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Citizens Commission on Human Rights Award Recipient (Twice)
Humanist, humorist

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Guest Post: Irresponsible Reporting Harms Parents & Children



Kristina Kaiser Gehrki

Irresponsible Reporting Harms Parents & Children 
By Kristina Kaiser Gehrki

In 1987 I was an optimistic college student earning my first degree in journalism from a top 10 university program that was then, and remains today, highly ranked by the Associated Press.

I vividly remember class discussions about the Washington Post—a newspaper that had diligent reporters such as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein who exposed wide-scale corruption to include President Nixon’s Watergate scandal. Back then, venerable Washington Post reporting was often seen as a public service for the greater good. It was good journalism about which Academy Award-winning movies like “All the President’s Men” were made. 

Flash forward to the present decade and it appears journalism ethics and responsible reporting has gone the way of the dinosaurs. Yesterday’s article in the Washington Post titled, “Your Child is Nervous About the New School Year, Which May be Normal—or Not,” is just one of a long string of examples.

In an effort to sell and publish articles, journalists often write stories called “evergreens.” Such articles have a long shelf life and keep their leaves when autumn arrives. I suspect the “Your Child is Nervous” article by Jill U. Adams was likely written as an evergreen, and the back-to-school marketing headline was later crafted to catch the attention of concerned parents who want to ensure their kids are happy and healthy.

As a parent, trained journalist and former teacher, Adams’ article caught my attention because of what she claims and what she chooses to omit.


Jill Adams -  freelance science journalist

Former Pharma Employee-Cum-Reporter Promotes Risky Drugs for Kids

Adams states kids with anxiety can benefit from cognitive therapy—and certain drugs. She specifically asserts: “Medications can help, too, particularly the class of antidepressant drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs.” 

Really? Given that Adams is also a trained pharmacologist, one presumes she is aware of research that finds SSRIs are neither safe nor effective for children. Adams neglects to mention such nor does she inform her Washington Post readers that she studied psychoactive drugs for Johnson & Johnson. 

I can’t help but wonder, was Adams working for Johnson & Johnson when the company criminally marketed Risperdal for unapproved use by children? More than 30 children died and more than 1,000 reported serious complications. The US Dept. of Justice effectively forced Johnson & Johnson to pay more than $2.2 billion to resolve these criminal and civil charges. 

Parents Denied US FDA Black Box Warning Info


US FDA Black Box Warning

While promoting SSRIs to reduce childhood anxiety, Adams also fails to mention that SSRIs carry the US FDA’s most serious Black Box warning. (Above image). She doesn’t note SSRIs cause akathisia which often causes psychosis and unwanted deaths. Reporters are not legally required to communicate FDA Black Box warnings with the readers who trust them. Doctors are not legally required to share FDA Black Box warnings with the parents who trust them. But that doesn’t mean it is ethical for either to withhold such life-saving information.

Failure to Share Conflicts of Interest

Adams also neglected to inform readers that her quoted source, psychiatrist John Walkup, has several potential conflicts of interest to include taking free drugs and money from many pharmaceutical companies.

Adams’ Health and Science section article is simply the latest of many accountability and ethics problems found in mainstream newspapers. Years ago after my teenaged daughter died a prescription-drug-induced death, I contacted the Washington Post about similar omissions and reporting errors. My valid concerns backed up by published data were met with a virtual pat on the head and false promises to contact me should they ever again cover this topic.

A Constant Pattern of Zero Accountability

Systemic errors of omission don’t just occur in newspaper articles; they also rear their ugly heads in the Letters to the Editor and Op-Ed pages.

The Washington Post Letters to the Editor section requires writers to “disclose any personal or financial interest in the subject matter of their letters.” However, in 2014, the newspaper published a letter that appeared to be written by your average Joe, a man named David from Vermont. David’s letter was in response to a Washington Post article about SSRIs, depression and children. His letter expressed concern for children who are depressed and supported the use of pharmaceutical products as effective treatment.

I noticed the letter writer’s last name was “Fassler” and realized this seemingly average Joe from Vermont was Dr. David Fassler, a child psychiatrist and frequent testifier to the FDA in support of the pharmaceutical industry. Fassler describes himself on his LinkedIn page as a specialist in “child and adolescent psychiatry” and “forensic psychiatry” and notes he’s worked with the Executive Director of NAMI-Vermont. NAMI, is the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and has been the subject of Congressional investigations into its deep financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry. 

