The Real Biederman Scandal

After the AHRP Infomail about the ever so gentle rebuke meted out to Drs. Joseph Biederman, Thomas Spencer and Timothy Wilens by Harvard University-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, we received an essay (posted below) from Jacob Azerrad, PhD, a clinical psychologist. 

Dr. Azerrad notes–and we wholeheartedly agree:

" The real scandal perpetrated by Biederman has nothing to do with his consulting fee shenanigans and everything to do with the real life (and death) consequences of the methods now used by modern pediatric psychiatry to tag normal childhood behaviors with diagnoses – like “childhood bipolar” — and the pediatric medical profession’s complicit acquiescence to such malarkey.  It has been nothing short an epic assault on our children by those who prescribe antipsychotic medications as an antidote to normal childhood behavior."

Notwithstanding the notoriety attached to Dr. Joseph Biederman’s dubious diagnostic method– resulting in the unprecedented number of children being "diagnosed" as bipolar; notwithstanding  his irresponsible recommendation for the expansive use of antipsychotics for young children; not to mention the millions of dollars he received covertly from these drugs’ manufacturers, US News lists Joseph Biederman among it "Top Doctors" List-

And why not? Harvard-Massachusetts General Hospital continues to promote Dr. Biederman as an "outstanding" physicians and scholar:

" Dr Biederman has also been selected every year since its inception into the “The Best Doctors in America” compilation of the best physicians in the country.  Dr. Biederman has been a mentor to more than 15 junior investigators in the field.  He is on the editorial board of multiple journals, a reviewer for most of the Psychiatric journals, and has served as a grant reviewer in the Child Psychopathology and Treatment Review Committee of the NIMH.  Dr. Biederman is the author and co-author of close to 600 scientific articles, 650 scientific abstracts, and 70 book chapters."

But if his research methods followed the Risperdal pediatric trial model–whose results, he assured the sponsor (Johnson & Johnson), would "support the safety and effectiveness of risperidone [Risperdal]"– then the scientific integrity of his copious publications would be in doubt.     

Pharmalot reported that "Biederman had received career development grants from the NIH – specifically, the National Institute of Mental Health – between 1994 and 1999 to mentor several individuals as they went about conducting research." According to Dr. Biederman’s CV,  Thomas Spencer, Timothy Wilens, and Jeff Bostic had been  aspiring researchers mentored by him.

A mentor is supposed to be a role model for junior faculty: he is expected  to inculcate exemplary professional and ethical standards.

Evidence uncovered in documents brought to light during the course of litigation, showed that the mentor and his disciples unconscionably promoted hazardous drugs for children on behalf of drug manufacturers while wrapped in the Harvard academic mantle of respectability.

  Vera Sharav 

  The Real Biederman Scandal

  By Jacob Azerrad, PhD

Splashed across the front page of the July 2nd Boston Globe was word that Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University had “sanctioned” psychiatrist Dr. Joseph Biederman for failing to follow conflict of interest reporting policies at both institutions.

 Sanctions? Conflict of interest?  Failure to report?  Ho hum.  How is this news – especially in Massachusetts?

 The real scandal perpetrated by Biederman has nothing to do with his consulting fee shenanigans and everything to do with the real life (and death) consequences of the methods now used by modern pediatric psychiatry to tag normal childhood behaviors with diagnoses – like “childhood bipolar” — and the pediatric medical profession’s complicit acquiescence to such malarkey.  It has been nothing short an epic assault on our children by those who prescribe antipsychotic medications as an antidote to normal childhood behavior

 The result: a generation of parents looking for — and given access to — quick fixes for run-of-the-mill behavior issues, drugged out toddlers prescribed into submission, and drug companies whose top class of drug by revenue ($14.5 billion in 2009) is antipsychotics.  Drugs like Risperdal, Trileptal, and Clonidine are among those which fall into this class and the long term effect of their use in toddlers is dangerously unknown.  Their immediate side effects, however, are well documented and include drooling, ticks and excessive weight gain. 

 Many remember Rebecca Riley, the Hull, MA, toddler whose death in 2004 made headlines.  But she is merely the tip of the iceberg.  According to the New York Times from 1993 through 2008, 1,207 children who were given Risperdal suffered serious problems, including 31 who died.  Among the deaths was a nine-year-old who suffered a fatal stroke 12 days after starting therapy with Risperdal. 

 Why is this happening? Because overmedicating kids is a symptom of modern parenting.  We love our kids when they behave badly, then we drug them by the millions into “good behavior.”

 Could the real cause behind the bad behavior be that the child is for the first time becoming self-aware, and exerting his or her independence by saying "No" and "you are not the boss of me"?  Could they simply be kids with a backbone who just want to grow up?  And when their independence is restricted, the child discovers that having a tantrum might get him what he wants. 

 

Rather than view their behavior as the result of a problem that needs medicating, could it just be a healthy striving to be more grown-up and independent?

 

A parent’s job is not to nurture negative toddler behaviors by way of talk therapy, but to teach their child what it really means to be grown-up.  A grown-up is caring, handles disappointment calmly, and has self-control, does not hit, bite, or throw things in anger.

But, parents are taught to reward bad behavior with more attention – and that’s nonsense.  Many of the most popular child-rearing books repeatedly urge parents to hold, soothe, comfort, and talk to the child who bites, screams, throws, breaks things, or otherwise behaves in obnoxious, infantile ways.  Commonsense and truckload of research argue solidly against this practice.  Yet, these experts seems to be unaware of the well-established fact that children do what gets noticed, that adult attention usually makes behavior occur more likely, not less.  The result is that the “terrible-two” behaviors beget the even worse terrible threes, fours, and fives followed by a diagnosis and then — all too often — pills.

 Once those methods are proven ineffective, after years of their use and endless therapy – here comes Biederman and his pills.  And from his ivory tower, Biederman makes the pills acceptable.

 It used to be that children once had discipline; they now have a diagnosis.

 One million children have been diagnosed with this new and controversial diagnosis – “childhood bipolar.”  And one million children are being treated for “childhood bipolar” disorder and more and more at younger and younger ages.

 The real scandal isn’t Biederman’s failure to report potential conflict.  Let him keep his money.  The real scandal is that once reputable institutions are now linked to the enabler whose imprimatur and pills have bailed out the failed theories of child behavior which do more harm than good.  

  Jacob Azerrad, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, in private practice in Lexington, Massachusetts.  He is the author of From Difficult to Delightful in Just 30 Days (McGraw Hill) and Anyone Can Have a Happy Child (Warner Books.)  He has served on the faculty of the University of Virginia Medical School and University of Virginia.  He interned at The Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Boston.  He has appeared in several media outlets including Parents Magazine, Psychology Today and The Boston Globe as well as numerous radio and television programs.