Thinking beyond the headlines


It would be fascinating to know just what role mental health medication played in the family murder suicide tragedy that unfolded in Dunedin recently.

There was one brief mention in the media that father Edward Livingstone had become unstable after a recent change in his medication. Then no more reference to it. Instead, the media fodder was the angle of parents who go bad, and breach protection orders.

Well, sure, that had a part to play. Livingstone and his ex were clearly at odds. But what about the medication?

Ten years ago, Investigate published the story “Aropax Nation”, describing the horrendous side effects of Paxil, Prozac and a range of similar anti-depressants routinely doled out like candy by GPs as instant fix-its.

Suicidal tendencies, homicidal tendencies, vicious mood swings are among the dangerous effects of those medications, particularly if doses are changed or the user is trying to go cold turkey.

In my career as a journalist I have covered or witnessed incoming overseas coverage of more stories about parents killing their children than I care to remember. Frequently, mental health medication was alleged to have played a large part. Just as frequently, authorities quickly swept that angle under the mat, while police prosecutors played up the alleged criminal intent and played down any suggestion of “the drugs made me do it”.

But here’s how one woman described six weeks on Aropax:

“Climbing the walls, fighting the urge to kill yourself, fighting the urge to kill somebody else, feeling nauseous with the most horrific dreams I’ve ever experienced in my life.”

What was going through Edward Livingstone’s head when he used a shotgun to open fire on his two precious children asleep in their beds, aged nine and six?

To some extent, the mental health industry are today’s version of wild west snake oil salesmen. The global pharmaceutical giants who control medication of the entire planet make billions every time a new disorder is diagnosed and their drugs are chosen to treat it.

You might think, because you trust your doctor, that these medications have been properly tested for safety and side effects. Your doctor might think, because he or she trusts the peer-reviewed science that their entire profession rests on, the same thing. Sadly, both you and your doctor might be mugs if you believe the pharmaceutical giants have your best interests at heart.

In the past three years, the big drug makers have been fined literally billions of dollars for faking test data, selling unsafe medications and skewing safety trials, among other things. But the profits they made from their crimes far exceeded, often by a multiple of ten, the billions in fines that were imposed.

It’s about time our authorities put much more effort into policing these untouchables who produce tainted medicines and tainted food. But that’ll never happen. A $3 billion fine for a $30 billion swindle is lower than the corporate tax rate. The big boys will keep paying their dues, and timebombs caused by faulty medications will keep exploding in the community, and we will all go ‘tut-tut’ – there’s another bad parent for you.

Think beyond the headlines. That’s my tip for 2014.