'OFF LABEL': Tribeca Film Captures Our Insatiable Appetite for Prescription Drugs


Prescription Drugs Used Off Label

The filmmakers also look at aging African-American Muslim Jusef Anthony, who recounts the horrific experiments he says he was subjected to while imprisoned for selling marijuana in the 1960s.

There, he said, university researchers gave him seven pills to take three times a day. "They butchered me," he says, showing his gnarled fingernails to the camera. "I'm damaged goods."

Anthony was later diagnosed with prostate cancer and rheumatoid arthritis, which he blames on the careless prescription of drugs.

"They looked at us as a commodity," he said.

They also introduce a young vagabond couple -- Jordan Rieke and Laura Vargas-Rieke -- who participate in drug trials to pay for their wedding and start a family.

And in Santa Cruz, Calif., Paula Yarr, who lives next to a Big Foot Museum, swallows 18 different pills for her bipolar disorder -- some work, some don't.

Robert Helms, who once appeared on television's "To Tell Truth," describes his life as a professional guinea pig. An anarchist and editor of the self-published, "Guinea Pig Zero," he worries that one day he might not qualify for drug trials.

Fearing that he will be broke, he is seen in the film preparing an animal trap – one never knows how serious he is – to catch a cat to eat.

The documentary looks at the situation from the industry side, following Michael Oldani, a medical anthropologist who once worked as a drug rep for the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.

"Ultimately, we are all implicated, not just the pharmaceutical companies or drug reps or doctors prescribing meds for people," said director Palmieri. "In the end we do need medicine, but the system we all participate in is kind of crazy, where the quick-fix approach is easier, but not necessarily better."

It was that approach at the Veterans Administration that victimizes people like Duffy, according to the documentary.

He was prescribed dozens of antidepressants, sleep aids and anti-anxiety drugs in place of psychological counseling to get over his flashbacks, nightmares and sleeplessness.

Today, at 26, Sgt. Andy Duffy finds psychological support working with fellow veterans.

Even a chimp in a zoo gets behavioral therapy when prescribed drugs for depression, according to the film.

"I was on four meds at a time," Duffy told ABCNews.com. "The drugs were preventing me from moving forward. I basically was numbing myself to escape things."

He ballooned in weight from 140 to 196 pounds and was tired all the time. "I had much more suicidal thoughts with all this medication," said Duffy.

But the VA had contracts with certain drug companies that prevented doctors from adjusting his drugs and long waiting lists to see a psychologist.

"Literally, if there is a medicine that saves a life -- at the VA, if they don't have a contract, you probably are not going to get that drug."

"It was easier and cheaper for the government to dispense out meds," Duffy said.

In a moment of clarity, Duffy went off all medications and was able to quiet his demons by finding the support he needed from other war veterans.

Today, he is going to school to study social work and is active with Veterans for Peace and formed his own group, Veterans Relief.

"I realized that what I really needed was talk therapy," he said. "And it helped me so much. There were so many guys out there with the exact same problem who understood where I was coming from.

"They didn't just give me a sterile answer and shove me on the street with a bunch of pills in my pocket."

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