Saturday, May 16, 2009

No More Mr Nice Guy: Andy Behrman is a Con Artist and We Are His Marks

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.

Instead ...

Enough. Time to start packing. Tomorrow, I'll be in San Francisco listening to smart people. It can't come soon enough.


wendy said...

Thank you for this article. Being a newbie to this world of mental health, meds, or no meds - it seems the right and wrong anwers swing past me so quickly I can hardly grasp the issue let alone what everyone is talking about!
This post set it down simply and to the point and I greatly appreciate your "smarts" in separating the truth from bullshit.

Kiley said...

Excellent post John...I always enjoy reading your thoughts on issues of this nature!

Patrick said...

Excellent. Just got your book in the mail, will be diving into it soon!

John McManamy said...

Many thanks, Wendy. I hope that as a "newbie" you are doing well in managing your illness.

Right and wrong answers swing past me very quickly, as well. Simple guideline, which is a recurring theme in "Knowledge is Necessity": No one owns the truth. Anyone who gives you that impression needs to be looked at skeptically.

In mental health, virtually all parties vastly overstate their positions. This includes drug companies, psychiatrists, researchers, therapists, complementary treatment practitioners, patient and family advocates, antipsychiatrists, and on and on.

Facts are constantly changing; we see old facts in new ways. We're the blind men touching a leg or a trunk and imagining tree or snake instead of elephant.

I remember what it was like to be a newbie, myself. A major reason I started writing about mental illness 10 years ago was to help newbies like yourself.

It's very encouraging that you're putting in the work. My two words of advice: 1) Be skeptical 2) Whatever opinions you happen to form, they are bound to change as new facts emerge, so keep an open mind.

In the meantime, welcome to Knowledge is Necessity. I value your wisdom here just as much as an "oldbie," so don't be afraid to speak up.

Airey said...

Hi John,
I'm also a newbie to your blog and love your work it's great to be able to read about important matters when it comes to mental health and what's going on out there in the world.
As for Abilify when I asked my psychiatrist about it months ago before all the "Andy Controversy" he called it "poison" and refused to let me try it. So perhaps some of his other patients have had similar side effects to what Andy now finally is describing.
Keep up the good work I will definately be ordering your book and subscribing to your blog!

John McManamy said...

Many thanks, Airey, and from an old newbie (me) welcome to a new newbie (you).

Re Abilify, the med may indeed be poison in the context of your own individual makeup. Newbies often ask about meds they may have heard other patients talk about, but which may not suit their own specific circumstances.

Who knows? Your pdoc could very well have prescribed Abilify to the next patient he saw. It's not the med. It's the patient and the circumstances PLUS the med.

Great having you here, and keep commenting.

herb said...

Hi John,

Thanks for your thoughts and take on Andy. I’m a little late to your forum but I did share my thoughts about Andy’s newest adventure on Liz Spikol’s forum so I won’t repeat it here.

What I did find somewhat personally amusing is the tremendous slack cut by that hardcore investigative journalist, Phillip Dawdy, who kind of stroked Andy’s little episode and backside.

Lord for bid Andy had a prefix of “Dr.” before his name I think the Doberman in Dawdy would have tore into his ass for this blatant psychotropic pharmacological deceit. I don’t know of Dawdy’s relationship to Andy but once again I’ll still question Phillip when I previously presented to him a definition of journalism to which he went ballistic upon me and never to ever post on his forum. Maybe the relationship is that Andy actually obtained the big bucks that Dawdy scribes to every now and then he’s entitled to for his alleged outstanding journalism.

I guess to this day Dawdy and I read the facts and muse over certain issues and somehow we rationalize differently and arrive at polarity.

On the other hand I tried to be a little less heavy handed on my take of Andy but line me up on your side of reasoning on the newest of Berhman’s escapades.

As for Pat Riser, Parkinson Disease and a number of other neurological disorders also don’t exist by way of his reasoning nor did a number of celestial bodies exist until the advancement of technology and the equipment. The theories are abundant and eventually the technology and equipment will catch up to correlate the existence of serious mood disorders and until such time we’ll have to diagnose PD, Mood Disorders and other serious neurological disorders via symptomology.


John McManamy said...

Hi, Herb. Absolutely agree, but I do find it totally amusing watching Dawday bend into prezel configurations trying to rationalize Andy's shocking behavior.

