The Food and Drug Administration in August rejected claims that the popular anti-depressant drug Prozac is connected to murder, suicide, and other illnesses. The decision followed a year-long campaign by the Church of Scientology - a longtime opponent of psychiatry and psychiatric drugs - to ban U.S. sales of the drug, manufactured by Eli Lilly & Co.
The FDA found that the Citizens Commission for Human Rights, a Scientology front organization, had not demonstrated any links between suicidal thinking or violent behavior and Prozac, which is expected to achieve some $1 billion in sales to over 4 million people this year. Lilly hailed the FDA action against what it called the Scientologists' "campaign of dangerous deception" that is "a menace to the public health as it attempts to frighten patients away." The FDA said that data presented by Scientology "provide no way of distinguishing the role of the patients' underlying medical condition and the role of the drug in causing these suicidal events." Indeed, said the FDA, "depression itself is highly associated with suicide. . . [and] assertions that Prozac leads depressed patients to obsess more about suicide than depressed patients not on the drug cannot be substantiated."
The National Mental Health Association has said that Prozac is an extremely useful anti-depressant. And the American Psychiatric Association said the FDA had "chosen science over sensationalism," and that "it is depression, the illness, which kills by causing suicide in as many as one in six patients."
Scientology, which treats its members through therapy that has been denounced as quackery by psychiatrists and other doctors, has attacked other drugs and all anti-depressants. (From "Scientologists Fail to Persuade FDA on Prozac," Wall Street Journal, 8/13/91, B1, B3.)
The Scientology attack on Prozac, apart from the studied encouragement of a host of lawsuits asking hundreds of millions in damages against Eli Lilly, has included a massive advertising and public relations campaign involving church leaders doing the talk-show circuit and a fee-based public relations wire service providing information on the issue.
The campaign escalated to unprecedented levels in the wake of the May Time magazine cover story, highly critical of Scientology, with a series of full-page ads - and two full-color booklet inserts - in USA Today promoting Scientology and its founder L. Ron Hubbard and decrying Time and Lilly. The overall campaign, which cost $2 million, seems to have caused Lilly's sales to drop significantly in the U.S.
Remarking on Scientology's use of the media, a Lilly vice president said, "Other groups have known how to market a message. The difference here is that the Scientologists have bottomless pockets and absolutely no regard for facts or the scientific method." Scientology president Heber Jentzsch, for his part, says that the church "couldn't trust the media to get it right" about Scientology's opposition to "the killer drug" so the group used "advocacy advertising" to make its point.
In so doing, Scientology has taken advertising to a level some find disturbing. "It's a new genre, but it's being used increasingly," said Rance Crain, editor-in-chief of Advertising Age. Advertising is being used in ways it was never intended to be used. There is a real danger here that it is going to weaken the efficacy and believability of all advertising. It concerns a lot of us." (From "Scientologist campaign shakes drug firm, advertising industry," by Michael Tackett, Chicago Tribune, 8/15/91, 17, 20.)
Ex-Scientologist Being Helped by Prozac
A former personal aide to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard has come forward to say that Prozac and therapy have finally stopped the depression and suicidal ideation from which she had suffered since 1976, despite treatment by Scientology methods. Hana Whitfield, a South African-born nurse who came to this country in the mid-'60s after being introduced to Scientology, told the Psychiatric Times, "I have to speak out. The Scientologists choose the most prominent psychiatrists and the most successful drugs to attack. That's why they attacked Ritalin, and that's why they are now attacking Prozac." Mrs. Whitfield said that she had had a mental block toward seeking therapy because of the hatred for psychiatry taught by Hubbard and maintained by his followers. Once the block was broken by reading a book on mind control, she realized, she says, that "Auditors [Scientology counselors] are unlicensed practitioners who don't know they are putting people into trance states and using desensitization techniques that appear to work for a time but then the problem recurs or is replaced by another one."
Mrs. Whitfield, who says she continues to suffer from harassment by Scientology-hired private investigators for her outspokenness, recounted what Hubbard said in her presence about psychiatry. "The gist was that psychiatry was intent on destroying Dianetics [Hubbard's philosophy] and Scientology because it was the Scientology's War only practice that could cure people who had been treated by psychiatrists." (From "Prozac Frees Ex-Scientology Leader from Depression," Psychiatric Times, June 1991, 1, 24-25.)
"The disingenuously named Citizens Commission on Human Rights is a Scientology group at war with psychiatry, its primary competitor, and indeed the one profession that has the wherewithal to identify the way Scientology victimizes vulnerable individuals," said Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration director Frederic Goodwin, M.D., at this year's annual American Psychiatric Association meeting in New Orleans. "Obviously, their big target right now is Prozac, but that's simply a target of opportunity. Ritalin was the previous target. Whenever a drug becomes highly potent in the public mind, they'll go after it. The point to remember is that Scientology's war on psychiatry is part of a larger war on medicine."
Despite this recognition, Cult Awareness Network executive director Cynthia Kisser criticizes the APA for failing to take a critical stand on Scientology and other destructive cults. "Scientology has been able to get a free ride because APA has not taken an official position on mind control," said Kisser. (From "Members React to Campaign Discrediting Prozac, Psychiatry," by Richard Karel, Psychiatric News, 6/7/91, 18, 30.)