Bankole Johnson is a corporate shill

The short biography of a University of Virginia egghead who wrote a diatribe against rehab in general and Alcoholics Anonymous in particular — in an op-ed that appeared in The Roanoke Times and other newspapers recently — tells us all we need to know about his background, his prejudices and his agenda:

Bankole A. Johnson is chairman of the department of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences at the University of Virginia and has served as a paid consultant to pharmaceutical companies developing medications to treat alcoholism. His book “The Rehab Myth: New Medications That Conquer Alcoholism” will be published in January.

In other words, Johnson is a paid shill for the big drug companies and will — no doubt with their financial assistance — publish a book that promotes their medications that he claims will “conquer alcoholism.”

Writes Johnson:

For decades, Americans have clung to a near-religious conviction that rehab — and the 12-step model pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous that almost all facilities rely upon — offers effective treatment for alcoholism and other addictions.

Here’s the problem: We have little indication that this treatment is effective.

Bull. We have indications all around us. I’m a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for 16 years, two months and 25 days and I wouldn’t be so without AA. I know hundreds of people who owe their sobriety to the 12-step program.

I work with recovering alcoholics who — like myself — fight the beast one day at a time. Few can do it alone. It takes help, support of family and friends, and a good rehab program.

When The Roanoke Times chose to publish Johnson’s diatribe last month, I put it aside and decided to think about what he wrote for a couple of weeks. I hoped the anger over the misinformation and outright lies that this psuedo-intellectual passed on would subside.

It didn’t.

Johnson is a quick-buck artist who lives off the largess of big pharma. The fact that he uses his position at one of Virginia’s major universities to pass off corporate propaganda as scientific research is psychiatric malpractice and should be considered as such.

Instead of promoting his corporate benefactors, Johnson should spend time at a few AA meetings and talk with recovering alcoholics.

He might learn a thing or to.

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15 thoughts on “Bankole Johnson is a corporate shill”

  1. There you go again Doug. I would encourage anyone reading your opinion to read the article you provided the link to.

    One thing I notice about you is your first instinct is anger. This might effect your reading comprehension or change the tone of whatever it is you are reading.

    I would also recommend watching a series on Charlie Rose that deals with The Brain. Coincidently, the segment that was on today dealt with emotion and addictions.

    You clipped a portion of this shill’s article to get your buzz and create a new villian. You exaggerated this guy’s comments and reached an entirely different conclusion than I did.

    Relax.

    • I disagree. I put the article aside for more than two weeks so this was hardly a knee-jerk reaction.

      Johnson writes:

      When an alcoholic goes to rehab but does not recover, it is he who is said to have failed. But it is rehab that is failing alcoholics. The therapies offered in most U.S. alcohol treatment centers are so divorced from state-of-the-art of medical knowledge that we might dismiss them as merely quaint — if it weren’t for the fact that alcoholism is a deadly and devastating disease.

      If rehab is failing alcoholics, why do so many of us who are recovering successfully owe that success to the very rehab that Johnson dismisses do blithely?

      Why is his op-ed piece strategically timed to try and generate controversy just before release of his new book promoting the products of the big drug companies that pour money into his coffers?

      My observations are driven by anger but also by careful consideration of what he wrote along with some research into his history, which is littered with propaganda for “miracle drugs” produced by his benefactors. AA teaches a philosophy of personal commitment and an aversion to drug-induced therapy. Replacing an addiction to alcohol with a dependence on other chemicals is neither a cure nor a recovery.

      I chose my words carefully and I stand by what I wrote.

      • Yes Doug, I saw what you wrote and what set you off. In this case it’s parsing words or a disconnect in language. Effective doesn’t imply that there is no evidence that anyone succeeds with AA, NA, or SA. The academic community prefers data and he was referring to how that isn’t really available for AA. It mentions efforts to get such data. Effective means some standard of measurement in relative terms.

        You offered anecdotal information and ommission. You know hundreds that AA has helped, how many hundreds have you seen and kept track of that weren’t? I have anecdotal knowledge of some friends and family with assorted similar problems. Several didn’t have happy endings regardless of the attempted method of treatment. Some managed to change for whatever reason motivated them to do so. Neither you or the shill can deny cold turkey, accupuncture, hypnosis, or a religion that prohibits a substance or activity with the promise of eternal damnation if not obeyed.

        I’m somewhat amused or confused when a person in his position is faulted for consulting on a subject of his expertise. Would a Harley Davidson mechanic be a better choice?

        I’m interested in the subject of neurology and human behavior. The smart people are still able to say, “We don’t know.” The process of finding out more should be encouraged. Can you describe why you believe AA works for some but not for all? How accurate an estimate of continuing participation in AA compared to dropouts or those that found another method that worked for them could you provide?

        Personally, I’m in favor of any and all OPTIONS to achieve the objective. Chiropractors or drumming Shamans, if that works for any one person, it is success.

        I’m not a pharma fan but I also have to question whether it’s the industry or the consumers that has the greatest portion of blame. Yvonne pointed out the fine print that sounds like just about any other drug commercial on TV. Side effects from death to your neighbor’s dog’s tail might fall off. Words like some believe this might work for you (based on a theory of chemical imbalance).

