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National Alliance on Mental Illness

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This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), sometimes mistakenly called the "National Alliance for the Mentally Ill," is a U.S. organization that describes itself as the "nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to improving the lives of persons living with serious mental illness and their families."[1]

Pro-pharmaceutical industry activity

Mother Jones, in an article in its November/December, 1999 issue, identified a questionably close relationship between NAMI and major pharmaceutical companies. MoJo wrote, "According to internal documents obtained by Mother Jones, 18 drug firms gave NAMI a total of $11.72 million between 1996 and mid-1999. These include Janssen ($2.08 million), Novartis ($1.87 million), Pfizer ($1.3 million), Abbott Laboratories ($1.24 million), Wyeth-Ayerst Pharmaceuticals ($658,000), and Bristol-Myers Squibb ($613,505). NAMI's leading donor is Eli Lilly and Company, maker of Prozac, which gave $2.87 million during that period. In 1999 alone, Lilly will have delivered $1.1 million in quarterly installments, with the lion's share going to help fund NAMI's 'Campaign to End Discrimination' against the mentally ill." Critics pointed out that NAMI tends to emphasize drug treatments for mental illness, and that pharmaceutical companies tend to shape the group's agenda. "They appear to be a completely independent organization, but they parrot the line of the drug companies in saying that drugs are the essential thing," said Janet Foner, a co-coordinator of Support Coalition International, an activist organization of "psychiatric survivors."[2]

The Philadelphia Inquirer, in a May 28, 2006 investigative article on the relationships between patient advocacy groups and pharmaceutical companies stated that, "Although patients seldom know it, many patient groups and drug companies maintain close, multimillion-dollar relationships while disclosing limited or no details about the ties." The article also zeroed in on NAMI, stating that "The National Alliance on Mental Illness, an outspoken patient advocate, lobbies for treatment programs that also benefit its drug-company donors." The Inquirer reported that NAMI "did not disclose that Lilly marketing manager Gerald Radke briefly ran its entire operation. Radke began in 1999 as a Lilly-paid "management consultant," then left Lilly and served as NAMI's paid "interim executive director" until mid-2001. The group acknowledged this only after being shown Radke's resume listing the job." The Inquirer further found that,

Lilly donated at least $3 million to NAMI. For its part, NAMI promotes the increased use of psychotropic drugs, lobbies against any cost-saving restrictions on number of psychotropic drugs prescribed for one patient under Medicaid, and even lobbies for laws allowing mental patients to be forced to take antipsychotic drugs. The drugs most often prescribed for involuntary patients -- Janssen's Risperdal (risperidone) and Lilly's Zyprexa (olanzapine) -- cause debilitating, indeed, lethal effects. NAMI's failure to inform its constituents about the danger these drugs pose for patients, and its continued aggressive promotion of these drugs despite the evidence, may be viewed as confirmation that NAMI is an extension of Lilly's marketing department."[3]

Lobbying for positions counter to the welfare of the mentally ill

In 2004, NAMI opposed the placement of "black box" warnings on antidepressants determined to cause suicide in under-18 year olds, and in 2006 opposed black box warnings on ADHD drugs causing heart attack, stroke and sudden death in children in 2006. Despite overwhelming evidence of serious adverse cardiac events and sudden deaths caused by ADHD drugs, in 2006 NAMI took the position that the “black box” warning on ADHD drugs was “premature.” Also, on December 18, 2003, The New York Times exposed that NAMI had bused scores of protestors to a hearing in Frankfort, Kentucky, took out full page ads in Kentucky newspapers, and sent angry faxes to state officials, all to protest a state panel proposal to exclude the antipsychotic drug Zyprexa from Medicaid’s list of preferred medications. According to the article, “What the advocacy groups did not say at the time was that the buses, ads and faxes were all paid for” by the manufacturer of the antipsychotic drug Zyprexa, Eli Lilly.[4]

Characteristics of patient-advocacy pharmaceutical front groups

Patient advocacy groups that serve as pharmaceutical fronts may display some or all of the following characteristics.

They may:

  • Derive most, if not all of their revenue from pharmaceutical manufacturers;
  • Lobby for treatment programs that also benefit their drug-company donors;
  • Tend to be slower to publicize treatment problems than breakthroughs;
  • Tend not to openly question drug prices;
  • Tend to encourage patients to stay on their medications and offer programs to help patients stay on their medication, and push insurers to pay for it;
  • Funding from drug companies to the organization usually comes from the drug makers' marketing or sales divisions, not charity offices;
  • Fail to adequately discuss, or minimize discussion of adverse drug side effects of drugs like brain damage or suicide;
  • Fail to lobby for more or additional safety research due to the potential for cutoff of their pharma funding[5]
  • Focus on drugs as the preferred treatment, and neglect issues like housing and income support, vocational training, rehabilitation, and empowerment, all of which can play a role in recovery from mental illness.[6]

Truly independent patient advocacy groups are likely to be controlled by volunteers who actually take mental health drugs themselves. True grassroots patient advocacy groups are likely to have "fire walls" against donor influence, like policies against accepting funding from drug companies.

Funding

NAMI is funded in part by pharmaceutical corporate benefactors. [1] In May 2006, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that NAMI president Michael J. Fitzpatrick "said one donor recently demanded that, in return for funding a TV public-service announcement, the ad include the company's direct contact information. Fitzpatrick said NAMI refused." [2]

NAMI's 2004 Annual Report lists the following company's as corporate supporters [7]

Contact details

NAMI
3803 N. Fairfax Dr., Ste. 100
Arlington, VA 22203
Main: 703-524-7600
Fax: 703-524-9094
TDD: 703-516-7227
Email: info AT nami.org
Web: http://www.nami.org

Articles & sources

SourceWatch Resources

External resources

References

  1. National Alliance on Mental Illness About NAMI, organizational Web page, accessed December 8, 2010
  2. Ken Silverstein Prozac.org: An influential mental health nonprofit finds its 'grassroots' watered by pharmaceutical millions, Mother Jones, November/December 1999 issue
  3. Alliance for Human Research Protection, Thomas Ginsburg $29 Million Donations Tie Drug Firms and Nonprofits - Philadelphia Inquirer, reprinted from the Philadelphia Inquirer, originally published Sunday May 28, 2006
  4. Citizens Commission on Human Rights International National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) – A Pharma front group, October 1, 2009
  5. Alliance for Human Research Protection, Thomas Ginsburg $29 Million Donations Tie Drug Firms and Nonprofits - Philadelphia Inquirer, reprinted from the Philadelphia Inquirer, originally published Sunday May 28, 2006
  6. Ken Silverstein Prozac.org: An influential mental health nonprofit finds its 'grassroots' watered by pharmaceutical millions, Mother Jones, November/December 1999 issue
  7. Annual Report, National Alliance on Mental Illness (pdf), 2004