Dawdy was performing a similar contortionist act about three years ago when a foretaste of this blew up in relation to a piece Andy wrote for

Re Pat Risser - the sad thing is he is no garden variety antipsychiatrist that reasonable people can easily dismiss. Influential people actually listen to him. Be assured, I will be returning to this topic soon, but right now I'm in San Fran researching smart topics.

Stephen Blau said...

...the relationship is that Andy actually obtained the big bucks that Dawdy scribes to every now and then he’s entitled to for his alleged outstanding journalism.And Lord doesn't he resent that.

John McManamy said...

Hi, Stephen. Wow! You really got me thinking here. I never compared Dawdy and Andy. The irony here is that Andy - by scamming a drug company and lying to his public - was able to break the the dream story about big bad Pharma that Dawdy the "investigative journalist" could not.

Stephen Blau said...

Yeah, I'm sure it sticks in his craw.

One interesting fact that very few would know about is that Andy went snooping around a fairly well known online site for people with mood disorders (you'd know the one I mean, John), asking if anyone had experiences with Abilify and what they thought of it. The penny finally drops, eh?

You might want to search that out, John. I don't know how useful that fact is, though.

Stephen Blau (not the doctor, Steph)

Katherine Stone said...

This story is so awful all the way around. The very IDEA that a pharma company would pay someone to promote a drug after being on it 4 days makes me want to throwup. And the very IDEA that someone would take the money knowing they knew very little about the drug and continue to profit even when it didn't work makes me want to puke. It seems Andy and his Pharma company are perfect for each other.

John McManamy said...

Hey, Katherine. I share your sentiments entirely. These two deserve each other, but in the same circle of hell.

John McManamy said...

Hi, Stephen. Andy prowling websites and forums has been his MO ever since he was promoting Electroboy. I know exactly what you mean.

Gina Pera said...

Great job, John. There's gotta be a place on the Internet for sanity! It's as though these anti-psychiatry militants have nothing else in their lives but to rant on the Internet all day.

One commenter called Dowdy a hardcore investigative journalist. Where's the proof of that, please? I can call myself Queen of England but that doesn't give me the crown.

The "Furious" one's take on Behrman came as no surprise. It's the mutual in-denial pharma-conspiracy theorists club. (Well, Berhman wasn't a conspiracy theorist until bad ol' pharma wouldn't renew his contract. Why they picked such an erratic personality as a spokesperson is beyond me.)

Personally, I don't believe Behrman possesses an ability to recognize the truth. What he recognized was the money and attention, and that's it. I doubt he ever even took the medication.

Gina Pera said...

Katherine, you make a good point.

But consider this: How would you feel if you learned that pharma was monitoring his intake of the medication and reading his doctor's note? That is a much more disturbing idea to me than this company trusting this guy at his word (though that was a pretty foolish idea, it wasn't creepy).

John McManamy said...

Hey, Gina. Consider this an oasis of internet sanity and an "antipsychiatry-free zone." And a warm welcome to a steadily growing reader base who are finding this a place to call home.

"Hardcore investigative journalist" - as in Paris Hilton is an intellectual? There may be areas of his life where Dawdy is hardcore, but journalism isn't one of them.

For the last two years, Dawdy has been telling the world about the great Zyprexa story he has been working on. Am I experencing deja vu? Andy Behrman has been telling us for five years that an Electroboy movie was about to go into production.

To readers: The NY Times about 2 years ago broke a story about how Eli Lilly suppressed evidence of the harmful effects of Zyprexa. Dawdy had nothing to do with bringing the story to light. Ben Carey of the NY Times deserves credit for the story.

Through 2003-2004, I was reporting on scientific studies that found metabolic/diabetes effects with Zyprexa, plus more studies that questioned the efficacy of atypicals over old generation antipsychotics. (This was pre-CATIE.)

By the time the NY Times reported on Eli Lilly's behavior, the Zyprexa issue was old news. By the end of 2005, there was nothing to cover up - there were new warning labels, new advisories, and a host of journal articles, plus enomous publicity from the CATIE studies.

By this time, a drug company behaving badly was not exactly a man-bites-dog story.

herb said...

C’mon John, I’m surprised at you; give credit where credit is due. Dawdy is probably subscribed to every Internet news reader service there is. Who possibly can have the time to read all these news blurbs and then pick and choose what to present. I guess if one isn’t employed it’s a means to kill sometime until the next gig. I’m surprised he only complains about his bad back hurting him after so many hours in front of the computer monitor. I’m also surprised I haven’t yet read of his possible eye strain and sore shoulders from patting himself as much as he does.

