Thursday, May 14, 2009

Trick Question: Bias in the Media, Andy Behrman, Abilify, And Anomalies in the Truth-Reality Continuum

What is wrong with this sentence?

"In 2004, Bristol-Myers held a retreat for 1,250 sales representatives, to prepare them to market a powerful psychiatric drug for a new use - bipolar disorder."

This sentence appeared in an article on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

Answer: The adjective "powerful" is highly emotive. When you see the word "powerful" in proximity to mention of a drug, you can expect a negative story against the med or the circumstances surrounding it to follow.

We want our prescription meds to be powerful. We want them to work. If you doubt this, next time you're being prepped for surgery, ask for a "weak" anesthetic.

It turns out that aside from the unfortunate adjective, the WSJ turned in stellar work:

The story is about Andy Behrman, author of "Electroboy." In 2004, Bristol-Myers Squibb paid Andy $400,000 as a celebrity patient spokesperson for Abilify. (Editorial sidebar: Fair enough. No one complained when Terry Bradshaw became a Paxil spokesperson.) But, as the WSJ reports, Andy had only been on the drug for four days before being filmed in a promotional video. According to the WSJ, at a company retreat for sales reps:

"A video of Mr. Behrman, a 42-year-old bipolar patient, filled a gigantic screen. He recounted how a Bristol-Myers drug, called Abilify, had changed his life. Unlike other medicines he had tried, Abilify had no side effects, he said. The testimonial drew a standing ovation."

(The image to this blog piece is from BMS's Abilify website, the image of the happy patient the company wishes to promote.)

You can probably figure out what happened next. Andy developed side effects severe enough to cause him to stop taking the drug within a year. Nevertheless, "he continued to talk glowingly about Abilify throughout 2004 and 2005."

In 2006, Andy wrote a piece for about his bad experiences with Abilify. BMS was predictably unhappy. pulled the piece. BMS was running Abilify ads at the time.

Wait, there's more to this. Andy has written a book on his experience, about to be released. Today, in my email box, came a mass mailing from Andy with this heading:

"Andy Behrman Tells the Truth."

In the email, Andy says: "It's time to hold drug makers like BMS accountable for their corrupt practices and harmful products. Just as culpable, if not more so, are the licensed physicians that aid and abet them. Do no harm? I don't think so."

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?


Gina Pera said...

‘We want our prescription meds to be powerful. We want them to work. If you doubt this, next time you're being prepped for surgery, ask for a "weak" anesthetic.’

EXACTLY, John!!! "Powerful" means you're going to read something awful next.

As for the rest of it....reminds me of the docs who don't know how to titrate (or truly even diagnose) and so when they have poor outcomes, they go crying We Wuz Robbed by Big Pharma.

Was Andy even taking the medication? Was he taking it as directed? Was he NOT taking drugs simultaneously (as in street drugs, marijuana, or alcohol)? There's a lot we don't know, including if he returned the 400K to Bristol-Meyers.

Not only did Behrman lie, he has given a black eye to a medication that has, no doubt, helped people who used it properly, when properly prescribed. And he's just fueling the anti-pharma hysteria in select sub-populations.

Beside, I've never heard of the guy. Too bad they couldn't find a real celebrity who'd do it for free. You know, out of altruism. Someone who might actually feel some responsibility for their actions.

Meanwhile, his 15 minutes are up, I hope.

Andy Behrman said...

I'd like to set the record straight. I'd like to explain what was not mentioned in the article in the Wall Street Journal. I'd like to explain that WHILE i was still employed by
Bristol Myers Squibb, I spoke at a DBSA convention in Sacramento and to an audience of hundreds of people and disclosed the fact that I suffered from side effects - - akathasia and cognitive impairment - - from Abilify (and this was at an event at which BMS was a sponsor). But until then, even after I complained about my side effects to my doctor, Dr. Mark Frye, a BMS consultant, I was begged not to discuss my side effects and that "we'll prop you up on other meds until things 'even out.'" They tried. It didn't work. I ultimately told a BMS employee at the time (now at Otsuka) that I suffered from side effects and was no longer taking the drug. I was told that it wasn't "necessary to bring this up." So finally, I spoke up about my situation - - in public - - and then wrote about it - - on - - and BMS made sure that those statements were removed. I was convinced by my own doctor and several BMS employees that it was "normal to have side effects and that there was no reaason to go off Abilify." I disagreed. I finally came off Abilify and went public with the story. I was constantly reminded by more than 15 people managing me, that "it was all fine." I told the truth. I wasn't re-hired. Curiously, even after BMS/Otsuka knew that I had side effects and was NOT on the drug, I was asked to speak - - six months later - - as a successful patient for a 50th Anniversary Celebration for Otsuka in L.A. I was offered $50,000. I turned down the invitation. I was also told that it was "okay" to speak for Otsuka, because it was a separate company from BMS. I have always told the truth about my experience with Abilify. But more importantly, BMS made every effort to cover up the truth. And now, because I'm blowing the whistle on them, they don't even have a real comment, except for, "we didn't know." They knew EVERYTHING. It's curious that my doctor and their medical director, Dr. Mark Frye, is no longer employed by them. I think people will be curious to see his medical records which he kept of my treatment and perhaps to learn more about media training that BMS gave to me. Or to see the speeches that they wrote for me. There's a lot that was not reported in a 3,000 word front page story. But I think the real story here is that companies like BMS not only hide side effects (like akathasia), but do whatever they can do when they see that they spokesman, the guy who launched their big drug, is failingt on it. - - Andy Behrman, LA, CA

John McManamy said...

