The Zyprexa Papers by Jim Gottstein

The Zyprexa Papers. Sounds like a thriller starring Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts. It’s not. It’s the riveting account of Alaska attorney Jim Gottstein’s encounter with the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, a battle centered around Eli Lilly’s wanton misuse of the drug Zyprexa.

It tells a second, interrelated story as well, the story of Gottstein’s efforts to prevent a client named Bill from being forcibly drugged while committed. Together, the two stories tell an age-old tale and amount to a compelling indictment of the current mental health care system, where the powerless are victimized and the powerful make money.

We love a good courtroom drama. As good as the fictional ones can be—think of the last ten minutes of A Few Good Men—The Zyprexa Papers is better. What will that slip of the tongue cost? Will that omission be noticed? Will that surprise witness save the day or will he sink the ship? Did that purely civil matter suddenly turn into a criminal matter? Uh-oh. Who saw that coming!

The Zyprexa Papers is dramatic—and also quite scary. If, like me, you have activist inclinations and want to speak truth to power then, like me, you are likely worried that there will be repercussions—real, scary, maybe even life-altering repercussions. It is this fear that keeps so many of us from standing up, blowing a whistle, pointing a finger, and being counted. The Zyprexa Papers reminds us that these fears are justified.

Do you want an army of combative lawyers zeroing in on your every word, your every communication, your every step and misstep? Do you want to suddenly have to plunk down a $50,000 retainer just to initiate an appeal? Do you want your computer confiscated and its contents examined? Do you want a clearly antagonist judge deciding your fate? Who wants any of that?

Not you and not me. But I hope that we can stand up anyway. I’m reminded of the title of John F. Kennedy’s book: Profiles in Courage. We need heroes. We need them in Afghanistan but we also need them in district courts. We need them at burning buildings but we also need them advocating for the powerless.

I’ve written at great length about the problems with the current mental disorder paradigm, about the DSM as a labeling tool and not a legitimate diagnostic manual, about the illegitimacy of calling a powerful chemical “medication” when no biological disease is present, and the other quagmires of psychiatry. The Zyprexa Papers puts flesh on the bones of such theoretical abstractions.

It tells the story of how thousands upon thousands of individuals were harmed by a particular chemical and about the handful of people, lawyers, investigative journalists, ethical practitioners, and psychiatric survivors among them, willing to come to the aid of those thousands. I highly recommend it. It may not amount to light summer reading; but it is winter, after all, and there is frost everywhere already.


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