David Healy, the Sharp Historian of Psychiatry

David Healy is one of the most critical and authoritative voices against the practices of pharmaceutical companies, mainly in the psychiatric field. Their denunciations in this respect generate important questions.

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David Healy is part of that group of doctors and psychiatrists who are involved in noting the cracks that are present in both medicine and psychiatry. In particular, it has joined the voices that point to the abuses of pharmaceutical companies and the significant changes that this has introduced in medical practice.

Currently, David Healy is a professor of psychiatry at the University of Bangor in the United Kingdom. He has training as a doctor, psychiatrist, psychopharmacologist and researcher. He is the author of more than 150 articles that were reviewed by the scientific community and 200 others published in specialized journals. Likewise, he is the author of about twenty books on medical topics.

“Medicine, as we know it, is at the door of death.”

– David Healy-

One of his most controversial and successful works at the same time is Pharmageddon. There he makes a detailed analysis of the history of psychiatry and presents disturbing evidence about the failures of the pharmaceutical industry in this field. In short, most of his work is dedicated to prove that medicine ceased to be a science at the service of humanity, to become a millionaire business that many benefit.

The subject of patents, according to David Healy

One of the issues that David Healy questions harshly is that of medical patents. During the nineteenth century and much of the twentieth, the medical community deplored the existence of patents, because they took medicine to the field of economic interests. A patent is a right of exploitation over a good. By patenting medicines, they automatically become objects that enter into the logic of supply and demand, precisely because they would be “goods to be exploited”.

In 1922, for example, Lilly tried to patent insulin. However, the medical community expressed a strong rejection of this action and for that reason it did not achieve it. Something similar happened with Jonas Salk, who declined his intention to patent the polio vaccine, for similar reasons.

From the 60s, in several countries of the world patents of medicines began to be the daily bread. Pharmaceutical companies with patented products then exercise a monopoly over certain medicines. They control their price, their distribution and, obviously, their production. Although this has been nuanced a bit, the scheme remains the same.

The point is that this has made pharmaceuticals and medicine fall into the logic of the market: sell more, obtain the best profits and make the business as profitable as possible. The consequences have been disastrous, particularly in what has to do with psychiatric medicines.

David Healy and his investigations

David Healy has published a significant number of articles pointing out that antidepressants, particularly SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) contribute to suicidal ideation in depressed patients. This group of medicines belong to some very famous as Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft. Healy has insisted that their labels should warn about this.

On the other hand, David Healy showed in detail how it was that the drug thalidomide, a sleeping pill, caused a disaster in 1962. More than 10,000 children were born with malformations due to the intake of it. This led to some changes, but Healy considers that these do not attack in depth what led to that tragedy.

For David Healy, many psychiatric medications cause serious harm. Patients do not know because there is no way to warn them of their true adverse effects. That concealment is deliberate and is also complemented by false investigations and publications.

Unethical practices

One of the most worrisome aspects of David Healy’s denunciations is the existence of “ghost writings”. They are publications of dubious origin, that apparently are subscribed by experts. Healy himself was a victim of that practice.

At a meeting to promote the Effexor antidepressant he was presented with a draft article for him to subscribe to. Healy read it and made two notes in front of what the text said: one, that there was no evidence that this medicine was better than others of its kind. The other, that its intake could generate suicidal tendencies.

In this case, the Wyeth company, which owns the medication, published the article as if its author were David Healy and omitted its annotations.

On the other hand, there is ample evidence that the authors of the DSM carry out studies financed by pharmaceutical companies. The same goes for some sectors of WHO. This constitutes a conflict of interest, which is not declared. David Healy has, of course, many detractors. Even so, as in the case of other similar researchers, no one has scientifically refuted their conclusions. Nor has he been sued by any pharmaceutical company.