Hi, Gina. I've met Andy several times, and he's a very charming guy. I don't know if he had any bad habits that would affect his treatments, but I did run into him in Delaware in March or April 2006 (I was living not too far up the road in NJ at the time) where he was the featured speaker at a mental health fair.

Andy's from CA and was on the last leg of at least a 10 or 12 day east coast trip, part of an active speaking/traveling schedule. (I met him in NJ 6 months earlier.) He was also a fairly new father.

Add to that unhealthy road food, not doing your normal recovery routines, different time zone, disrupted sleep, and a zillion and one stresses.

He was clearly beyond exhaustion. I'm not violating his privacy here, as this was a public function.

I know how exhausting these trips are, because two years ago I made the mistake of putting together a two-week east coast road trip (I had only just moved to CA). On my return to San Diego, I came within one neuron of flipping out at Las Vegas airport when I missed a connecting flight at midnight after interminable delays and several nights of very bad sleeps.

I landed in San Diego the next day and somehow managed to pull myself together for a talk I gave that evening. (Same as what Andy managed to do in Delaware). Then I think I slept for a week.

At least I had the option of sleeping. Andy with his family responsibilities and busy work schedule almost certainly didn't.

Anyway, a month or two after he went public with how badly he was doing on the Abilify. No surprise, after seeing him in Delaware.

You can be on the best meds at the right doses with the smartest doctors while doing all the right recovery stuff, but I guarantee all of that is going to be severely put to the test when you travel.

So I think you're right, Gina. Too many variables in this equation to just blame the med.

As to fueling antipsychiatry hysteria, it's already happening. (Check out your favorite blogger. Hint: sounds like "car lot.") Mind you, BMS stinks in this, but someone got paid very good money to dance to their tune, and that someone should not be looked on as a hero.

John McManamy said...

Um, Andy, there is a rather large matzoh ball on the table that you seem to be ignoring, namely that you were the major player in BMS' litany of lies. You could have stopped it anytime. Instead, you collected $400,000.

I hear a lot of blame, here, Andy, but I'm not hearing any responsibility for your actions. Nor am I hearing any remorse for your knowingly misleading the patient community.

Your blowing the whistle now does not make you a hero.

herb said...

Hi Andy,

I’ll still give you credit for a being a very bright guy and extremely adept at marketing yourself. Not too many mood disorder patients are able to draw down the sums of money I’ve read you and your team had negotiated.

But come on…give me a break…how stupid and gullible do you really think we all are?

“It's curious that my doctor and their medical director, Dr. Mark Frye, is no longer employed by them. I think people will be curious to see his medical records which he kept of my treatment and perhaps to learn more about media training that BMS gave to me.” --- Andy Behrman

With your knowledge and intelligence what kind of a statement is that to make. I guess maybe you’re stressed and forgot about the HIPAA regulations. Then again maybe it’s another strategy. After your newest book Dr. Frye releases your information to validate your claims and you institute a multi-million dollar lawsuit against him and anyone else you can hang a dollar sign upon for violation of your confidential and private medical records.

Hey, that just might make for a good third book and a movie trilogy.

Despite all that you’ve gone through most importantly I wish you wellness and remission.


Anonymous said...

Andy Berman is a con-man of the highest order. He is a liar, a cheat, a swindler, he has no moral compass. He lives for the con. As someone I know once said about him: He woos you, then he screws you. He actually went around last year and told at least five people I know that he was going to ask for millions of dollars from BMS when his contract was over to not write a book and do what he just did and if BMS didn't pay him, he would do it all anyway. Now he's running his con/scam like he always does. I cannot believe the WSJ actually ran a story with basically a one-sided source who is a known felon, liar, con-artist and all around sleazy guy. I mean you're taking Andy Berman's word for anything? This is a guy who constantly makes up stories about celebs using products he's the publicist for and has no compunction about feeding those fake lies to the media, who eat it up. He's had this whole thing planned for months if not years. It's all about the pay day for him. BMS were morons to ever hire him. And th e bipolar community sadly has a scumbag as their spokesperson. So very sad. But then again, with andy, it's always all about andy. Finally people are on to him.

Anonymous said...

Same MO here as the Abilify the work, take money, then find a way to say you didn't get what you were supposed to/someone screwed you over, then sue or threaten to sue...

Wow. At least he’s consistent!

