Medical Error Interviews

Jim Gottstein: The Zyprexa Papers - How Big Pharma hid the harm its medication was causing people

March 16, 2020

Big pharmaceutical company Eli Lily was hiding the truth about the harms caused by their antipsychotic medication called Zyprexa -- until lawyer Jim Gottstein got a hold of the evidence and shared it with the New York Times.  You will not be surprised to hear that Eli Lily’s lawyers went after Jim hard with criminal charges to destroy his career, his livelihood and his freedom.

In my interview with Jim about his personal experience with the mental health system, and his legal career focused on mental health, I ask him why he’s exposing big pharma deceit now in his new book The Zyprexa Papers. 

Jim also tells about his personal experience with psychosis when he was over worked and under slept, and woke suddenly one night and thought he was being chased by the devil. Jim threw himself out a 2nd story window to escape. Fortunately, Jim is also skydiver, and knew how to roll his landing without injury. But it was Jim’s lived experience in the mental health system that prepared him for legal battles representing clients about mental health issues. Jim’s lived experience with the mental health system is priceless, adds value to a good legal defense, and cannot be taught in law school. 

Jim also tells the story of how he became the lawyer to expose Eli Lily’s lies about the safety of their Zyprexa medication and the impact that had on his life and career. Jim became a leader in the psychiatric survivor community, founding patient organizations including PsychRights.org - and providing his legal services pro bono to clients who didn’t want to be forced to take medications.

In The Zyprexa Papers, Jim gives a riveting first-hand account of what really happened, including new details about how a small group of psychiatric survivors spread the Zyprexa Papers on the Internet untraceably. All of this within a gripping, plain-language explanation of complex legal maneuvering and his battles on behalf of Bill Bigley, the psychiatric patient whose ordeal made possible the exposure of the Zyprexa Papers.

The Zyprexa Papers included hundreds of internal Eli Lilly documents and emails that showed company officials knew their best-selling drug was severely harming people while scarcely helping anyone. Release of the papers exposed the abuses of the drug industry besides the harm that Zyprexa was doing.

The series of front page stories in "The New York Times" could have saved tens of thousands of lives according to Jim's estimate.

The public benefits greatly from Jim’s efforts, not only because of the life-saving information he released, but also because he’s a courageous model for other people to follow in exposing the predatory practices in the pharmaceutical industry.

SHOW NOTES:

