May 06, 2009

Most of you are aware that Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a letter to the National Alliance on Mental Illness last month, asking for the organization, which lobbies Congress, to reveal how much it gets from what pharma companies. NAMI has long been known,a s I’ve pointed out for three years, to be receiving about 50 percent of its annual budget (around $12 million to $13 million total) from pharma companies, which is kind of interesting for a group that styles itself as “the nation’s voice on mental illness.” Of course, many of the group’s initiatives, nationally and locally, involve getting people to understand that mental illness comes from bad brains and that bad brains require medications made by the companies supporting NAMI. It’s the bio-pharma marketing model run amok. (Much past coverage of NAMI here.)

Anyway, NAMI replied to the Senator and its reply was obtained by MindFreedom, a fairly anti-meds group, and posted to its website. In it, Michael Fitzpatrick, NAMI’s executive director, states that the group has received on average 56 percent of its annual budget from pharma companies from 2005 to 2009. Fitzpatrick, who defends the group’s pharma dough, claims that NAMI’s strategic plan is to reduce that percentage dramatically in coming years. He told me the same thing when I met with him in 2005 (back when I was still at a newspaper). Four years later, NAMI is still pulling in many millions from pharma.

In fact, NAMI is now breaking out its pharma contributions each quarter, a practice it apparently began this year. For the first quarter of 2009, NAMI took in $1,249,340 from pharma companies and foundations. You can read the list here, including $25,000 from AstraZeneca for “Exemplary Psychiatrist Awards,” presumably to be presented at NAMI’s annual convention. In fact, you’ll be amazed at how much of that $1.2 million is aimed at NAMI’s annual convention–$147,500.

Bristol-Myers Squibb, for example, gave $262,500 in the first quarter. Some $37,500 of that is for something called “NAMI Depression Initiative.” BMS doesn’t make an anti-depressant and NAMI, according to Fitzpatrick’s letter, hasn’t been bought by Big Pharma. Oh, wait, but there’s that new add-on for depression indication for BMS’ Abilify antipsychotic. I bet that whatever program this is at least includes a mention of using antipsychotics to treat depression.
Posted by Philip Dawdy at May 6, 2009 12:05 AM