Danagers of Being a Professional Patient

My first psychiatrist in New York warned me not to become "a professional patient." In the midst of news reports about me I had been approached by all sorts of people, including pharmaceutical companies whose medications I had not yet taken, to speak on their behalf with partially made-up narratives of a recovery that had not yet happened. Andy Behrman is the most high-profile bipolar "professional patient" out in the world of bipolar. I met Andy in late September 2007 after my friend Moira, at board member of Depression Bipolar Alliance-National Capital, introduced me to him and we arranged for him to come speak to all the DBSA groups in Washington and Baltimore. The event was sponsored by DBSA-NCA and the Depression Bipolar Support Alliance-Northern Virginia.

I was being filmed that day by Samantha Grant, a documentary producer, and her crew from GUSH Productions, so the entire event was recorded. I can't bring myself to ask Sam for a copy of the recording, since its a part of a journalistic film she is working on and that would create an ethical conflict for her since I am a subject of that film. But, at least according to my notes, an audience member asked Andy a critical question about his taking money from Bristol-Myers Squibb, the makers of Abilify, an atypical antipsycotic used to treat bipolar disorder. I don't remember Andy's answer, other than he acknowledged working with Bristol-Myers Squibb, and it had all faded from my mind until The Wall Street Journal published a story this month on how Andy had become a critic of Abilify and Bristol Myers Squibb. Much -- about payments, demands for more money, etc. -- is in dispute, but what both sides appear to agree on is that (1) Andy started promoting Abilify as being side effect free after being on the drug for only a few days and (2) Andy continued to say that Abilify was side effect free after he started to experience side effects.

As if making false claims about your personal experience with a medication wasn't bad enough, Andy appears to have compounded the situation -- with a solution as bad as the original problem -- by now claiming that "Abilify Kills," a dubious statement at best. Like any drug, Abilify can have side effects but for those I have talked with in the support groups and individuals who are clients, the drug has worked as well as the other antitypical antipsychotics they have tried. The point being: when it comes to medication, there are different saucers for different teacups. Andy's "Abilify Kills" claims are just as damaging and unfair as his "Abilify has no side effects" claims of years earlier, and it all illustrates the dangers of becoming a "professional patient."

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