Sunday, September 18, 2011

Xanax, the Perfect Drug: No Cure, Addiction, and a Lifetime of Sales

The history of the drug Xanax (alprazolam) provides a perfect example of how a drug company, Upjohn at the time, can foist a dangerous drug on an unsuspecting public and medical community. Upjohn had stumbled upon the perfect drug: it provides no cure, it is highly addictive, and it actually makes the condition it is presumed to treat worse if taken over time. This absolutely guarantees a supply of customers forever. This is a business model that the drug lords in Columbia know very well.

The New York Times carried an article titled: Abuse of Xanax Causes a Clinic to Halt Supply. It describes a community mental health center, Seven Counties Services, that was so overwhelmed by people demanding or pleading for Xanax that it had to turn off the spigot and say "no more."

Xanax is a member of a family of drugs called benzodiazepines. It is also now available in generic form under its chemical name alprazolam.

"While the patients at Seven Counties are mostly poor, experts say the appeal of Xanax cuts across socioeconomic lines. Alprazolam was the eighth most prescribed drug in the nation last year, according to SDI, a data firm that tracks drug sales. Even more than the figures suggest, Xanax has become part of the popular lexicon, as well known as a panic antidote as Prozac is for depression. "

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year reported an 89 percent increase in emergency room visits nationwide related to nonmedical benzodiazepine use between 2004 and 2008. And here in Kentucky, the combination of opiate painkillers and benzodiazepines, especially Xanax, is common in fatal overdoses, according to the state medical examiner."

The intention is to wean people off of Xanax by substituting a less addictive form of a benzodiazepine, and eventually weaning them off of that also.

"’The literature strongly suggests there are lots of really good ways to treat panic and anxiety disorders without using this particular medication,’ Dr. Hedges said. ‘And the risk to the community, if we continue to use this medication, is very high’."

"Xanax poses a particular risk for abuse and withdrawal, doctors say, because its effects are felt almost immediately, but last only a few hours. Users often quickly want more, experts say, and as their tolerance builds, they want increasingly higher doses.’

"Dr. Hedges said that while Seven Counties bore some blame for prescribing Xanax in the first place, many patients initially got it from primary care doctors. Alprazolam is one of the three most-prescribed controlled substances in Kentucky...."

Xanax has much the same response that narcotics provide, so it is not hard to see why people might succumb to it and why sales would skyrocket. Given what we know of the pharmaceutical industry, it is also easy to see why Upjohn would have worked so hard to bring this monster to market. What is astonishing is that the FDA was aware of all its potential for harm and approved it anyway.

Robert Whitaker writes extensively of Xanax in his book: The Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America. He uses Xanax as an example of how drug companies, medical professionals, and the FDA conspire to make money from the suffering of the public.

Whitaker provides this graphic illustrating the known clinical response to Xanax before it was approved by the FDA.

One should be aware that Upjohn tried to bias these results by including within the placebo users those who were already suffering withdrawal symptoms from having used benzodiazepines. Even taking the data at face value, after taking medications for 8 weeks, the drug is no better than a placebo. The placebo takers have benefits that continue after drug or placebo are gradually removed, but those who have taken Xanax have symptoms that return and have become even worse than when they began the study. As Whitaker points out:

"In sum, at the end of fourteen weeks, the drug-exposed patients were worse off than the placebo group: they were more phobic, more anxious, more panic stricken, and doing worse on a ‘global scale’ that assessed overall well being. Forty-four percent had been unable to get off the drug, on their way to a lifetime of addiction."

This data predicts the exact result that is observed in the quoted article. Note the date when this data was published: 1988. Upjohn and those who purchased the rights to market this drug have had twenty years of enormous profits for selling something that is essentially a fraud.

One has come to expect unethical and criminal activity from drug companies. The saddest part of this sad tale is the complicity of the medical community and the FDA. For a few dollars it is easy to find medical "authorities" who will put their names on whatever the drug companies write. For a few dollars more they will roam the country convincing doctors that the drug is the greatest thing imaginable. The FDA often views its role as that of helping drug companies get their product to market in a timely manner. Such is the result of a non-regulatory mentality: the very agency that is supposed to protect us is aiding and abetting those who would harm us.

1 comment:

  1. Xanax is effective medicine but it is not good to be addicted to Xanax. Not all but some people abuse with Xanax. Addiction of Xanax will impact every aspect of a person's life from employment and relationships.
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