As Prescribed Logo

Frankenstein and Pharma

It’s time for an update on the progress of As Prescribed. We have the fine cut. After a series of virtual editing sessions on Zoom, we pared back our 100-minute rough cut to a 92-minute fine cut. Now I’m devoting my days to related post-production tasks: consults with our music composer, securing a studio for a high-quality affordable sound mix, finding an effects person for the film’s very last shot, arranging our color correct sessions, preparing titles and captions, and sorting out our deliverables requirements. And, of course, I continue to search for finishing funds. We are fortunate that Poull Brien (Charles Bradley: Soul of America) has joined our team. He has become a great cheerleader for As Prescribed and is working hard to help with fundraising. The schedule still looks good for completing As Prescribed in February and having it ready for a spring 2022 premiere.

Despite the frenzied pace, I took a day off this week and traveled to Boston to celebrate my brother’s birthday. Over the past year I’ve watched his MS advance and take hold of his body and mind in a targeted effort to steal him away from himself and his life. His once brilliant and extraordinary mind is enduring what could be the final assault. He cannot speak other than to say rudimentary words, mostly labored yeses and noes. He cannot stand on his own and he certainly cannot walk. When MS takes over it is ruthless. Yet somehow my big brother manages to communicate his satisfaction with life — with his wonderful partner, his family who loves him, his compassionate caretaker, and his comfortable home.

My Brother Bob

Nature has played a cruel trick on him — anointing him with MS when he was in his late 20’s. His burgeoning career as a stellar journalist was quickly compromised. Seeing a future of uncertainty with the ins and outs of MS resurgence and stealth disintegration, he altered his career path, working the next decades as a desk editor at the Boston Globe, writing on rare occasions, and, in the 90s, helping to found Out Magazine. But MS was always there, lurking. Stealing bits and pieces of him in fits and spurts as the years passed. He retired early and has been eking out moments of comfort, even joy, with his partner Miguel, living in a modest home just west of Boston. But the day has come, the day when the disease is making clear that it will not relent, it will not release him. It will not turn back.

Autoimmune issues of one sort or another seem to run in my family. I’ve had my share of autoimmune illness, starting with CFS/ME back in the 90s. CFS/ME certainly rerouted my life journey, though I considered myself lucky back then because I had beaten the illness within ten years. But the joke was on me. An unwelcome interloper named Klonopin, prescribed as part of CFS/ME treatment, stole my hard-won good health, hurling me into a deeper, more disturbing state of ungodly illness, one not meant to be experienced in the earth’s grand design, I am certain. Benzodiazepines are a Frankenstein-style monster let loose by the pharma industry. The original benzodiazepine developers, Leo Sterbach and his team at Roche Labs, like the fictional Dr. Frankenstein, did not intend to let loose a diabolical monster on the public. But their bosses, the corporate heads, dismissed all evidence that the first benzodiazepines, Librium and Valium, posed serious risks to their consumers (aka the unsuspecting public). From the get-go these profit-hungry decision-makers and highly-paid marketers ignored, overlooked, and suppressed evidence of serious risk. And now, more than 60 years later, doctors who insist that we must use evidence-based protocol in medicine continue to ignore the mounting evidence of harm. They continue to misprescribe benzodiazepines to millions of vulnerable people around the world.

​What most people do not realize is that many benzo victims are as ill and as disabled as my brother who has MS. Though, with benzos, I believe we are dealing with something more sinister. The benzodiazepine epidemic could have been avoided. The cause of MS remains beyond researchers’ current understanding. Benzo injury does not. Yet, safe prescribing is still uncommon. When patients experience adverse effects, prescribers still tend to increase the dosage. And when symptoms worsen, doctors rarely recognize them as tolerance or kindling. Still. Too often additional medications are prescribed, compounding the injury, placing the patient in deeper jeopardy. Once the source of benzo illness and injury is detected (usually by the patient), tapering and healing can begin. But for too many healing takes years. The definition of recovery becomes relative. Expecting full recovery can seem foolhardy.

A Banner Day. Returned to the community gardens where we filmed Sonja Styblo in August 2020

Who knows this better than a benzo victim? Over the decades, benzodiazepine risks have gradually been made available to members of the public who care to hear. A small number of clinicians and journalists started listening to patients’ horror stories and took a better look at the evidence. Victims of benzodiazepine misprespcribing began finding each other, educating each other, and advocating for awareness and change. I am grateful beyond measure that one of the originals, Geraldine Burns, appears as the heart of As Prescribed.

As I sign off, I want to acknowledge my brother’s generosity. He has been a reliable supporter of As Prescribed. He might not be able to speak or write the way he used to, but he can still express his empathy for those harmed. With a nod, he lets me know that making this film is the right thing to do.

Please consider joining the cause. Help us finish As Prescribed.