Fassler testified at the 2004 FDA SSRI hearings in support of prescribing SSRIs to children. Specifically, “David Fassler of the American Psychiatric Association cautioned that the FDA should not scare patients away from treatment.” Ironically, this was a quote from the Washington Post.

The FDA also heard testimony from many family members who carried photos of their dead loved ones while recounting the torturous SSRI Adverse Drug Reactions they suffered before dying. After the hearings, the FDA responded, albeit far too late, by placing the Black Box suicide warnings on SSRIs.



Fassler’s more recent FDA testimony supported prescribing atypical antipsychotics to children.

Who “Works” for Whom?

But back to 2014. I contacted Fassler to inquire why his Washington Post letter to the editor didn’t disclose his medical credentials nor any personal and financial interests in the subject matter. Our correspondence is below:

On 7/11/14 12:32 PM, Kristina G. wrote:
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Hi David,

I read with interest your letter to the Washington Post. I was wondering why you didn't share your expertise as a child psychiatrist, experience testifying, and work with pharmaceutical companies? If you write the Post again, perhaps you should include your background so readers can better respect and understand your viewpoints. 

Regards,
Kristina Gehrki

--

On 07/11/14 5:36 AM, David F. wrote:
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Hi Kristina

I did tell the Post I was a child psychiatrist, but they chose not to include any identification. 

I don't do any work w/ pharmaceutical companies.

David

--

It’s important to note Fassler stated: “I don’t do any work w/pharmaceutical companies.” Perhaps he also has no personal or financial interests in the subject matter he wrote about? What is not debatable is that Fassler is an active member of The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) and ran for their national position as AACAP Treasurer in their 2013 election. It must be an important position considering AACAP states that in 2012 their “60th Annual Meeting Sponsorships” included “Pharmaceutical sponsorships” that “totalled $175,000.”

I can’t help but wonder if Fassler sat next to Dr. John Walkup at this annual conference when Walkup was a featured speaker at AACAP’s 2013 Psychopharmacology Update Institute. I also wonder if Fassler read AACAP’s 2013 Report to the Council that stated:

“August 14, 2012 Informed on August 4 that Wayne Batzer, M.D. resigned as a member of AACAP stating, “The Academy is clearly reliant on continued pharmaceutical industry funding and I am no longer able to accept this.” 

Looking back on it, I’ve come to accept Fassler’s statement “I don’t do any work w/pharmaceutical companies” at face value. To me, its relevancy depends upon how one first personally defines the word “work.”

Experience is the Best Teacher

Today I’m no longer an optimistic college student. While I’ve earned more advanced degrees and certificates, the most important knowledge I’ve gained since my daughter, Natalie's, prescribed demise comes from experience and research. Independent research and unbiased “journalism” uncovers unimaginable fraud, collusion, corruption and ethical violations in nearly every nook and cranny—from university medical schools to medical associations, from pharmaceutical headquarters to neighbourhood pharmacies, from national papers to your hometown rag, and right on down to your local doctors.

As a former high school marketing teacher, I understand parents want their children to start the school year off right. Parents want to believe things that will provide comfort. Seeking comfort is a basic human trait. But I implore parents who might read yesterday’s Washington Post dribble or another newspaper’s misleading article tomorrow: Remember, just because something sounds comforting doesn’t mean it is true.

When Natalie was 10, I took her to a therapist because of concern about mild school anxiety. I wanted the best for my child. Unfortunately, what we anticipated would be talk therapy soon turned into drug “therapy” prior to the FDA’s SSRI Black Box warning. It’s tragic that misinformed parents who read such articles might unwittingly go down the same dangerous drug path from which there may be no return. I speak up simply because I don’t want to see other trusting parents caused permanent discomfort when later they find themselves visiting their children’s graves.

Natalie’s prescribed demise is featured here & here. Like Anne Frank, Natalie's diary documented her torture and it is hoped society can learn from these systemic atrocities.


Kristina Kaiser Gehrki is a public health and safety advocate and educator. She holds degrees in crisis and strategic communication, journalism and education but feels her most relevant knowledge stems from personal experience. Her teenage daughter, Natalie, died a prescription-drug induced death after suffering SSRI Adverse Drug Reactions and SSRI withdrawal that was undiagnosed by her doctor and improperly treated with SSRI dose increases.





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