I was pleasantly surprised to read this article stating the FDA approval for a new drug trial for schizophrenia. Research into the treatment of schizophrenia is long overdue, as it can be a devastating disease process.
Schizophrenia is a complicated chronic disease affecting approximately 3.5 million people in the United States, and its annual healthcare costs exceed $155 billion. People living with schizophrenia often experience a reduced quality of life (QOL) and are more likely to be homeless, unemployed, or living in poverty than the general population. Life expectancy for patients with schizophrenia is 15 to 20 years below the average. It is complicated by numerous comorbidities, such as weight gain, increased cardiovascular risk, and mood and cognition changes. Treatment nonadherence can increase the risk of relapse, rehospitalization, and self-harm, leading to a reduced QOL and increased economic burden.
Schizophrenia is a complex chronic illness with multiple comorbidities and high mortality rates. The development of Long-Acting Injectables and generic medication options has significantly improved patient adherence and reduced care costs in patients with schizophrenia. Despite these advances, schizophrenia has a high economic burden for patients and society. Providers caring for patients with schizophrenia are charged with a complicated task of ensuring individualized care while managing numerous adverse effects that may occur with recommended therapy (Wander, 2020).
The schizophrenia drug currently has a PDUFA date set for November 15.
A US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) advisory committee has given a recommendation for the ultimate approval of a combination of olanzapine and samidorphan (ALKS 3831) in schizophrenia patients.
During the joint meeting of the Psychopharmacologic Drugs Advisory Committee and the Drug Safety and Risk Management Advisory Committee, the group voted 16-1 to approve the treatment, developed by Alkermes.
ALKS 3831 is an investigational, novel atypical antipsychotic earmarked for once-daily oral application for the 2 psychiatric disorders composed of samidorphan, a novel, new molecular entity, co-formulated with olanzapine, an established antipsychotic agent in a single bilayer tablet.
Recently, researchers presented data from the ENLIGHTEN-2 trial, a six-month study evaluating the weight gain profile of ALKS 3831 compared to olanzapine in 561 patients with stable schizophrenia.
“The favorable outcome of today’s joint advisory committee meeting represents an important milestone for the patients, clinicians and families who may benefit from new medicines for the treatment of schizophrenia and bipolar I disorder,” Craig Hopkinson, MD, chief medical officer and executive vice president of R&D at Alkermes, said in a statement. The personal testimonies shared during today’s open public hearing reinforced the need for treatment approaches that consider patients’ overall mental and physical health. The ALKS 3831 development program is part of our ongoing commitment to develop new therapeutic options for adults living with serious mental illness.”
There is currently a Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA) target action date of Nov. 15.
Photograph by Laurie Goldstein on streets of San Diego August 23rd, 2020
It seems to be tragic that individuals suffering from the symptoms of serious mental illness must try and fail oral medication therapies before qualifying for long-acting injectables. Besides being much more effective and efficient in medicine delivery, adherence increases significantly. Physicians are well aware that people do not take medications as directed. Lack of compliance in taking medicines as prescribed holds for physical health and mental health treatments. A person suffering from bronchitis may stop taking their antibiotics after five days of a 10-day course once they are feeling better. So, it is not surprising that many people struggle with adherence to daily or twice daily oral medications.
The issue of non-adherence has dire consequences if the condition involves the brain and psychosis. Repeated psychotic events can result in a change in the baseline. According to McKnight (2017) “Researchers now stage schizophrenia. Just like cancer, the more advanced the stage, the worse the outcome,”said Dr. Nasrallah, the Sydney W. Souers Endowed Chair and professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at Saint Louis University, told his audience. “The additional damaging effects of the second episode is what leads to clinical deterioration and can start the process of treatment resistance. But if no psychotic episodes are allowed to recur after the first episode, many patients can return to their baseline functioning, such as school or work.”
