Saturday, May 16, 2009
Tomorrow, I head off to San Francisco to the American Psychiatric Association's annual meeting, which I attend every year as a journalist. There, I have listened to talks given by three Nobel Laureates, plus many many more by Nobel-quality scientists.
These are smart people who have dedicated their lives to improving ours. Believe me, after the week I have had here, I can't wait to get to San Francisco.
It started on Tuesday when antipsychiatry advocate Pat Risser posted this as part of a longer comment to a blog piece of mine:
"Despite all the time, money and effort spent, there is no actual proof of mental illness. There are no biochemical markers, no biological tests, no hard evidence at all, to 'prove' the existence of 'mental illness.'"
Pat Risser is a veteran of the psychiatric survivor movement from the seventies, and we owe his generation an enormous debt of gratitude for their service to our community. But, in my opinion, they are standing in the way.
Let's put it this way: If the gay community had not shaken itself out of its denial back in the eighties and kept insisting that AIDS didn't exist, how much money do you think would have gone into AIDS research and treatment?
Anyway, I started researching the issue for this blog when on Thursday the Wall Street Journal ran a front page story about a sweetheart deal gone sour between "Electroboy" Andy Behrman and Bristol-Myers Squibb.
According to the WSJ, BMS paid Andy $400,000 over two years as a celebrity patient spokesperson for Abilify. Nothing wrong with that, had the drug actually worked for Andy. But Andy had only been on the med for four days when he said in a promotional video that "since I switched to Abilify, almost all the side effects have gone away ... In fact, all of them have gone away."
Then in a live speech: "If Abilify had been available to me then, I might have avoided electroshock therapy."
Trouble was, soon after taking Abilify Andy developed side effects (akasthesia and mental sluggishness) and had to go off the med. Nevertheless, apparently with the consent of BMS, Andy continued to deliver speeches written by BMS. He was paid $40,000 per reading.
(The image you see is a photoshopped cover of BP magazine, featuring Andy and what used to be a pile of books. The "sold out" slash is from the original cover.)
The same day the WSJ story broke, a mass email from Andy arrived with this heading: "Andy Behrman Tells the Truth," with the message to read all about it in his soon-to-be-released tell-all book.
That did it. Forget about Pat Risser. Time to blog about Andy Behrman, which I posted on Thursday. The piece concluded with:
"Um, Andy. I think I'm detecting an anomaly in the truth-reality continuum here. Here is where I'm confused: If you are telling the truth now, precisely what the hell were you telling four years ago?"
That same day, Andy commented to my blog, but did not answer my question. Rather, he curiously made himself out to be a hero for disclosing that he turned down an additional $50,000 from BMS.
Nevertheless, on Friday I decided to run Andy's comments as a blog post.
This morning, I viewed his short video, entitled: "Abilify Kills." Says Andy in the video: "I stopped taking Abilify because I didn't want to experience the final side effect - death."
Okay, Andy. No more Mr Nice Guy.
According to Andy's own account in "Electroboy," as described by the WSJ: "He spent time as a stripper, swindled friends and family out of thousands of dollars for a film project he never completed, and ran an art forgery scheme that cost him five months in prison."
The subtitle of Andy's book is "A Memoir of Mania," but could well have been "A Memoir of How I Blew Cocaine Up My Nose."
Was it the mania? Was it the cocaine? Who knows? But one thing we know for certain, Andy's word counts for nothing. He's been a con artist all his life, and in true con artist fashion, he has never taken responsibility for his actions. Rather, he is an expert in reframing events to cast himself as the hero: first for disclosing his illness in Electroboy, and now for blowing the whistle on Pharma ...
He also relishes the victim role: first as a puppet at the mercy of his alleged mania, and now as the puppet caught in an evil Pharma conspiracy.
In true con artist fashion, Andy views people as marks, easy targets: First, all those he defrauded in his life as a Manhattanite on the make. Then a patient community looking for a bipolar hero. Then a low IQ drug company with money to burn together with a patient community that trusted Pharma. And, last but not least, a patient community that has turned on Pharma.
Finally, in true con artist fashion, Andy shows no remorse for his true victims, the people who believed him. "No side effects ... Abilify kills." How many patients have been harmed as a result? First those who never should have gone on Abilify. Now those who never should go off.
I wish I could say we have seen the last of Andy, but he happens to be a brilliant self-promoter. I'm sure his book will be a best-seller and that his "Electroboy" movie proposal - the one he's been telling us for the last five years is about to go into production any month now - will finally get green-lighted.
Ironically, we inherited both Andy and Abilify from Pat Risser's generation. Had our community actually been blessed with smart advocates - like those AIDS heroes who demanded and got serious funding - we might actually have much better treatments right now.
Enough. Time to start packing. Tomorrow, I'll be in San Francisco listening to smart people. It can't come soon enough.