Fifty million Americans are dependent on, not heroin or cocaine, but on commonly prescribed psychiatric drugs. While the dangers of illegal drugs and opioids are well known, few are fully informed of the dangers of antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds, and stimulants before becoming physiologically dependent on them. These medications often provide effective short-term relief for emotional distress and other problems, but pharmaceutical companies have hidden common side effects and long-term harm from both patients and doctors.
Multinational drug companies spend billions of dollars promoting these drugs. Not surprisingly, the narratives extolling their benefits are often the only ones presented in the mainstream media. The other side of the story is not being reported, and it is a story of harm done.
Combining cinema verité and investigative journalism, Medicating Normal follows the journeys of a newly married couple, a female combat veteran, a waitress and a teenager whose doctors prescribed psychiatric drugs for stress, mild depression, sleeplessness, focus and trauma. Our subjects struggle with serious physical and mental side effects as well as neurological damage which resulted from taking the drugs as prescribed and also from attempting to withdraw. Says one psychiatrist, “There’s not a chemical on the planet, to my knowledge, that can require years to taper – not Oxycontin, not crack cocaine, not heroin, and not alcohol. But psychiatric medications, any tapered patient will tell you, can take sometimes years if possible, at all.”
During the course of the film, prominent psychiatrists and scientific experts explain how it came to pass that – shockingly – one in five Americans take these drugs daily, and often for many years. They reinforce the fact that debilitating side-effects including addiction are common, yet not commonly acknowledged. It is the untold story of what happens when profit-driven medicine intersects with human beings in distress.