revised 1/20/2000
Book Review: Breggin & Cohen, Your Drug May Be Your Problem

Book Review

Your Drug May Be Your Problem:
How and Why to Stop Taking Psychiatric Drugs

Peter R. Breggin, M.D. & David Cohen, Ph.D.
Perseus Books - Reading, Massachusetts - 1999

reviewed by Douglas A. Smith

      If you need specific advice about how to stop taking one or more psychiatric drugs, this is the book to read.  In this respect, this book fills in a gap left in other books by Dr. Peter Breggin I have read, including Psychiatric Drugs: Hazards to the Brain (1983), Toxic Psychiatry (1991), and Talking Back to Prozac (1998).  In this book Drs. Breggin & Cohen also make clear they think the concept of "mental illness" is erroneous.  For example, they repeatedly put the term mental illness in mocking quotation marks.  They state clearly that in their opinion you are better off without psychiatric drugs, whatever your "psychiatric problem" may be: depression, manic-depressive mood swings, anxiety attacks, "schizophrenia" or psychosis, or anything else.
      In this book Drs. Breggin & Cohen review the reasons you should not be taking any kind of psychiatric drug:

This book is a well-documented, well-written, recent (1999), exposé of the health care quackery called biological psychiatry, particularly psychiatric drugs.
      On specifically how to go about stopping taking psychiatric drugs, Drs. Breggin & Cohen say "The general rule recommended by some practitioners is to taper off in 10 percent decrements - usually every seven to ten days" (p. 126).  That means you do it in ten separate steps.  They suggest the last ten percent may need to be divided into a series of smaller steps and that if you are an older person who has "been taking tranquilizers daily for over twenty years ... a withdrawal period of two years is not unusual" (p. 137).  If you are taking more than one psychiatric drug each day, they recommend going off the drugs one at a time, that is, continuing your usual dose of your other drugs while you taper off one of them.  How do you decide which drug to discontinue first?  They say if "you're taking drug 'A' to counteract the side effects of drug 'B' ... you should probably start withdrawal with drug 'B'" (p. 136).  While they recommend you withdraw from psychiatric drugs with the help of a health care professional, they acknowledge that "most people who come off psychiatric drugs have successfully done so on their own, without active clinical supervision" (p. 113 - italics in original).
      I was disappointed to find nothing in this book about a problem that is central to the subject of the book: forced psychiatric drugging of imprisoned or "hospitalized" persons, and the enactment of forced outpatient psychiatric drugging laws in the majority of the states of the U.S.A., exemplified by Kendra's Law in New York.  Like many of us in the ex-patient's or "psychiatric survivor's" movement, I was once imprisoned or "hospitalized" and forced to take a psychiatric drug - Thorazine.  I was psychologically entirely normal at the time, even if I was very unhappy about the loss of the relationship with the woman I loved and about being on scholastic probation in college, leading to my parents deciding to force me into what they mistakenly thought would be "therapy": Since I refused to seek "therapy" voluntarily, their only way to force me into "therapy" was committing me to a "hospital" against my will.  The day I was incarcerated (or "hospitalized"), after the hospital staff got through asking me questions for their paperwork, I was permitted to walk around awhile in the hallways and rooms in the place I'd been imprisoned, exploring my new surroundings.  But for no apparent reason, after awhile a nurse approached me with a hypodermic needle in her hand and told me she had a shot for me my doctor had prescribed for me.  "I haven't even seen a doctor" I told her.  She seemed to realize I was correct, and she looked a little embarrassed when I asked the name of the doctor who had supposedly ordered the shot: She had no idea who he was.  But none of that mattered to the hospital staff.  She went away but was back a little while later with a large orderly, later joined by another, to force me to submit to the injection.  They also did not care when I told them I hadn't yet had a hearing or trial to determine if my commitment was justified or not, that I was being held only on a pretrial commitment order, and that it was wrong for them to force me to take a drug before I'd had a chance to go to court to present my arguments against committing or "treating" me against my will.  Because of involuntary "hospitalization" laws in every state, and "outpatient commitment" laws in 40 or more states of the U.S.A. that exist for the purpose of forcing people to take psychiatric drugs or face repeated imprisonment in psychiatric "hospitals," those of us who because of our past experience of it fear forced administration of these harmful drugs need advice about how to protect ourselves from it.  All Drs. Breggin & Cohen say on this subject is: "Do not let anyone pressure you into starting or continuing psychiatric drugs.  As a competent adult, you have the ethical and legal right to make your own decisions about taking psychiatric drugs.  ... Your decisions about taking or rejecting drugs need to be made without coercive pressure from doctors" (p. 29).  While I agree with this statement, it is obvious many, apparently most, state legislators, judges, psychiatrists, and psychiatric hospital staff members do not.  What us victims of psychiatry need is a strategy for avoiding forced psychiatric drugging.  Drs. Breggin & Cohen do not offer one in this book.
      There may not be a reliable way to protect yourself from forced psychiatric drugging, but here are two ideas: One is to hire a lawyer to write a "Declaration Regarding Mental Health Treatment," also known as an "advance directive," in which you say you want to receive no psychiatric drugs (or physical restraint or shock treatment) if you ever are declared mentally ill or incompetent, with a certification by a psychiatrist attached stating that you were mentally competent at the time you made the Declaration.  This will undermine the argument that you would consent to "treatment" if only your thinking were not clouded by mental illness.  Another strategy is to maintain a relationship with a psychiatrist who opposes coercive "treatment" who will testify for you if you become a victim of psychiatric oppression such as forced "hospitalization" or psychiatric assault such as forced psychiatric drugging.  A lawyer recently advised me it probably needs to be a psychiatrist, not a psychologist.  Perhaps in states where psychologists are permitted to commit people against their will, a psychologist's testimony would be adequate.
      In a rational world where human rights were respected, forced psychiatric drugging would not happen.  In a rational world where human rights were respected, none of today's psychiatric drugs would be used by anyone, voluntarily or involuntarily.  Perhaps books like Your Drug May Be Your Problem will help some of us start thinking rationally about psychiatric drugs.

See the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law website for information about advance directives.

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