False Statistics, Broken Promises
Exposing the myth that chlorpromazine emptied psychiatric hospitals

Numerous articles and studies state that the drug Heinz Lehmann introduced helped to clear patients out of psychiatric wards.

But researchers, including Dr. Joel Lexchin of the University of Toronto and Dr. Peter Breggin, say it’s a myth that drugs such as chlorpromazine emptied the psychiatric hospitals.

Lexchin states that the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association of Canada (PMAC) selectively used statistics to make it appear the drugs emptied the beds.

An honest review of statistics showed otherwise, he said.

The PMAC trumpets a 35 percent drop in the number of patients in Canadian psychiatric hospitals from 1963 to 1974 due to the introduction of drugs like chlorpromazine, states Lexchin.

“The inpatient psychiatric population may be dropping but according to the Ontario Public Service Employees Union financed study of the province of Ontario’s mental health system, readmission rates in that province climbed from 25 per cent in 1941 to 70 per cent in 1971 and currently two thirds of all admissions to psychiatric hospitals are readmissions,” he wrote.

In 1961, there were 56,000 cases of admissions to mental health care; by 1979, that figure rose to 237,000.

It was a similar scene in the United States. Psychiatrist Loren Mosher said that in 1968, the states of New York and California had comparable populations. Yet that year, New York had 22,000 in its mental institutions while California had only 5,000. The difference in size was due to California’s state policy of deinstitutionalization and not because of psychiatric drugs, said Mosher.

“California started in 1952 to get people out of their mental hospitals whereas New York State, despite having drugs like chlorpromazine, still had 22,000 people. It’s very clear that these drugs did not, as Lehmann and others have claimed, empty the mental hospitals,” he said.

Statistics aside, the real legacy of Heinz Lehmann’s work is the tragic impact upon individuals. Bob Dobson-Smith of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights said he remains haunted by the images of thousands of people in psychiatric hospitals across Canada, still suffering from the effects of chlorpromazine—a decade or more after being given the “wonder drug” they were promised would improve their lives.




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