0:06:00 Jim was born in Anchorage Alaska in 1953 - it was a nice place to grow up - he was a pretty normal boy, he got to play little league, walk around town, ride bikes - when Jim was born Anchorage only had about 25,000 people, but now it is close to 400,000
0:07:00 Jim went to the University of Oregon to study business and to get a degree in finance, but one of the required courses was business law, and he didn't miss a question the entire term - he thought it may be a bette fit for him, so he took advanced business law and then decided to go to law school
0:08:00 Jim didn't do well enought in high school to get into any 'good' schools, and wanted to keep his options open by doing well in college - his 1st term was okay with a lot of Bs - Jim decided he had too much free time so increased his number of courses - the next term he got all As with one B
0:09:00 By over loading his courses, he graduated in 3 years - in his last term he needed 10 hours of anything to graduate, so he took 10 hours of teaching sky diving
0:10:00 Jim got his pilot's license when he was 17 - and then went to Harvard for law school
0:11:00 Jim's mom got him a job for lawyer Bob Goldberg, son of Justice Arthur Goldberg who was on the US Supreme Court - Bob had to move to Alaska to escape his father's shadow - Bob represented some of the Native groups
0:12:00 After a few years, Jim opened his own law practice and also decided to run for the State Senate, had traveled to Europe and Israel so was jet lagged and not getting enough sleep and Jim had a psychotic break - Jim had gone to his father's place to sleep but woke at 1am and thought the devil was coming for him - he was on the 2nd floor of the house and looked out the window
0:13:00 Jim thought he could jump far enough to miss the pavement and land on the grass - he jumped out the window and did a rolling landing parachute jump and ran across the street to the school parking lot but thought the devil was still chasing so kept looking over his shoulder - he was put in a straight jacket and hauled off to the Alasks Psychiatric Institute and they pumped him full of something that put him to sleep
0:14:00 Jim has always counted on his mind to accomplish what he set out to do and what was going on - so it was a shock that his mind could become completely unreliable - JIm remembers waking in the hospital and the male nurse asking Jim what day it was
0:15:00 Jim asked how long he'd been asleep - so the nurse noted that Jim wasn't oriented to time - so that was the start of the Alice in Wonderland experience of being in a psychiatric hospital - Jim was given Melaril , he told them he didn't want the psych med thorazine - thorazine was the first of the neuropleptic drugs for people with schizophrenia - it blocks about 80% of the dopamine, so they are basically chemical lobotomies
0:16:00 Jim knew he didn't want to have a 'committed involuntarily' label, so he signed himself in for treatment, but it was hardly voluntary - Jim's fiancee said he was still campaigning in the psych ward, handing out baseball caps, so Jim was pretty out of it - but was doing better and released after 30 days - Jim's not sure the medication did much for him
0:17:00 Jim's father connected Jim with a psychiatrist in New Rochelle, New York and he diagnosed Jim with biploar disorder - but the psych hospital had diagnosed him with atypical psychosis - Jim didn't find that psychiatrist very helpful - then Jim's mother connected him with another psychiatrist, Robert Alberts, who had been a Japanese prisoner of war - Jim says Robert was a wonderful person and told Jim that any one who misses enough sleep will become psychotic - and that Jim needed to manage that - Jim credits Robert with saving Jim from being made permanently mentally health by the mental health system because Jim had that he would never practice law again
0:18:00 When he told hospital staff he'd gone to Harvard law school, that confirmed to them Jim was delusional - Jim didn't accept their conclusion he'd never be able to practice law again, they'd call it 'denial' - Jim says 'denial' of being mental ill is one of the most positive things you can do - because the message of the mental health system is 'abandon all hope ye who enter here'
0:19:00 When in the hospital, they wanted to put Jim on lithium - he said he was a pilot and he couldn't fly if he was taking lithium, but they didn't care about that - so they creatine clearance test to his kidney function because lithium is hard on the liver and Jim's known a number of people killed by lithium - to do the test, they needed a kidnay biopsy, but the doctor couldn't find Jim's kidney's to do the test
0:20:00 Jim finds that work pressure with deadlines - and the habit is to always make the document better and file at the last minute - so Jim tries to file the day before so he doesn't have that sleep problem
0:21:00 Jim knows that if he's not getting enough sleep he can get into trouble, he knows the signs - the first sign is that Jim gets more witty with rejoinders, but nobogy notices except himself - then he'll have 'thought blocking' when he just stops for a few seconds when he's talking (his thoughts are blocked) - the next stage is that Jim thinks people are looking at him funny - he deals with that by telling himself that he's probably not acting funny
0:22:00 Then he'll also try to look at himself from 'above' to see if he's doing anything weird - at that point Jim may take a benzodiazipine (Halcyon) - just to break the cycle and get a nights sleep - it usually only takes 1 pill and then it'll be a year before he needs it again - benzos are highly addictive so its important not to take them daily
0:23:00 The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) said Jim couldn't fly for 2 days after taking a benzo
0:24:00 Jim got involved in the legal side of mental health simultaneiously with his own psychotic break - in 1956 Congress enacted the Alaska Mental Health Enabling Act and gave a bunch of land for that purpose - later another Act redisgated that land for the state and said they'd maybe pay for it
0:25:00 Jim's mother was head of the Alaska Mental Health at the time and went to Congress and said you can't take this land, that's not legal - they said we don't care - so they sued them and won a billion dollar settlement
0:26:00 Jim found a couple of mental health 'consumer' groups - he was also on the Board of the Alaska Mental Health - then in 2002, Jim read Mad in America, Bad Science, Bad Medicine and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill by Robert Whittaker - to Jim it was a raodmap to challenging forced psychiatric drugging - JIm founded the Law Project for Psychiatric Rights (PsychRights.org) - and it challenged that and shock therapy
0:27:00 PsychRights also educates the public about these medications and shock therapy and their risks - Jim says we shouldn't call ECT (electro convulsive therapy) 'therapy' because it is not
0:28:00 The shock machines were invented in the 50s and have been modified since then - but before the FDA was responsible for regulating medical devices - but they didn't do that for 20 - 30 years - then in the last year they basically said that shock treatment is not harmful and we're not going to regulate them - Jim's says that is outrageous
0:29:00 Just shows how people in psychiatry just don't think - they're running electricity through the brain to cause a grand mal seizure, where neurologists do everything they can to prevent grand mal seizures - the convulsions were so intense people would break bones, bite through their tongue - now they anaesthetize them, but that requires more electricity to cause the convulsion
0:30:00 Dr Peter Breggin has written great psychiatry books - and he says electro shock is really a closed head injury - some people when they get a head injury, become euphoric for a while - but people have horrendous memory loss they don't get back - Jim thinks electro shock should be banned - its barbaric
0:31:00 A court in Conneticut has ordered a woman to be shocked against her will 500 times - that's the thing about psychiatry, 'if something doesn't work, do more of it' -
