It looks like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has a different understanding of the “grassroots” model. Here’s how the non-profit describes itself:
NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the nation’s largest grassroots organization for people with mental illness and their families. Founded in 1979, NAMI has affiliates in every state and in more than 1,100 local communities across the country.
Here are NAMI’s 2007 “corporate partners”:
AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, LP
Bristol-Myers Squibb Company
Eli Lilly and Company
Forest Laboratories, Inc.
Magellan Behavioral Health
McNeil Consumer Healthcare
Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc.
Solvay Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
Do you see something wrong with this? I sure do…
Big Pharma has created many non-profits, “grassroots” organizations and other fronts as a sly way of marketing. These organizations are often considered to be objective by the public. They seem passionate about spreading awareness and education.
It’s no secret that Big Pharma is all about marketing. A 2008 study estimated that Big Pharma spent twice as much money on promotions than was spent on research and development.
Big Pharma will often say that the organizations they fund are not swayed by their influence. Do they really think the public is that stupid? I don’t see them funding organic school lunch programs or starting up stress reduction classes for high school and college students.
Consider NAMI’s belief:
Treatment outcomes for people with even the most serious mental illnesses are comparable to outcomes for well-established general medical or surgical treatments for other chronic diseases. The early treatment success rates for mental illnesses are 60-80 percent, well above the approximately 40 to 60 percent success rates for common surgical treatments for heart disease.
C’mon NAMI, treatments for mental illness should not be compared to surgery. There isn’t a simple lump that can be removed to fix the “problem” (well, very rarely). Additionally, early treatment success does not mean lasting success.
Don’t get me wrong, I definitely believe some individuals need psychotropic medication. Lives have been saved by these drugs. But, the majority of people need a for more integrative treatment plan than a bottle of pills and a few short sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy.
This narrow, biologically based understanding of mental illness fits perfectly for Big Pharma. And obviously, Big Pharma funds what will benefit them. It’s all about the bottom line. And in 2008, total pharmaceutical sales in the U.S. rose to $291,000,000,000 (yeah, that’s 9 zero’s– 291 BILLION dollars).
In 2007, NAMI took $10,207,160 in contributions. When Eli Lily disclosed their grants in 2007, it became more obvious just how compromised NAMI was:
The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, an advocacy group for patients, received $544,500. Of that, $450,000 went to fund a project called “Campaign for the Mind of America.”
Read more about the Lily disclosure at Pharmalot. In 1999, Mother Jones magazine called NAMI out on their conflicts of interest. Read the article if you have time, it’s VERY interesting. Here’s what the magazine discovered regarding Eli Lilly:
In the case of Lilly, at least, “funding” takes more than one form. Jerry Radke, a Lilly executive, is “on loan” to NAMI, working out of the organization’s headquarters. Flynn explains the cozy-seeming arrangement by saying, “[Lilly] pays his salary, but he does not report to them, and he is not involved in meetings we have with [them].” She characterizes Radke’s role at NAMI as “strategic planning.”
With multi-year agreements with companies like Astra-Zeneca, it’s likely that contribution dollars and the number of “on loan” consultants will only increase. The two really take care of each other; NAMI even helped Big Pharma lobby for looser off-label restrictions on pharmaceuticals.
What gets me even more riled up is that NAMI is set on diagnosing adolescents as young as possible. NAMI wants early screening initiatives active in our schools. The thought of opening our public schools to Big Pharma frightens me.
This was a hot topic in Minnesota:
Read NAMI’s article on health screening in schools.
Obviously, NAMI is very interested in adolescent mental health— and for good reason. It’s possible that Big Pharma sees the benefit of creating younger customers so that hopefully, with a long-lasting label of mental illness and a dependency on drugs, adolescents will transform into customers for life. Big Tobacco marketed with the same philosophy. And yes, just like Joe the Camel, Big Pharma has used cartoons to push products.
Here’s an interesting doco that digs into this:
Watch the full movie here.
To sum this long post up…
I am obsessively passionate about these issues. They are very close to my heart. I am thankful that NAMI is getting the word out about the importance of mental health. There are still stigmas that need to be erased and communication on the topic can be very helpful.
However, mental health should not always be equated with “mental illness.” A narrow understanding of mental health by an advocacy organization can be dangerous to the public. Human emotions are dynamic, influential and necessary to our growth process. We need to be careful what we choose to diagnose, label and treat.
If NAMI wants to be taken seriously, they need to cut their conflicts of interest. Until that time, I encourage individuals to support advocacy organizations that are not fronts for pharmaceutical companies. Seriously, do they really need any more of our money?