I do appreciate him for that service which he offers but hardcore investigative reporter…hmmm? More like “ferret” as in ferreting out or re-reporting the news with his own unique and slanted take on the subject matter. As far as uncovering anything I’ll opine that’s probably his blanket in the morning as he reaches for his first cigarette of the day before campaigning about the ills of psychotropic drugs, psychiatrists and psychiatry. Did I miss something here…are cigarettes good for you…or is that a news story the alleged hardcore investigative journalist missed right under his nose and between his lips?

Ah, I’ll cut him some slack as he tells us he’s prone to do now and again on that point because he hasn’t divulged if the tobacco industry has contracted with him nor has he declared cigarette smoking being good for you; has he?

I apologize to you Gina but my wry sense of humor didn’t come through as I intended. I should have properly stated “alleged” hardcore investigative journalist.

I often question whether my thinking is out of line. I guess not from what I’ve been reading both here and elsewhere. Thanks to y’all, I guess I won’t have a need to seek a therapist. Y’all cured me without psychotropic drugs which should please Dawdy and his worshippers.


John McManamy said...

Hey, Herb. Laughing my ass off. Dawdy the re-reporter - and he still manages to get the re-reports wrong.

To readers: Herb has been savaged by Dawdy and his Mini Me's. The personal attacks on Herb have been unconscionable and outrageous.

Trust me, Herb. You are not only not alone, you are in the majority. We all see through Dawdy. He's a total disgrace who is not only antipsychiatry but anti-patient.

Feel free to keep posting.

Gina Pera said...

Hi Herb,

No apologies necessary! Enjoy your posts....

It's always important to get validation for your perceptions when you've been "gaslighted" by the clueless but relentless. ;-)

Gina Pera said...

Thanks for clarifying that Zyprexa history, John. I kept reading D's blog, wondering what all the fuss was about.

John McManamy said...

Hey, Gina. The Dawdy Zyprexa "story" = The emperor has no clothes.

Michael Corbin said...

One more Pharma boy out there destroying the credibility of advocates and putting a blight on the face of this illness. I do appreciate the Abilify might be the Dr's next script comment. I've known quite a few people that it has been great for. In my experience it can either be a life saver, or throw you for a wicked ride, not much middle ground.
Thanks John

John McManamy said...

Hi, Michael. Absolutely. Andy stinks like week-old fish. I have run into people where Abilify has been a godsend. Similarly, it works badly for others. Similar story with other meds. We're all unique.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to make a comment on Abilify and Zyprexa. I've been on a relatively high dose of Zyprexa for over ten years, and have suffered absolutely no side effects - none. Frankly, I credit it with saving my life (along with my pdoc) during a few really intense melt-downs. With respect to Abilify, I think it cracked a serious depression, but unfortunately when the dose was doubled, it may have been what threw me into a horrible mania. I will have to wait and see how long it will take to get back to my 8-year stability, and then we'll know what actually caused the mania. I am satisfied that my pdoc knows what is best, because he respects and responds to my input, rather than just drugging me to keep me under control.

John McManamy said...

Hi, Anonymous. Thanks for shedding light on taking meds. Antipsychotics get a bad rap, and I strongly suspect a lot of it has to do with lazy pdocs overdosing their patients. But, as you pointed out, things can go wrong even with good pdocs and smart patients.

Unfortunately, there is no fail-safe technical manual for taking meds. But thanks for giving credit where credit is due.

It's so good to hear the voice of reason from you, especially after having to put up with hysterical liars like Andy Behrman.

John McManamy said...


You were doing fine till you violated my policy for submitting comments. Read the comments policy posted in the right column, modify your post accordingly, and resubmit.

Anonymous said...

I have known Andy for several years since meeting him at a DBSA conference in NJ. We became friends. He helped me thru the darkest period in my life, had it not been his answering to my emails in my worst depression ( after a manic run that put me in legal trouble) I dont know what i would have done. He was a person out there who cared, ( who wasnt biased like my family and friends) I had met him once. Im in NJ, hes in LA. He offered to testify in my legal matters. He directed me to resources out there. He spoke to my lawyer and wrote a letter for me. He never asked me for a dime. This is the Andy I know. I'm doing really well now for almost 5 years and i keep in touch with Andy. That's my Andy story. Thanks