        It’s a complicated subject and your rhetoric vs. his gives me an urge to drink. You should meet for lunch and apologize to each other.

        H20

        • I have no desire to break bread with Bankole Johnson. The only way I would want to see him is as the defendant in malpractice litigation or perhaps a hearing to have his license to practice revoked.

        • I don’t have first-hand knowledge about TV commercials for pharmaceutical medications because I don’t have television reception here in the mountains, but I don’t agree with the change in Federal regulations that permitted them. In my opinion and observation, these commercials are not beneficial to patients because they are simply public relations tools of the pharmaceutical industry. I do know about medication side effects, however — having conducted numerous research studies, some of which included Tompamax.

  2. I have several friends who are university department heads or are retired from the job. The part of the job they like the least is the constant need to be soliciting funds.I’ve got to agree with you, Doug. This guy’s a tool. In the article, I read lots of assumptions based on inconclusive “research” and like everyone else suckling from Big Pharma and Big Insurance, he preaches the gospel of quicker and cheaper, exchanging one dependency for another. We know that an addictive personality is a lifelong problem, but exchanging one drug for another has serious health consequences. In the cases of people close to me, I believe that exchanging alcohol for yoga, spirituality, fitness activities or even AA meetings is a much safer proposition. Of course it doesn’t put any money in the pockets of doctors, drug companies or insurance execs, so it may never catch on as fast as the latest TV “ask your doctor if you need this” prescription drug.

  3. Doug, not taking up for this man, and not having read the newspaper article, but upon further looking into his research, his article that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2007 appears to substantiate his claim that this particular drug, Topiramate, or Topamax, shows promise in treating alcoholism. It was tested in a clinical trial that compared it to a placebo group. It’s a shame he had to bad mouth rehab along the way. I think it would have been much more of a plug for his upcoming book if the publish date were not so far off in January, so I can’t say that I agree that it was all for self-publicity.

    • January is only four months away. Perfect timing for Bankole Johnson to begin self-promotion to increase sales of his new book.

      Millions of people have been and continue to be helped by AA. As virtually everyone knows — except, perhaps, Bankole Johnson — it is a support system, which is very important in recovery, with a spiritual component. The fact is that rehab DOES work! And it does NOT replace one dependency by another — one with possible side effects.

      Topamax (Topiramate) is an anti-convulsant, often used for migraines. While some people seemingly experience no side effects, others experience slower reflexes, trouble thinking/concentrating, language disturbances such as difficulty thinking of the right word and mixing up words, tiredness, poor coordination, dizziness, tingling in hands or feet, shakiness, depression, nausea, memory problems, visual problems (e.g., double vision), and respiratory infections. A 2008 research study showed a 25% increase in language disturbances, as compared to comparable medications which showed 0% effect on speech and language.

      Less common side effects, considered to be in the “rare” category, are pain (e.g., chest, leg), mood changes (e.g., aggression, restlessness), rash, body odor, appetite loss, weight loss, constipation, hearing loss and menstrual disorders. Topamax may also cause birth defects if taken while pregnant.

      In 2008, the FDA reported that topiramate (in addition to other anti-seizure medications) significantly increased the risk of suicidal thoughts or behavior, especially in people with a history of depression.

      Personally, I wouldn’t call Bankole Johnson an “egghead” (studious, academic & intellectual, but with the connotation of a certain degree of “flakiness” or being somewhat out of touch with everyday reality). I think he knows EXACTLY what he is doing. Like all too many physicians, he appears to be a pill-pusher, with close connections to Big Pharma, and whose current goal is to sell as many books as possible.

    • Rudi:

      I’m sorry but as a recovering alcoholic who has battled addiction for 40 years I know the dangers of dependence of any drug for treatment of an addictive disease. The American Medical Association diagnoses alcoholism as a “disabling addictive disorder” and classifies it as an “addiction disease.” The most successful treatment of addictions revolve around changes in lifestyle and the adoption of personal choices. I’m a 16-year member of AA and work with alcoholics and other victims of addiction as a counselor, sponsor and volunteer in crisis intervention. Replacing one drug with another is not an answer. It simply substitutes one chemical-based dependence with another.

    • In that case, considering that he is funded by the pharmaceutical industry, he/they probably won’t attempt to publish the results.

      • That’s just cynical Yvonnne. 🙂
        If you found the info about side effects and such you can read collected data or case studies. As big as the flaws in the approval system are, we have to hope that not everything is tainted or never studied in detail by serious folks that want to fix things.

        Read about any of the anti depressants that are so popular. Can anyone describe the placebo effect? How can that be separated from a positive outcome achieved by the drug? It’s all very experimental and people are eager consumers.

        I don’t have a problem with who chooses what or why until it’s not a choice.

        • I am sorry that it sounds cynical, but my career is in the field of biomedical research so I am aware of suppression of research study results by pharmaceutical sponsors. I wish that wasn’t the case, and it shouldn’t be — but it does happen.

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