BMS Nemesis Andy Behrman Annoyed Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Too
By Jim Edwards | May 20th, 2009 @ 6:15 pm

Professional patient Andy Behrman’s last job as a PR agent for high-end baby clothing store Petit Trésor ended badly. He’s suing the shop for $170,000, claiming owners Nina Takesh and Samantha Winch (pictured) didn’t pay him for the publicity he created for their West Hollywood and Brentwood shops.

Behrman became news in the drug business recently after he tried and failed to extract $7.5 million out of Bristol-Myers Squibb in return for not talking about Abilify, its anti-psychotic drug. Behrman was a paid speaker for Abilify, but he says he lied about suffering from its side effects.

While the suit, filed April 27, is a straightforward tale of allegedly unpaid bills, a look at the publicity that Behrman created for Petit Trésor holds some clues as to why the store may have stopped paying him.

In May 2008, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes‘ lawyers accused the store of falsely claiming that the couple bought $350,000 to $400,000 in baby clothes at the store. The cease-and-desist letter was somehow leaked to TMZ, and Andy Behrman was quoted in the TMZ story on baby Suri’s “outrageously expensive designer Scientoloduds.” Behrman admitted to E! that he communicated with reporters about the apparently non-existent visit by the Cruises. MacLean’s magazine quoted Behrman describing his modus operandi:

“When Tori Spelling goes into Petit Trésor, she knows there will be 10 photographers there because I’m going to call,” he says. Even negative publicity has burnished the store’s celebrity cred. In May, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes thrust the company into headlines with a cease-and-desist letter that complained bogus information had been leaked that they had dropped between US$350,000 and US$400,000 at Petit Trésor in the two years since their daughter had been born, in an “off the record” quote to Life & Style magazine “for the purpose of enhancing [the store's] image and obtaining a commercial advantage.” (Behrman says the number was an estimate of what they’d spent in total, not only at the store.)

Two sources familiar with the episode tell BNET that Behrman’s clients were horrified that the Cruise story was not true.

Behrman is claiming he was promised by Petit Tresor:

1% of gross income
7% equity stake
$22,500 in back fees
$7,500 in commission
For a total of $170,000 in fees.
Looks like BMS dodged a bullet. Behrman and Petit Trésor both declined to comment.

(Download a copy of Berhman’s suit vs. Petit Trésor here.)

May 21 2:49 AM

John McManamy said...

Hey, Anonymous. Is there any limit to this con artist?

Gina Pera said...

You know, I believe that Andy believes what he says is true. That's the nature of denial in mental illness. A person in the throes of it can be very convinced and, thus, convincing.

But I don't believe a word of it.

I also think that BMS was utterly reckless in hiring such a person. Perhaps someone in the marketing department suffers from a similar affliction. In fact, I'd bet money on it.

Ctrygirl said...

Hello John and THANK YOU for reporting on this for us...I was on abilify and had to be taken off it too...the sides were just toooo intense for me, and as for this Andy rep, well he didn't have to take the 400k and yes, deception that leads to others being susceptible to sides when the illness is enough to deal with along with the sides of all the OTHER meds that we take...well that is just FRAUD and flat out deception,not only from ANDY but also from the PHARMO company, I feel they are a BIG part of our problem as BPs their pushing their newest PRODUCT on us under the guise of "no sides, or less sides, or miracle drug" and so on it goes, I have learned to be VERY proactive when dealing with my pdoc. I research and research MANY places before even going to him when I know a med change is going to occur and with being med resistant it seems every 4-6 mo i have to change one med or the other anyway...but also being rapid cycling mixed mood i know i am difficult to treat as we've discussed before due to me waiting so many years (out of fear of the pdocs of the world) to seek partially my fault, yet as EDUCATED DOCTORS and PHARMO Comp. you would think the betterment of the patient would be the top of the list on their priorities...but uhm not seeing that occur!! YIKES! SO we must must be proactive and educated on our own illness and keep track of how meds affect us in my personal opinion AND AND AND KEEP READING YOU FOR YOU NEVER MINCE WORDS YOU ALWAYS TELL US the FLAT OUT TRUTH>>>even if some don't like it or not..and that is PRICELESS!! THANK YOU my friend!! keep up the great to read MORE!!
take care my friend

Albert Ellis said...

This was a great lesson that I learned in life, and there are a lot of "Andy's" in the world. Always remember, what we put into the universe, is what we get out of the universe. Andy does not represent the vast majority of bipolar people. He gets credit for writing a book about his mania, and it's really fun to read. But ask yourself would you really want to live in his shoes? My association with Andy was in hope to help people with bipolar. Andy always talked about how much money I could make, and that told me what his motivation was immediately. Of course I started listening to this, and I started living in the material world. This will automatically activate my pride, and that will separate me from God very quickly. I know that when I am of service to my fellow man my cup will overflow. I believe that a person can be stable for life. I know what it's like to be on SSDI and feel hopeless in society. Nothing is worse than being dependent on the government and MHMR. Today I"m happily married with three kids, and I make a good HONEST living for myself! My solution to living a full life today involves the following five things: Sleep, Diet, Exercise, Meds, and most importantly a Spiritual Solution. I wish you all the very best!