know that you have been devoting yourself to helping people and you haven't been looking as much at all this evil that's being done to folks. And I think that's just fine, you know, that's what good therapists and counselors do; they don't focus on the evil of the system, they just do good for people. But I think we also need to stand up to the system that's harming people, so I'll be happy to come back on any time you want.

David: Okay, well, Dr. Peter Breggin, it's been my privilege to meet you in this way, and thanks so much for being our guest today on Wise Counsel.

Peter Breggin: Glad to be on it, David, thank you.

David: Well, I don't know about you, but I'm glad Dr. Peter Breggin is out there on the case of what he calls the psychopharmaceutical complex. It does seem to me that there are many financial incentives that are potentially stacked against the best interests of consumers. You'll find lots more food for thought in Dr. Breggin's many books and on his website at

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About Peter R. Breggin M.D.

Peter R. Breggin M.D.Peter R. Breggin M.D. is the well-known author of many books and scientific papers criticizing psychiatric excesses. His two most recent books are Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry: Drugs, Electroshock and the Psychopharmaceutical Complex (2008) and Medication Madness: A Psychiatrist Exposes the Dangers of Mind-Altering Drugs (July 2008).

Dr. Breggin conducts a private practice of psychiatry in Ithaca, New York, where he treats adults, couples, and families with children. He also does consultations in the field of clinical psychopharmacology and often acts as a medical expert in criminal, malpractice and product liability suits. Before November 2002 he was in practice for nearly thirty-five years in Washington, DC and Bethesda, Maryland.

Many of Dr. Breggin's accomplishments as a reformer are documented in detail in The Conscience of Psychiatry: The Reform Work of Peter R. Breggin, M.D. (2009). This biographical tribute to Dr. Breggin's work draws on more than half-a-century of media and more than 70 special contributions from his colleagues, as well as many other sources.

Dr. Breggin's background includes Harvard College, Case Western Reserve Medical School, a one-year internship and a three-year residency in psychiatry, including a teaching fellowship at Harvard Medical School. After his training, he accepted a two-year staff appointment at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). He has taught at several universities, including a faculty appointment to the Johns Hopkins University Department of Counseling and most recently an appointment as Visiting Scholar at SUNY Oswego in the Department of Counseling and Psychological Services in 2007-2008.

Dr. Breggin is the founder and director emeritus of the International Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology ( and the founding editor of the peer-reviewed journal, Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry. He is on the editorial board of several journals.

In the early 1990s Dr. Breggin was appointed the scientific expert for more than 100 combined Prozac suits. He participated as a medical expert in a 2001-2002 California lawsuit whose resolution was associated with a new label warning for Paxil concerning withdrawal effects. Recently he was the medical expert in the first psychosurgery malpractice suit and also the first electroshock malpractice suit ever won in court. He has been a medical expert in many courtroom victories for individuals injured by medications, including numerous cases of tardive dyskinesia caused by neuroleptic drugs. He has also been a consultant to the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) on the adverse effects of psychiatric drugs on pilots.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

benzodiazepines - Les - May 26th 2012

Please keep up the excellent work Dr Breggan, you are saving lives. We need more professionals like you. The people that say otherwise are in for a big surprize especialy if they are taking psychiatric meds. I thought mine were helping me until I got ill real ill. I was on valium and klonopin for over 30 years. I am drug free now for 2 years. I lost my career, friends and my family. I have no memories of my kids growing up. The drugs stole my life and my families. How sad. Excellent interview. God Bless

Brilliant Interview - Tobie vd Westhuizen - Jul 2nd 2010

I live in South Africa (one of the great Prozac nations) where precious few people have ever heard of Peter Breggin, but where kids are put on drugs for ADD and ADHD in their thousands upon thousands. My wife comforted a crying mom a few months ago who told how her bubbly son had became a sullen, witdrawn zombie as a result of Ritalin. Questioning the psychiatrist was, well, out of the question. South Africans, especially Afrikaners, have great respect for authoritative figures (which explains how we could have been duped for decades by the Apartheid Regime), and so you never-ever question your shrink. Breggin is a modern-day prophet. The few individuals who may really benefit from some mind-altering drug is nothing compared to the devastation caused by these drugs, so I'm not convinced by the black/white vs. grey debate. Thanks for a great interview. I intend forwarding it to as many South Africans as I can think of and pray that it will start a ripple that will become a Tsunami in this country.

Tobie van der Westhuizen

Principal: Philadelphia Christian Counselors College


Another voice joins the choir - Robin - Mar 28th 2010

I agree with earlier commentators that Breggin appears to have a black/white view of the use of psychopharma. In reality there are gray areas, some people really need the drugs to function adequately, but there are consequences and points made by critics such as Peter Breggin, James Gordon and Ronald Dworkin (see the wisecounsel archive) should be acknowledged. Though while their points should be acknowledged they should not automaticaly be accepted as truths.

I believe that regardless of what one reads one should strive to achive a balance between openness and critical thinking, which I perceive as quite difficult. Breggin's connection with Savage is disturbing, but he still got some valid points.

During 2009, 60 000 between 10 and 29 took antidepressants in Sweden (which is a small country), in the researcher's (Birgitta Jonasson) own words "It's like we are playing Russian roulette with an entire generation" - I agree.

Currently psychopharamca is in my opinion a necessary "evil", and will continue to be necessary in the future, but what I believe is the main problem is that drugs may target the symptoms and not their causes. I once heard a psychologist talk about prescribing a beta-blocker to a client with social phobia in order to stop his tremors (!).    

