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FDA-Approved Drugs Are Not Always Effective: The Benefits Of Alternative Medicine

St-Johns-wort

On Saturday, while thousands of Boston Bruins fans gathered at Government Center to celebrate the team’s recent Stanley Cup victory, a hundred or so true die-hards met a few blocks away at a Massachusetts General Hospital conference to talk about complementary and alternative medicine for psychiatric disorders. While I hated to miss the Bruins parade, I’m glad I attended the MGH conference.

I’ve always been a bit of a skeptic about so-called natural therapies for one simple reason: they don’t have to go through the same rigorous testing in clinical trials that medications do. At the same time, I realize that FDA-approved drugs don’t work for everyone. One in three adults with major depression, for example, can’t completely improve their mood and other symptoms even after trying multiple antidepressants.

Clearly, we need better options for treating mental health disorders. The MGH conference convinced me that some types of complementary and alternative medicine—or CAM, for short—might be worth trying. The presenters, all psychiatrists who treat patients at MGH, backed up their recommendations with scientific evidence. Several of them also contributed to the American Psychiatric Association’s recent report on CAM therapies.

We’ll be doing a story on CAM therapies for psychiatric disorders in an upcoming issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter. For now, here are some things I learned on Saturday: Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

Can Crime Be Linked To Cuts In The Mental Health Budget?

From the New York Times today we have a story entitled, “A Schizophrenic, A Slain Worker, Troubling Questions,” a horrible story about a mentally ill man who killed a social worker in his group home. The story highlights the defendant’s longstanding history of violence with several assaults in his past. He once fractured his stepfather’s skull and his first criminal offense involved slashing and robbing a homeless man. (On another post on this blog Rob wondered why the charges were dismissed in that case; from experience I can tell you it’s probably because the victim and only witness was homeless and couldn’t be located several months later when the defendant came to trial.) The defendant, Deshawn Chappell, also used drugs while suffering from schizophrenia. Before the murder he reportedly stopped taking his depot neuroleptic and was symptomatic. The news story also suggested that he knew he was committing a crime: he got rid of the body, disposed of the car and changed out of his bloody clothes. Nevertheless, he was sufficiently symptomatic to be found incompetent to stand trial and was committed to a forensic hospital for treatment and restoration. At his competency hearing the victim’s family thought that the defendant was malingering his symptoms, while the victim’s fiance was distraught enough that he tried to attack Chappell in the courtroom. The point of the Times article appears to be an effort to link the crime to cuts in the Massachusetts mental health budget.

So what do I think about this story? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Shrink Rap*

National Strategy To Reduce Prescription Drug Abuse: Is Playing Big Brother Ok In An Emergency?

The White House released its plan last week entitled “Epidemic: Responding to America’s Prescription Drug Abuse Crisis” [LINK to pdf of this 10-page plan]. Below are some of the elements in this plan that is part of the National Drug Control Strategy (like that has worked so well :-/).

The areas of this plan involve education of prescribers and users, monitoring programs, making it easy to dispose of controlled dangerous substances (CDS for short), and enhancing enforcement. The plan establishes thirteen goals for the next five years, and also creates a coordinating body, the Federal Council on Prescription Drug Abuse, to oversee and coordinate it all.

If any of our readers have comments on specific items (I’ve numbered them for ease of reference), including unintended (or even intended) consequences, please chime in.

  1. EDUCATION
    1. require training on responsible opiate prescribing
    2. require Pharma to develop education materials for providers and patients
    3. require professional schools and organizations to include instruction on balancing use of opiates for pain while reducing abuse
    4. require state licensing boards to include relevant ongoing education in their licensure requirements
    5. help ACEP develop guidelines for opiate prescribing in the Emergency Department [this should be a big help]
    6. increased use of written patient-provider agreements
    7. facilitate public education campaigns, especially targeting parents
    8. encourage research on low-abuse potential treatments, epidemiology of substance abuse, and abuse-deterrent formulations Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Shrink Rap*

Can Happiness Lead To Suicide? Confusing Correlation With Causation?


On Tara Parker-Pope’s NY Time Well Blog, she tells us that in places where people are the happiest, for example Denmark & Sweden, for example, have the highest happiness ranks, and the highest suicide rates. This is perplexing.

And apparently, the various United States are also ranked. New Jersey, where I grew up, is the 47th happiest state– surprising given Full Serve gasoline, good pizza, and beaches. You were looking for something more out of life? Also it has the 47th suicide rate, so the miserable apparently tough it out.

Ms. Parker-Pope writes:

After analyzing the data, the researchers found a relationship between overall happiness and risk of suicide. In general, states with high levels of life satisfaction had higher suicide rates, according to the report, which has been accepted for publication in The Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization.
“Perhaps for those at the bottom end, in a way their situation may seem worse in relative terms, when compared with people who are close to them or their neighbors,’’ said Stephen Wu, associate professor of economics at Hamilton College. “For someone who is quite unhappy, the relative comparison may lead to more unhappiness and depression.”

Dr. Wu noted that other studies have found that people react differently to low income or unemployment depending on how common it is in their community. “If a lot more other people around them are unemployed, it doesn’t seem so devastating,’’ he said.

I’m not sure one idea leads to another. Could there be another factor here? How do suicide rates correlate with the availability of mental health professionals, for example? Or with the price of chocolate in a give region? And how happy is my state?

*This blog post was originally published at Shrink Rap*

What Medical Condition Is The Most Costly To Employers?

Ok…here’s a brain teaser.  What medical condition is the most costly to employers?  I’ll give you a hint.  It is also a medical condition that is likely to go unrecognized and undiagnosed by primary care physicians.

If you guessed depression you are correct. If you mentioned obesity you get a gold star since that comes in right behind depression for both criteria…at least in terms of cost and the undiagnosed part.

Four out of every ten people at work or sitting in the doctor’s waiting room suffer from moderate to severe depression.  Prevalence rates for depression are highest among women and older patients with chronic conditions.  Yet despite its high prevalence and costly nature, depression is significantly under-diagnosed (<50%) and under-treated by physicians.

For employers, the cost of depression cost far exceeds the direct costs associated with its diagnosis and treatment    As the graphic above indicates, the cost of lost productivity for on the job depressed workers (Presenteeism) and lost time for depressed workers that are absent from the job (Absenteeism) far exceed the cost of cost of treatment (medical and medication cost).

Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Mind The Gap*

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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