Culling the $$$ Evidence: National Alliance for Mental Illness

Upon receipt of a letter from Sen. Chuck Grassley, requesting disclosure of NAMI drug industry funding sources,
NAMI’s executive director, Michael Fitzpatrick, sent out notice to NAMI supporters, stating:  “NAMI does not engage in product promotion, endorsement, licensure or certification of any product, service or program owned by a corporate sponsor.”

However, as documented by Philip Dawdy (Furious Seasons ) that claim is false: on December 21, 2006, in response to a press release put out by Johnson & Johnson promoting Invega, its replacement for its mega profitable neuroleptic (antipsychotic) Risperdal, Fitzpatrick using his title, “Executive Director, National Alliance on Mental Illness,”  joined J & J in praising the company’s new drug:

“We are pleased that innovative delivery technologies are being applied to new treatments for schizophrenia. New and efficacious treatment options, like INVEGA, provide significant opportunities for more people with schizophrenia to manage their disease as they work with their treatment teams to live more fulfilling and productive lives.”

Phil Dawdy commented in his blog: “Now, what the hell is the ED of NAMI doing in a company press release much less mouthing the product name in all-caps?”

The answer is to be found when Sen. Grassley lays bare NAMI’s multi-million $$$$$$$ intake from psychotropic drug manufacturers.

Alisson Bass , author of Side Effects, notes on her blog: "The fact that NAMI is heavily dependent on drug company money is old news, but Grassley’s investigation, first reported in Bloomberg News, may shed a welcome spotlight on an lobbying organization that masquerades as grassroots."

Evelyn Pringle lists some of the already reported $$$$$$$ from pharma that bought NAMI support. She also reports that according to NAMI’s 2006 Tax Form 990, Michael Fitzpatrick, was paid a salary of $212,281 and another $10,090 in employee benefit contributions and deferred compensation plans.

In her book, Side Effects, Alison Bass revealed that drug company contributions have always been a substantial portion of NAMI’s revenues.

She reported that Jim McNulty, the president of NAMI from 2002 to 2004, failed to disclose that he was being paid thousands of dollars from drug companies for promoting their products to NAMI members and others at various speaking engagements.

“In a particularly intriguing twist,” she writes on her website blog, “McNulty laundered this drug company money through a state chapter of NAMI.”  Bass further explains:

“This is how the scheme worked, according to McNulty himself and others in the know. He would be paid thousands of dollars to speak about the benefits of various antidepressants — McNulty himself suffered from depression — and rather than pay him directly, companies such as Eli Lilly, the maker of Prozac, Pfizer, the maker of Zoloft, and GlaxoSmithKline, which made Paxil, would give his speaking fees to the Rhode Island chapter of NAMI, which would then cut McNulty a check.”

Bass reports, "When I asked McNulty why he was paid this way, he said, "Paperwork. It was simpler that way."

 "McNulty, of course, never disclosed these conflicts to his constituents or to the NIH (which appointed him to sit on influential advisory boards that rendered opinions about the safety and efficacy of the drugs he was being paid to promote)."

The drugs promoted by NAMI officials carry debilitating adverse effects–including cardiac deaths, metabolic dysfunction, diabetes and hyperglycemia–constituting the most hazardous drugs in pharmacopoeia prescribed for non-fatal conditions. Bass reports:

"NAMI continues to receive hefty contributions from the drug industry but it no longer reveals the specific donors in its annual report, published online.So Grassley’s team has asked the organization to disclose the specifics of its funding so that people with mental illness and their families can see for themselves how conflicted this advocacy group is. At FDA hearings over the years held to examine the safety and effectiveness of antidepressants like Prozac and Paxil, NAMI was always quick to come to the defense of these drugs. And NAMI opposed the black box warnings the FDA required drug makers to put on the labels of antidepressants in 2004 about their increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Now that Grassley’s team is looking into NAMI’s books, perhaps the group’s members — people with mental illness and their families — will cast a more skeptical eye on its credibility."

  posted by Vera Hassner Sharav