Bill Maher has an ax to grind with big pharma. On Friday’s Real Time, Maher spoke with mental health advocate Patrick J. Kennedy about how the pharmaceutical industry is forcing unnecessary drugs on people.
Presidential candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have called for more mental health services in the wake of Oregon’s Umpqua Community College shooting, but many recent mass shooters were being treated for mental illness with prescription drugs, Maher said.
Mass shooters like Charleston’s Dylan Roof, Isla Vista’s Elliot Rodger, Sandy Hook Elementary School’s Adam Lanza, Aurora’s James Holmes, and Columbine shooter Eric Harris were taking anti-anxiety drugs such as Xanax, Celexa, Zoloft, Klonopin, and Luvox, Maher said.
Maher then said the industry is helping get young people hooked on prescription drugs.
“There are four million teenagers who are on either ADHD drugs or they are on antidepressant drugs,” Maher said. “I think the gateway drug for kids is [prescription drugs].”
Kennedy, Rhode Island’s former eight-term U.S. representative who worked on mental health legislation with his late father Sen. Ted Kennedy, agreed that the pharmaceutical industry is partly responsible for pushing drugs, but cautioned against blaming the users of prescription drugs.
“The pharma companies definitely have a lot to be blamed for in terms of over-promotion,” Kennedy said. “But the notion that anybody taking one of these medications is to be blamed for taking them is also wrong.”
Maher said the user is not to blame, but rather the pharmaceutical industry, the doctors, and the parents for pushing unnecessary drugs on people. Kennedy found Maher’s view problematic.
“Pharma has got its problems,” Kennedy said. “But the end result of having this attitude is that a lot people don’t continue to take their medications when they really need it and their brain’s demand that they need it.”
Panelist Andrew Sullivan, a former editor of The New Republic, said Maher was marginalizing depressed people who need drugs for treatment.
“I just want to push back on this idea that the treatment for depression is somehow wrong or a con,” Sullivan said.
Maher said that treating people with drugs isn’t wrong, but that drugs are being given to people who might not need them.
“It’s not wrong, but it’s overdone,” Maher said. “Maybe the kid is just a kid. Maybe he doesn’t have ADHD. Maybe he’s just a boy.”
Maher’s claims are lent weight by a 2010 Michigan State University study, which claimed 900,000 children have been misdiagnosed with ADHD because teachers falsely report seeing symptoms in younger children.
“As the mother of boys, maybe he has ADHD,” said panelist and foreign policy analyst Anne-Marie Slaughter. “Not all boys — by any means — but I have two boys and I think there are plenty of boys who are really helped by ADHD medication.”
Sullivan said there are people, like his bipolar mother, who rely on the pharmaceutical industry for treating their diseases.
“One of the most miraculous things that have happened is the development of pharmaceuticals to treat various illnesses,” Sullivan said. “Can’t it be overdone? Yes. But is it a massive advantage to living in the 21st century? Absolutely.”
Maher said that he isn’t criticizing the medical benefits of drugs, but rather how the industry is run.
“In the pharmaceutical industry they are not developing new drugs that we need, like antibiotics, because the antibiotics we have are starting to not work. Because there’s no money in it,” Maher said. “They want the drugs that people take every goddamn day — the Lipitors — and people who need drugs every day… I don’t know, maybe there’s a better way to address that problem?”
Watch Real Time With Bill Maher’s Overtime segment below.
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