As data mount confirming the neurodegenerative effects of psychotic episodes in schizophrenia, one expert urges psychiatrists to think of psychosis as a “brain attack” which, like heart attacks, must be prevented from recurring. McKnight (2017)
According to McKnight (2017) “Schizophrenia doesn’t have to be progressive neurodegenerative unless patients relapse again and again, but that happens all the time because we give our patients pills they don’t take as prescribed. There are many reasons for poor adherence,”Henry A. Nasrallah, MD, said at the meeting held by Global Academy for Medical Education.
By Laurie Goldstein
See more surprising schizophrenia statistics, including:
With DJ Jaffe’s passing on August 23, 2020, individuals living with serious mental illness (and their loved ones) lost a highly effective advocate. Some of us at ACMI, notably Deborah Geesling, lost a friend as well. So, what do we do next? How do we build on DJ’s work?
DJ knew first-hand what life is like for those living with serious mental illness and their families. He took up advocacy to make those lives easier, safer, better. And his work instructed and inspired a generation of mental health advocates. DJ’s messages — always delivered in clear, simple English — are notable for the absence of policy lingo and the gloss of politically correct phrases. He spoke authentically, unassumingly, and he spoke truth. With unparalleled, laser-like precision, DJ exposed shortcomings, and failures within the current “behavioral health” industry, a trendy nomenclature that DJ would remind us is a misnomer for what the seriously mentally ill need. DJ was clever, quiet, studious, relentless. And, of course, pony-tailed! He never shied away from a powerful adversary. No Goliath was too big for DJ. And so, he left big footprints for those of us engaged in advocacy for the seriously mentally ill. Perhaps DJ’s greatest attribute was his unparalleled ability to identify and “call out” practical policy failures that created and sustain our behemoth public mental health system. And while DJ is now gone, we remain blessed by his writings and speeches — his practical, informed, insightful words of wisdom.
During DJ’s visit to Phoenix a few years back, he spoke at a church in the East Valley and at an ACMI salon. The salon was held on a chilly evening beneath a spectacular Arizona sky. Chuck and Laurie Goldstein’s patio, overlooking the Paradise Valley Desert and facing the spectacular mountains east of the Valley, is both beautiful and inspiring. Add fireplaces, thoughtfully placed heaters, and blankets, and about 50 of us had a perfect setting for conversation and reflection. Before DJ began his remarks, we chatted privately; I thanked him for his work, which was so needed. His typically cogent response: “Well sadly it’s needed, but it really shouldn’t be.” Those words stay with me and remind me of the value of DJ’s concrete focus.
Photo courtesy of Isaac Geesling Photography 2018
Before meeting DJ, I had read the speech that he delivered to the 2012 NAMI New York State convention. I keep it on my computer “desktop”. My favorite part is this:
I am not a mental health advocate.
Like most of you, I am a mental illness advocate. I think we need less mental health spending and more mental illness spending. It is the most seriously ill not the worried-well, who disproportionately become homeless, commit crime, become violent, get arrested incarcerated or hospitalized. 360,000 are behind bars and 200,000 homeless because we are now focused on improving mental health, rather than treating serious mental illness.
NAMI/NYS convention 2012
As a tribute to DJ Jaffe, each week for the next year, ACMI’s website will feature a quote from DJ Jaffe. We are calling this, simply, “52 Weeks of Truth Telling From DJ Jaffe”. By the anniversary of this remarkable’ s man’s passing, we’ll have quite a collection of words to live by .. a path of footprints, so to speak, to guide our advocacy and to honor this wonderful man. RIP, DJ JAFFE.
Holly R. Gieszl, JD
Founding Member, Board of Directors, the Association for the Chronically Mentally Ill.
For those that missed Bedlam, it will air on PBS on April 13th at 10PM
From Bedlam- When Dr. Kenneth Rosenberg trained as a psychiatrist in the late 1980s, the state mental hospitals, which had reached peak occupancy in the 1950s, were being closed at an alarming rate, with many patients having nowhere to go. There has never been a more important time for this conversation, as one in five adults – 40 million Americans – experience mental illness each year. Today, the largest mental institution in the United States is the Los Angeles County Jail, and the last refuge for many of the 20,000 mentally ill people living on the streets of Los Angeles is L.A. County Hospital. There, Dr. Rosenberg begins his chronicle of what it means to be mentally ill in America today, integrating his own moving story of how the system failed his sister, Merle, who had schizophrenia. As he says, “I have come to see that my family’s tragedy, my family’s shame, is America’s great secret.”
