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Humanist, humorist

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Hashtag Backfires on Twitter

Wendy Burn: President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists

Twitter can be an effective resource for sharing research links, personal experiences and public opinions. It can also highlight the personalities of people with strongly held views.

On May 1st Hattie Gladwell, a journalist and columnist, tweeted the following:

At first glance, I perceived this tweet as just another tired attempt to try and silence those who've been harmed by pharmaceutical products and prescribers. It appeared Gladwell was trying to imply those who take pharma products marketed for mental health are, somehow, stigmatized by others. While I don't buy this PR spin, I do believe organizations and media work together to silence and stigmatize drug safety advocates and those who share their own experiences of prescribed harm. While I don't know if Gladwell and/or her publication is supported by pharma money/resources, her tweet actually sparked a Twitter storm that spotlights the black hole of dangerous prescribing.

Reading some of the replies made my jaw drop as people started posting the various drug cocktails they currently take. I've included a few examples below and have redacted the tweeters' names because some of these people likely didn't consider possible issues surrounding such public proclamations.

The below tweet was retweeted by the Royal College of Psychiatrists President, Wendy Burn. Burn didn't offer any warning regarding the cocktail of drugs this tweeter was taking.

Any patient concerned about the interactions of drugs they are taking can visit, a database whereby a user adds the names of multiple drugs they are on to see if the drugs interact with one another. There are many similar databases available on the internet.

Here is what reports about the interactions of Lithium, Quetiapine, Venlafaxine, and Mirtazipine:

The tweeter thanked me for bringing this to her attention and said she would speak with her doctor.

Many other tweeters, from public health and safety advocates to those who support the pharma/psych industry, joined the conversation by using the hashtag, #ITakeMedsForMyMental Health.

The Royal College President continued to retweet those tweets she perceived to support her whilst dismissing those tweets about adverse effects. I suppose this is Burn's prerogative and I can't blame her for trying to support her own field.

However, several of her retweets are cause for concern. Many of her retweets were from patients who are taking several different drugs that have major interactions. Burn continued to retweet them and some members of the prescribed harm community perceived Burn's tweets to be an exercise in goading.

I implored Burn to stop as, I felt, she was putting patients in danger by not pointing out the dangerous interactions among some of the drugs these tweeters were taking. She ignored my request and continued retweeting.

One such retweet had me perplexed.

For Burn to retweet this after her college, back in August 2017, finally debunked the chemical imbalance myth, is astounding.

RCP reaffirmed this again in June 2018

Burn also retweeted, seemingly in support of Paxil, a product known as Seroxat in the UK and one that is currently the subject of litigation in London. Paxil cases have been won and settled in the US with regard to causing severe withdrawal problems, birth defects and even death!

Understandably, Burn came under a lot of fire for retweeting in support of a chemical imbalance, particularly after her own college has twice debunked this marketing ploy.

Burn took umbrage to the criticism and bizarrely tweeted the following:

Many people responded to Burn to ask why she thought trying to educate people regarding drug interactions could be deemed threatening. She never replied. Some 24 hours later, Burn blocked me and many others.

Understandably, her refusal to engage in critical conversations about adverse drug interactions has enraged many service users.

Burn is no stranger to controversy. Back in February 2018, she, along with fellow Royal College member, David Baldwin, came under fire for stating publically that, "We know that in the vast majority of patients, any unpleasant symptoms experienced on discontinuing antidepressants have resolved within two weeks of stopping treatment."  (Image above)

This statement was in sharp contrast to a previous study ("Coming Off Antidepressants") carried out by the Royal College that showed at least 63% of respondents reported difficulties withdrawing from the SSRI drugs. 

When this was pointed out to her by drug safety advocate, James Moore, the college pulled the study from their website stating that it was "out of date". (Back Story)

Complaints were made to the college but they were quickly dismissed.

The Twitter controversy continues today and many are dumbfounded that the RCP president is not warning patients about the life-threatening drug interactions she is witnessing and then publicly communicating via her Twitter page.

In my opinion, the hashtag that started this debate was a good one. I don't believe people are being stigmatized because they take drugs, but the hashtag certainly publicized the serious problems posed by polypharmacy. This recent Twitter storm shows me that there is a lack of duty and care among many prescribers and their professional organizations.

Being blocked by Burn doesn't really bother me. But it does highlight how the president of RCP, and RCP itself, continues to put PR above patient safety.

Bob Fiddaman


“what we believe in” by Peter J Gordon

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