I have experienced both therapy and sertailine (a variant of Zoloft), now around 2 years later when I have once again returned to where I started I have begun to try allternative approaches, more specificaly meditation which I prefer to sertraline despite that I consiously experienced few consequences due to the drug.  

One size does not fit all, but long-term effects are in the long run more important than short-term effects, and what needs to be developed is approaches that are efficent immediately but also in the long run- unless we want future generations to take drugs with their cereals from cradle to grave.

/ Guilty of rambling and misspelling

Dr. Breggin interview - Donna M - Feb 20th 2010

Dr. Breggin is saving lives.  I read a few of his books and finally have some hope! I believe in all that he says and does. Just look at his credentials and all the hard work and dedication he has shown. Such a brilliant, caring and honest man!

ECT is good - - Feb 6th 2010

ECT is a lifesaving treatment that is more effective than many medications. It is the stigmatization of ECT that keeps it hidden.  I would encourage you to seek out an ECT provider and/or recipient to interview-to really give you the details of how humane, effective, and lifesaviing it really is. It is like a miricle for the patients who need it.

Breggin - Grace - Nov 20th 2009

Breggin is a rightwing fanatic who is active on M. Savage's radio show.  He's used his diagnostic clout to tar liberals as "mentally ill", an egregious misuse of the psychiatric medical model that he deplores elsewhere. He had some good things to say about pharma once, but has become unhinged.  I've listen to his extremist distortions in other arenas and don't trust him to be honest or reliable in his handling of any data. Too bad.

Dr. Dombeck's Note: Glad that you've brought up Breggin's association with Savage.  I found that connection profoundly disturbing myself.

Uncritical interview - Zack - Nov 6th 2009

I agree with the last commentor. It is disappointing that in this error experts making such sweeping claims are not required to come up with solid evidence. In this case Breggin makes these vague generalisations about all psychotropic drugs causing brain dysfunction and are therefore always harmful and that there is no evidence for their effectiveness, without backing such extraordinary claims with solid evidence using evidence-based practice.

In contrast he touts that psychotherapy is so superiorly effective, without again providing any such evidence.

I feel you should call your interviewees to account for their claims. By not doing so you put many of your more vulnerable listeners through unecessary angst.

As a sufferer of a chronic depressive myself and who has been exposed to many different treatments now, I can tell you my personal experience is that nothing that I have tried has been the full answer. After 15 years of exploring many different pharmocological combinations and many psychological therapies my impression is that nothing has been THAT effective for me both drugs and therapy have helped to some extent. Furthermore some of the experienes I have had with psychotherapist I have found unhelpful and at times blatantly distructive.

If you read systematic reviews on clinical trials for both medications and psychotherapy for depression and anxiety this tends to support my own experience that the best treatments available tend to be only somewhat effective and that the combinations of medications with therapy seem to be better than any one treatment alone.

As a consumer it really annoys me that we are still engaged in a war between psychotherapists on one hand and psychopharmacologists on the other. Breggin is so obviously one of these warmongers

A pox on both your houses. Instead of expecting us to buy into your petty turf wars, isn't it time you got your act together and did the best thing for your patients and work together to get better outcomes that are demonstrated in clinical trials.

Great Interview - Sarah - Aug 6th 2009

Great interview!  I really enjoyed hearing the anti-med perspective.

While I do agree with others who have commented in that Dr. Breggin is black and white, I do believe that medication is often prescribed too quickly.  As a counselor, there are times I do believe my clients benefit extremely from medications.  Though, I do believe there are times clients are too quick to pop a pill as opposed to work on their issues.  I also think care management and psychiatric appointments are becoming more ridiculous over time.  How is 15 mins every 4-6 weeks with a client and a quick writing of a script enough time to understand their mental health, stability, and well-being?

Black and white thinking - Brandi - Aug 5th 2009

I read Dr. Breggin's book Toxic Psychiatry several years and believed it 100%.  The reason I bought into his reasoning was because I did not want to believe I needed medication to recover from bipolar disorder.  I had doctors wean me off my medication because I thought I had enough therapy to control my mood swings.  I ended up in the behavioral med unit of the hospital several times because I believed in the black and white thinking of Breggin's book.  I ended up in jail because my psychiatrist weaned me off my medication. Because I am stabilized on medication, I have been able to utilize the therapy tools that I learned years earlier.  No amount of therapy without medication could stop the hallucinations, delusions, sleep deprivation of Bipolar 1.  I think this interview is dangerous and may cause people to start going off the medications that have helped them maintain employment, relationships, and stay out of jails and hospitals.  Anti-med thinking is black and white thinking and don't we learn that this kind of thinking is a distortion in cognitive therapy?   

black & white thinking - Ray Smith - Aug 2nd 2009

I've read Toxic Psychiatry and several interviews and articles on Breggin. His valid points are obscured by the mounds of rhetoric.

The idea that many are overmedicated and that Big Pharm is interested in making more money is no great revelation, but it does not follow that all medication is wrong or that we could do without the pharmaceutical industry. His view that all metal illness (and autism) should be treated with therapy only, that medication is never indicated is irresponsible.

Breggin does not want to reform the mental health industry, but rather transform it into treatment without ANY medication, a complete flip to idea that everything can be treated with a pill. He ignores the people who have had positive results with medication. Ritalin is overprescribed therefore it doesn't work for anyone? There is a major flaw in this thinking:

As a mental health worker, I see many people who are able to remain in their own homes, stay out of group homes or wards because medication allows them stability.

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