Your article “Fifeville’s Future” [May 6, 2008] was excellent. As a resident of “Fifeville” who follows neighborhood news closely, I learned a lot that I didn’t know. Most of all, though, I appreciated your attention to the complexities of gentrification in our neighborhood. Your piece rang true because you didn’t rest on the simple moralisms that most stories on the topic do. You’ve earned whatever honors you have coming to you for this fine piece.
The ills of pills
The second in a two part article on mental health reform in Virginia in the April 15th issue of the C-VILLE [“Critics fear changes could worsen voluntary care,” Government News] claimed I was in favor of drug-free mental health care treatment. This is true. I am for drug-free treatment. What this article doesn’t go into are the reasons one would have for objecting to the use of these drugs in the treatment of mental illness. There are many reasons a person might have for tossing out the pills a psychiatrist has prescribed for him or her.
State Delegate Rob Bell is quoted in the same article: “The pharmacology is getting better,” says Bell. “Everyone is hopeful in the future that we’ll have a better of understanding of how the brain functions. But it’s not perfect.”
Delegate Bell is wrong; the pharmacology, if anything, has gotten worse. Recent news stories have reported that people diagnosed with serious mental illnesses are dying on average 25 years earlier than the rest of the population, and this accelerated mortality rate is attributed to the introduction of the newer atypical anti-psychotic drugs. Atypical neuroleptic drugs, drugs such as zyprexa, clozapine, and risperal, were developed to have fewer side effects than the typical neuroleptic drugs that preceded them, drugs such as thorazine, stellazine, and haldol. Unfortunately a whole slew of medical conditions are now associated with these newer atypical drugs. These drugs have been blamed for causing excessive weight gain, diabetes, cardiac conditions, pancreatic tumors, lowered white blood cell counts, and other health problems. The pharmaceutical companies have faced a number of class action law suits on behalf of people injured by their products. Certainly dying 25 years earlier than one would ordinarily die cannot be accounted an improvement.
Although the wording of the new law lowering the standard of civil commitment mentions “other appropriate treatments” besides treatment by drugs, there are few, if any, real alternatives to drug treatment available to people facing mental health treatment in the Commonwealth of Virginia. While confinement in and of itself will not necessarily harm an individual, taking these drugs will harm an individual. People in the mental health care system in Virginia need choices above and beyond that of being maintained on, and damaged by, pills.
Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to get this message out to the people in our area.