Dr. Rosenberg gives readers an inside look at the historical, political, and economic forces that have resulted in the greatest social crisis of the twenty-first century. The culmination of a seven-year inquiry, Bedlam is not only a rallying cry for change, but also a guidebook for how we move forward with care and compassion, with resources that have never before been compiled, including legal advice, practical solutions for parents and loved ones, help finding community support, and information on therapeutic options.
“I thought it did an excellent job of looking at things from various perspectives and humanizing both the ones with mental illness and those trying to help them. I did think that it was somewhat skewed in the sense that the cases it presented all dealt with people who never were able to get to a sustained recovery, and that isn’t an accurate reflection of the trajectory of the entire group of people with chronic severe mental illness. I think that might make people feel a little hopeless, as even those who temporarily stabilized and were in a good place in their lives, always fell back within a few years.
However, I understand that this reflects accurately the experience of a significant number of patients, and that is what the group that the filmmaker wanted to show. It also reflected accurately the dedication of family members, and how hard it must be to see one’s loved one fall back into psychosis and chaos over and over again.
I thought what was shown about seclusion and restraint incidents in the hospital ED was sad, as I felt that they were not using this intervention as a last resort and that they could have changed their approach, as well as the ED environment itself, to make it less agitating for patients and thus less likely to trigger the kind of behavior which would require seclusion or restraint. However, I think many or most of those scenes were filmed several years ago, so perhaps things have changed there since then. I did think that one very relevant topic which it did not touch on much was involuntary treatment, whether it was used and how it helped or did not help.” A prominent psychiatrist
“One issue I had with the video is the patient management it showed seemed backward compared to our standards and practice here in Arizona. The use of restraints (the process of applying them and the actual physical restraints) gave me discomfort as I watched them failing to attempt to reassure and de-escalate the situation. Also, there was a lack of peer supports. I am also unsure why there was no mention of the use of long-acting injectables and they seemed to repeatedly use the same management with oral medications despite the fact that the strategy was clearly failing. We have many things to be thankful for in Arizona! We need to be vigilant of the growing issue of homelessness and feelings of hopelessness in patients with SMI. Always thankful for people like you and ACMI in general for the true altruism you show in making things better for the patients and the people who support them.”A prominent psychiatrist
Here are my thoughts on Bedlam:
It did a great job of explaining the history of the problem and how we are still dealing with it today
It respectfully yet truthfully portrayed some of the rawness of untreated psychosis that most people will never see
It showed some of the successes the individuals experienced (like graduating from college)
It focused more on the failures that successes and ended on a low note
To end on a high note, it could have talked about some of the improved best practices and emerging practices to better address schizophrenia such as First Episode Treatment programs for young adults aged 16-25, the success of long-standing antipsychotic injectables, and perhaps some of the newer medications that are always coming out
It did not include anyone from ACMI to discuss secure residential!! As I was watching it, I kept thinking how secure residential could be very beneficial to avoid the “churn” that Dr. Olson described. Perhaps ACMI need to meet with the Bedlam producer to develop a new documentary called Bedlam 2: A New Hope (sorry for the Star Wars reference). It could feature lighthouses, secure residential, first episode psychosis programs, new medication approaches, supportive legislators/system leaders, and interviews with people who are passionate for this population.