0:32:00 In November 2006 Jim received a call an expert witness in a massive lawsuit over side effects from the psych med Zyprexa - like diabetes and other metabolic problmes Eli Lily had not owned up to - he said he had documents showing Eli Lily knew from the beginning, hid it from the doctors and they were illegally marketing it to children and the elderly - but he was under a secrecy order - however if he was subpoanaed in another case - he wanted to know if Jim would do that - there's more to the story and that's what is book The Zyprexa Papers is about the New York Times published some articles
0:33:00 The expert witness had also been working with a writer from the New York Times, Alex Berenson - the expert witness gave the documents to Jim - there were a series of front page stories in the NYT and then Eli Lily came after Jim with criminal charges and to the Alaska Bar Association to try to get Jim disbarred
0:34:00 Zyprexa is a 2nd generation neuroleptic medication, also called antipsychotic, but that's just a marketing term - 'neuroleptic' means 'seize the brain' and that is what they do - in the 90s they started atypical neuroleptics which supposedly didn't have negative effects like tardive dyskinesia (results in involuntary, repetitive body movements, which may include grimacing, sticking out the tongue, or smacking the lips) - basically drug induced Parkinson's Disease
0:35:00 It blocks 70 - 90% of dopamine in the basal ganglia, same thing with Parkinson's patients - licking their lips, strange movements - and doctors interpret that in Zyprexa patients as mental illness, not as negative effects of Zyprexa - Eli Lily said this new generation of atypical meds didn't have tardive dyskenesia and that was a lie - another negative effect was neuroliptic malignant syndrome and it is often fatal, and Eli Lily lied about that too
0:36:00 Risperdal causes little boys to grow breasts, called gynecomastia - Seroquel causes problems, like elongates the heart rhythm and that can cause death - they are putting Veterans on Seroquel and another medication and they are dying in their sleep from this drug cocktail - they were prescribed originally for schizophrenia and the manic phase of bipolar disorder - cut in the US a doctor can prescribe any drug for any thing
0:37:00 Pharmaceuticals can only market a drug for a specific illness, but they do it anyway through various guises and artifices, like ghost writing articles, basically huge fraud perpetrated on the public - Dr David Eagleman was the expert witness and had these documents proving Eli Lily's lies and thought the public should know, but he was under a secrecy order
0:38:00 Dr Eagleman was looking for someone to subpeona him and Jim had just won a case for Faith Myers where they wanted to force her to take Zyprexa - Jim had a great witness, Dr Grace Jackson, and she analyzed the papers on which Zyprexa was given approval by the FDA, and she could see it caused diabetes just from that - but not just diabetes
0:39:00 People would gain a 100 pounds in a year - Dr Jackson found the studies were fraudulent - because the meds block dopamine, the first thing the brain does is try to pump out more dopamine - then after a few weeks it grows more dopamine receptors
0:40:00 So abrupt withdrawal causes some people to experience psychosis - but the doctor will say 'see what happens when you're not on medication' - but some people did quite well with the sudden withdrawal, but those people were thrown out of the study
0:41:00 About 2/3 of people in the study dropped out because of the negative effects - so Dr Jackson put all this in a report
0:42:00 Jim shared the documents with the NYT in 2006 and found someone to put them on the internet
0:43:00 Then a group called Psychiatric Survivors got involved - another group Mind Freedom.org with David Oakes, and they also helped get it out - Jim says it was amazing how Eli Lily could whip up Federal Judges to issues orders against Jim without him even being given notice
0:44:00 Psychiatric survivor Eric Weiland had posted them on his website and Eli Lily harassed and threatened him so he took them down - Pat Riser passed away a few years ago probably a result of psych drugging, he wrote the Eli Lilly and said 'geez, I saw these in the NYT and downloaded them and made a few CDs of them and sent them to newspapers and family and friends and went to...
0:45:00 ...handed them out in a shopping plaza parking lot - I didn't know they were illegal and sorry, I'm not going to be able to get them all back' - that's one of Jim's favorite vignettes - but Eli Lily had endless money to fight Jim
0:46:00 Jim testified and the judge ruled Jim conspired to steal the documents and a 'criminal act' and that set up Jim for criminal contempt charges
0:47:00 One of the clients in the case had a Gaurdian, and it was only the Gaurdian who could sign release papers so Jim could look at the client's medical records
0:48:00 Jim did get the medical records and the client had been drugged with Zyuprexa against his will - he was held down and injected with it
0:49:00 Eli Lily had portrayed themselves as the 'victim' in the lawsuit, so going after Jim, and the ensuing publicity, would've make Eli Lily look bad - they could have crushed Jim financially - so it was scary because the consequences could have been severe, including jail time
0:50:00 Zyprexa is still available and still forced - about 3 years ago Jim had financial troubles and had to give up most of the pro bono Pysch Rights work he'd been doing for 14 years and boost his law practice
0:51:00 After a year he had some clients but not a lot, so used his time to write the book - Jim would like the public to be aware because he thinks they'll be shocked by Jim's representation of Bill Bickley and to stop him from being drugged against his will
0:52:00 Jim represented him for 4 years, 10 trials and 5 trips to the Alaska Supreme Court - one of those decisions was an important precedent
0:53:00 Jim's says people are really taken with the 2 chapters on his defence of Bill Bickley and how the system is set up against patients, it is basically a kangaroo court - Bill's wife had divorced him and took custody of the 2 kids and sued him for child support which he couldn't afford - he had a good job as a heavy equipment operator and had a nervous breakdown - so Jim tries to convey how people's lives are ruined by what psychiatry does to them
0:54:00 In 2007, Dr Jackson testified that if Bill was continued to be drugged, he'd be dead within 5 years, and she was off by 6 months - Bill's Gaurdian didn't want Jim representing Bill, because they wanted him drugged - Jim won about half the cases for Bill - the Gaurdian told Jim that Bill didn't want Jim to represent him anymore, and Jim said that he'd never heard Bill say that
0:55:00 The judge asked Bill if he wanted Jim to represent him, and Bill said 'Jim knows a lot about me. And I'm the president." - the Gaurdian changed their tune after that, and said that Bill was not competent to make the decision - while Jim won half of Bill'ls cases, the Public Defendor who lost all but one of the cases - but the Alaska Supreme Court decided that Bill could not choose Jim as his lawyer, and that is a very frightening thing - so they got to drug him without constraint and he died within a couple of years
0:56:00 Jim pointed out to the Gaurdian that these drugs shorten lives, and the Gaurdian argued that quality of life is important - but they didn't care what Bill thought of his quality of life, and it was better without the drugs
0:57:00 One of the reasons Jim wrote the Zyprexa Papers is to bring people's attention - it is available on Amazon in Kindle or paperback
0:58:00 To connect with Jim, go to PsychRights.org and email him through that site
0:59:00 Jim talks to people all the time who had no idea this was going on - 'you can learn from your mistakes, but its better to learn from other people's mistakes' - hopefully he can prevent other people from having this sort of terrible thing happen to them
  Twitter: https://twitter.com/jimgottstein
  Connect with Jim Gottstein on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jim.gottstein
  http://psychrights.org/
http://gottsteinlaw.com/

