University of Oregon professor Pam Birrell, PhD added her opinion to the controversy in the pages of The Register-Guard about the role of neuroleptic psychiatric drugs, also known as antipsychotics. The debate began when mental health worker Chuck Areford wrote a hard-hitting commentary critical of neuroleptics that was published 16 March 2008 in the paper.

letter to editor

7 April 2008 – The Register-Guard, Eugene, Oregon, USA

Drug-free treatment is possible

In a recent guest viewpoint, Dr. Richard Staggenborg defends the use of anti-psychotic drugs for those diagnosed with severe mental illness (guest viewpoint, March 25).

This, despite his assertions that “we have only tantalizing hints of the biological basis of most mental illness, and the reasons medications work are largely speculative,” and that “research findings are highly skewed by pharmaceutical industry funding.” This does not prevent him from unfairly criticizing the views of Chuck Areford’s previous guest viewpoint.

Perhaps Staggenborg is not aware that there are many studies supporting the view that those diagnosed with psychosis can be helped without resorting to drugs, and the widespread finding that outcomes for those diagnosed with schizophrenia in our country are much worse than for those people diagnosed in the developing world. Perhaps he is not aware of the very large body of scientific literature demonstrating that trauma (e.g., poverty and abuse) is a contributing factor to psychosis and other forms of severe mental illness.

Although Staggenborg feels that these drugs have a “clear role” in these conditions, it is also clear that their role is to control behavior and mental states that are disturbing, that they do not heal, and that they do cause long-term damage. It is possible to heal those suffering from serious mental illness without drugs, if we only would devote time and resources to this endeavor.

Pamela Birrell, Ph.D.