Enjoyed the discussion panel.CEO of a behavioral health agency
“The film was timely, realistic and at least for me somewhat hopeful. Everyone I spoke to felt it was an accurate portrayal of the system we have today.” Prominent psychologist
“I felt it was a heavy movie to watch. I can only image how it felt as former patients. I thought that the hospital did not always try to de-escalate the situation. They had – security interacting primarily instead of the hospital staff when crisis arose.” ACMI board member
“This is the second time I have viewed it and it was harder to watch this time. Very emotional.” ACMI board member
“I thought Bedlam was strong on portraying the problem but weak on solutions. That’s where ACMI comes in. We and our mission (Lighthouses and Secure Residential) are major pieces of the solution.” ACMI board member
“For me, Bedlam told a sad story powerfully in the way only film can.” ACMI board member
“I liked the way the movie followed individuals over years. That was compelling to see the decline, the toll that having a serious mental illness takes. I also liked how the movie provided insight into the life of the caregivers and impact to the care providers. Terrible (even conflicting) descriptions of the systemic issues/gaps and totally disjointed explanations of potential solutions.” ACMI board member
“Honest portrayal of the lifelong burden of chronic serious mental illness for many people. No sugar coating. Most important-it showed that when the pendulum swings too far one way (our old asylums), it can be equally destructive to slam it back the other way (our current delivery system).”ACMI board member
“As a former practicing emergency department physician, and as a parent of an adult son with Schizoaffective disease, this film was almost a timeline of my own life through the behavioral health system. Tragic at times and hopeful at other times. “ ACMI board member
“It was a very heavy movie. Not a popcorn movie.” Chick Arnold
“I personally felt the movie was well made and it depicted what it’s like for some living with a mental illness and their quest to obtain help, the people I attended with spoke to me about how they felt parts of the movie compared to their experiences years ago as well, thank you for the invitation.” Housing supervisor
“Bedlam was a powerful documentary in both its presentation of three people in LA suffering from SMI and the environments they were living in.
I had a visceral response to the first person shown, a woman, after she was brought into a psych (I think) hospital ED, exhibiting signs of mania and psychosis. She exhibited the same behavior as my son has that I have seen more times than I wish to recount. The documentary showed the three people over the five-year period it was filmed.
Numerous times when Ian was manic and we could not reach him, I would take a friend with me to do a “welfare check,” scared that he might have committed suicide, which he threatened to do many times. I would find that Ian was not there (and was wandering the streets, behaving strangely). His apartment would be like, if not worse, those scenes shown of Jane’s home. A total mess with the entire apartment floor covered. Clean clothes and dirty clothes everywhere, garbage overflowing, food growing mold etc.
Many psych meds are not weight friendly. The viewer could see Jane’s weight gain once she was on meds. George’s heft may also have been due to meds. Both of their sizes resonated with me as we have seen our son put on a significant amount of weight over the years, due to med changes, meds thrown at him each time he was hospitalized. Ian’s weight gain is both from meds and poor food choices. Our son’s mental health and stability is our primary concern. After that, we also want our son to be as healthy as he can be. He already has high cholesterol and is at risk of developing diabetes. I suspect Jane and Ian are at risk of developing those and/or significant medical issues.
From a more global perspective, seeing the appalling conditions these three individuals with SMI are living, what services they are or are not getting, and how the mental health system is so inadequate and basically screwing them. Our country is doing nowhere near enough to have them live better lives – off the streets, out of the jails, and to stop the cycling in and out of psych hospitals, jails and the streets.
Bedlam is an eye-opener for those who have little or no involvement with the SMI. I, as well as others I spoke to after the screening, noted that there was nothing said about where we go from here. That would be a good subject for the next documentary.“ACMI board members
Association For The Chronically Mentally Ill (ACMI) believes there is sea change going on around mental illness and what has worked and what has areas for improvement. Among the most promising changes is that SAMSHA and mental health “think tanks” as well as community-based organizations like ACMI are discussing the need for additional research on biomedical aspects of serious mental illness rather than just focusing on “stigma” or general mental health or “wellness.” Not enough research dollars are targeted to investigate the root causes of mental illness and effective treatment modalities from medication to effective interventions in housing and social supports. People living with serious mental illness like schizo-affective disorder are trying to survive this devastating biological brain illness. Often without adequate support.
ACMI is encouraged by the proceedings of the White House Mental Health Summit (Dec 2019) which will provide additional funding dollars designated towards research on Mental Illness research.
