The pharmaceutical industry paves the way for the society of the future, in which tens of thousands of deaths are considered just a side effect.
Cause of Death: Unknown
Norway, 2017 85 min
When confronted with the sudden death of a younger family member, the bereaved is commonly left in a state of shock and helplessness. This was not the case of the young Norwegian filmmaker Anniken Hoel. Her sister, diagnosed with schizophrenia and being treated with multiple antipsychotic medications in Norway,died suddenly and unexpectedly on July 9th, 2005. When Anniken read her official autopsy report which stated that the cause of death was unknown, she embarked on a fascinating investigation that gradually lead to the discovery of shocking facts and astonishing circumstances. Her film, Cause of Death: Unknown,which was presented in Cannes in 2017,offers nothing less than the matrix of control in our society.
Anniken’s sister Renate had expressed doubts about her medication in vain. After Renate’s death, Anniken was unable to find any notes from her sister’s psychiatrist regarding her sister’s state during her last year. Her medication, however, was constantly increased with a mix of high doses of so-called «anti-psychotics».
In her initial research, she learnt that her sister had been falling pray to the dangerous side effects of the psychotic drugs she was predescripted, and she was not the only victim. In Norway alone, 126 deaths were reported as victims of anti-psychotics, but the real number is estimated to be as high as 2,500. Even if the «risk of sudden death» is noted on the label as a «side effect» in the Norwegian medical register,many psychiatrists seem to be uninformed or prefer to ignore the warning.
In the 1990’s a new series of anti-psychotics including Zyprexa, produced by the medical company Lilly, Seroquel (Astra Zeneca), Geodon (Pfizer), Risperidone (Johnson and Johnson) and Abilify (Otsuka)were the highest selling drugs in the world, with profits constantly rising.
«Misleading physicians have even diagnosed two and three year old children as bipolar, just to show the level of absurdity we are facing.»
Prozac, produced by Lilly, was already a billion dollar making product. The drug was also being sold by drug dealers in New York, who were making more of a profit than with crack cocaine. Once it was approved to treat patients against «depression»it could be prescribed not only by psychiatrists and psychologists, but also by primary care physicians.
When Lilly lost its patent on Prozac in 2001, it released Zyprexa, which became the highest selling drug in the history of the pharmaceutical industry. A highly successful marketing campaign helped to achieve maximum profits before arriving at the new expiry date. Since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had only approved Zyprexa to treat schizophrenia and rare forms of bipolar disease, the first step was to modify the diagnostic models in order to make it applicable for treating“depression”. Clever advertisements convinced consumers and physicians alike, accompanied by active sales force that also included inviting the medical practitioners to conferences and dinner parties.
However, in 2009Lilly pleaded guilty to the criminal charge of «off-label» marketing and agreed to pay a record $1,415 billion fine. It admitted that it illegally marketed Zyprexa for uses never approved by the FDA including sleep disorders, dementia and depression, an acceptable price considering the real profit.
Another medical company Johnson and Johnson,was found guilty of improperly promoting their antipsychotic drug Risperdal to the elderly, people with developmental disabilities and even children and were fined more than $2,2 billion, the highest fine in the history of the US Justice Department concerning a pharmaceutical company. This, again, can be seen as part of the business plan that confirms a $20 billion profitin14 years. But none of the executives responsible for the sales and marketing of these drugs have been accused personally. Their enriching, murderous activities have not even been declared as crimes.
What makes the story even more incredible is that the National Institute of Mental Health, the largest research institution in the world, has confirmed that there are no studies confirming the positive effects of antipsychotic drugs. There are, however,numerous studies which show that the millions of drugs consumed all over the world are neither safe nor effective for adults over the age of 40.
Medical journals such as the BMJ, the New England Journal of Medicine, Jama and the Lancet are mostly financed by the pharmaceutical industry itself. They are the most important marketing tools, working with ghostwriters-whose texts are validated using the names of academic researchers, promising positive results«in a later state». Most doctors are unaware of these manipulations, but they still subscribe antipsychotics without any real diagnoses.
The concept of «selling sickness»leads to define natural emotional reactions as illness,especially in stress fulsituations. In psychiatry, all diagnoses such as bipolar disease, manic-depressive disorder and the like,are subjective, and the official manual for mental disorders, a publication from the American Psychiatric Association which issued worldwide, sets the basis for psychotic medications, and it is constantly increasing the number of «diagnoses». 77 per cent of its finance is secured by the Pharmaceutical industry.
Psychiatric drugs rising world wide. Robert Whitaker, a journalist and author, remarks that the use of psychiatric drugs is rising worldwide, even if the contrary should be expected considering their alleged efficiency. We are instead witnessing an epidemic of mental illnesses. Misleading physicians have even diagnosed two and three year old children as bipolar, just to show the level of absurdity we are facing.
In Europe, medicines are approved by the European Medicines Agency. However, this «regulatory body»doesn’t carry out any independent tests, but accepts results delivered by the industry. In the case of Zyprexa, the trial phase was limited to ten weeks on 3,000 pasients, for a drug to be consumed by its users for years. In actual fact, the patients are the true guinea pigs for the side effects.
Even Richard Bergström,the Head of EFPIA, the Pharmaceutical Lobby in Europe, with an estimated budget of 40 million euro sin 2015 alone, confirms in an interview finally accorded to Anniken Hoel, that it is not research, but the interests of the industry and governments that push a medication onto the market. The industry finances 87 per cent of the EMC, the organisation tasked with controlling the industry.
Finally,Anniken Hoel travels to the United States where she reveals further shocking facts. Even in cases where theSafety Commission has voted against approving a drug, the FDA can ignore their warnings. Thomas Laughren, an FDA director from 2005-2012 retired to become the Director of Laughren Psychopharm Consulting where he advises pharmaceutical companies such as Lilly, Phizer and others,on how best to develop their drugs for FDA approval.He is not the only one. It is evident that the pharmaceutical industry, which is larger than the defence, education, agriculture or even financial industries represented in Washington, has more and more influence on the FDA. As Sidney Wolfe from the Public Citizen Consumer Rights Advocacy Group points out:1992 was a turning point for the pharmaceutical industry in gaining influence, as they got askedto pay a huge part of the drug reviews activities.Furthermore,the pharmaceutical lobbyists can influence law makers in congress, as Sarah Bryrer from the research group «Open Secrets»claims. To conclude the circle, she confirms that around 75 per cent of the lobbyist used to be members of the government or the congress.
«Targeted medicine»on the increase
Ronald Kavanagh worked for a pharmaceutical company for 10 years and was threatened when he went public about what happened to researchers and controllers who alerted their superiors concerning risks or in efficacies. Losing your job was only one of the more harmless consequences. Safety issues were reduced and approval times shortened. Consequently, nothing has been done about the fact that around 83,000 people have died in the USas a result of taking one of these drugs. As investigator Paul Tacker points out, it is important to compare this number with the 3,500 victims of the Twin Towers, a tragedy which continues to unsettled the nation.
In a frightening ending,Hoels develops the new plans of the pharmaceutical industry. We are at a breaking point in history. «Targetedmedicine»is developing its tools using nano- engineering and «gene therapy» to influence possible feelings and activities before their appearance, treating them as symptoms of illnesses where treatment is sought after. The age of «psycho-pharmacology»is upon us. Trump has just deregulated the already somewhat inefficient FDA, which will affect not only the US,but also Europe and the rest of the world.
Hoel periodically contrasts her increasing research with sequences about her private life and her memories of her much missed sister. These recollections possibly provide her with the courage to persevere with her research, which brings her closer and closer to an abyss, looking directly in the face of our society’s future.