Author of The Zyprexa Papers
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0838YYYWV

 

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Scott Simpson

Counsellor + Patient Advocate + (former) Triathlete

I am a counsellor, patient advocate, and - before I became sick and disabled - a passionate triathlete. Work hard. Train hard. Rest hard.

I have been living with HIV since 1998. I was the first person living with HIV to compete at the triathlon world championships.

Thanks to research and access to medications, HIV is not a problem in my life.

I have been living with ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis) since 2012, and thanks in part to medical error, it is a big problem in my life.

 

Counseling / Research

I first became aware of the ubiquitousness of medical error during a decade of community based research working with the HIV Prevention Lab at Ryerson University, where I co-authored two research papers on a counseling intervention for people living with HIV, here and here

Patient participants would often report varying degrees of medical neglect, error and harms as part of their counseling sessions.

 

Patient Advocacy

I am co-founder of the ME patient advocacy non-profit Millions Missing Canada, and on the Executive Committee of the Interdisciplinary Canadian Collaborative Myalgic Encephalomyelitis Research Network.

I am also a patient advisor for Health Quality Ontario’s Patient and Family Advisory Council, and member of Patients for Patient Safety Canada.

Medical Error Interviews podcast and vidcast emerged to give voice to victims, witnesses and participants in this hidden epidemic so we can create change toward a safer health care system.

 

My golden retriever Gladys is a constant source of love and joy. I hope to be well enough again one day to race triathlons again. Or even shovel the snow off the sidewalk.