Some advocates believe that “mental health problems tend to be under-researched, undertreated, and over-stigmatized.
We need to start focusing on treatment over punishment. Research that will lead to better treatment and outcomes – measured by changes in jail and prison incarceration rates, number and length of hospitalizations, and treatment compliance over a sustained period of time. Mental health treatments remain largely inaccessible to many, especially those from lower socio-economic or disadvantaged groups. These families often lack advocates for their ill family member and can not afford private attorneys to make the system “bend” to become more patient-focused. One estimate by the Epidemiologic Catchment Area Survey reported that 40 percent of adults with severe mental illness did not receive any psychiatric care within a one-year period. Many individuals will continue to suffer from serious mental illness until we can reduce barriers to treatment access. This is a tragedy — and a likely reason for the recent tragedies in which untreated individuals living with serious mental illness engaged in acts of violence against others in the community. The National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), the nation’s largest funder of mental health research, has seen flat budgets since 2003, and currently funds less than 20 percent of the proposed research trials it receives. This tight funding environment discourages new researchers from entering the mental health arena and slows research progress.
Stigma is important in the general conversation to ensure parents, teachers, physicians and other primary caregivers identify the early signs of mental illness; most are present before the late teenage years.
But, importantly, in Thomas R. Insel, M.D. director of National Institute of Mental Illness directors’ message he indicates the real need for basic research.
This is promising!
If we want to offer the most effective mental health treatments, we need cutting-edge research to test those treatments and understand how they work.
We think it is beneficial for all families to submit comments asking for more research dollars target research for serious mental illness.
From the Treatment Advocacy Center- (December 18, 2019) The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has a history of failing to prioritize serious mental illness in its research. Unfortunately, their recently-released five-year strategic plan draft signals their intention to continue to ignore those with the most impairing disorders.
Despite seeking public comment, the NIMH’s plan, even by the standards of federal reports, is almost unreadable. While the issues are complicated, the explanation of why they are vital shouldn’t be. However, it is not written in a way that is easy to understand or make sense of. For example, Strategy 3.3.C on page 28 reads “Enhancing the practical relevance of effectiveness research via deployment focused, hybrid effectiveness-implementation studies.”
Spearheaded by our founder, Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, the Treatment Advocacy Center has put together a comprehensive analysis of the five-year strategic plan, highlighting how it would fail those with severe mental illness. We identify sixteen concrete examples of research initiatives the NIMH should be pursuing today, initiatives that could help people with serious mental illness recover and live better lives.
Yesterday, the Treatment Advocacy Center submitted our public comment to the NIMH. However, we urge you to submit your own here. Use our comments, but also share your story of how the decisions of NIMH affect you and your loved ones. These stories are vital to help NIMH understand why their proposed priorities are misplaced.
Here are some points to consider:
The report fails to reflect the urgency of our national mental health crisis: As Dr. Torrey summarized, “Overall, I would say that this report is promising for people who plan to be affected with a serious mental illness in 2050 or beyond, but for anyone who is currently affected, the report offers no hope. I personally find this unacceptable and inexcusable.”
Where are the people who are experiencing the consequences of our failed mental health system? Except for one paragraph on the increasing national suicide rate, there is no indication whatsoever that mental health services for individuals with serious mental illnesses are an increasing public disaster. There is no mention of homelessness, criminalization of mental illness, the fact that emergency rooms are overrun with people with mental illness, or the burden of the failures of the mental health system on law enforcement.
Continued misplaced and unbalanced priorities: The strategic plan is strongly weighted towards basic brain science, with a continued strong emphasis on genetic research. It ignores the fact that the genetic research to date has been remarkably unproductive and likely to continue to be so, as described in a paper by Dr. Torrey and Dr. Robert Yolken published in Psychiatry Research in August.
You can submit feedback online via the NIMH request for information page, or mail your comments to: NIMH Strategic Planning Team 6001 Executive Boulevard, Room 6200, MSC 9663 Bethesda, MD 20892-9663
From the National Institute of Mental Health Strategic Plan- here are the four priority areas.