Has Sustiva Solved an HIV Mystery?

May 24, 2009

Until last year, I was a strong supporter of the pharmaceutical industry. When Merck was sued (Vioxx), I blamed the lawyers for filing frivolous lawsuits against drug makers who, I then believed, were the innovative champions in Humanity’s fight against disease. I dismissed stories about “big pharma” as fast as I heard them. The notion that scientists would deliberately poison patients for profit, or that the US Government would fund medical doctors like Robert Gallo after he violated his Hippocratic Oath was preposterous. As much as I like Ralph Fiennes, I refused to see a movie as unbelievable as The Constant Gardener. So when the physicians and nurses at Semmelweis Society International (SSI) asked me to investigate allegations that UC Professor Peter Duesberg had killed millions in Africa, I expected to complete my task within days. With almost thirty years of investigative experience, I figured that a few Google searches would resolve the questions, one way or the other. Little did I know that the allegations issued by James Murtagh MD, Kevin Kuritzky, and Richard Jefferys would consume thousands of hours of my time or expose me to the ugly underbelly of the pharmaceutical industry and its chicken-ranch relationship with America’s most prestigious universities. While the evidence I discovered now suggests that millions may have been poisoned and murdered, I’ve found that Dr. Duesberg more closely resembles Moshe the Beadle than his pharmaceutically-funded accusers – who now appear to have far more in common with Phillip Morris than Louis Pasteur. Since the release of my preliminary report (PDF) in July 2008, filmmaker Brent Leung completed his documentary and investigative reporter Celia Farber, who was also targeted, has filed suit against her accusers in the New York Supreme Court. My report established the two sides of the dispute:

  • One side, (commonly referred to as truthers, goons, and troofers) is comprised of the beneficiaries of millions of dollars in pharmaceutical funding. Truthers insist that HIV attacks cells and causes AIDS.
  • The other side, (called rethinkers, denialists, and skeptics) question whether anyone has ever proved that HIV attacks cells and causes AIDS. These individuals rely mostly on private donations and represent a tiny fraction of what truthers receive from the pharmaceutical industry.

After examining both sides, the evidence now indicates that:

  1. All HIV/AIDS research is based upon Dr. Gallo’s unproven assumption that HIV attacks cells and causes AIDS;
  2. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) spends $206,906 per AIDS death (compared to $13,365 per Diabetes death, $12,000 per prostate disease, $9,000 for Parkinson’s disease and $9,000 for Alzheimer’s disease), even though AIDS has never been a leading cause of death in the United States or Africa;
  3. Except for rare individuals like US Senator Charles Grassley and Rep. John Dingell, the US Congress, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) appear to share many of the same organizational flaws that the SEC, FBI, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Treasury exhibited before the 2008 financial.

New Evidence

Although the toxic effects of HIV treatments are well documented, I was still confused by HIV+ patients who reported that, after years of treatment, many became ill within two weeks of discontinuing their medication. If HIV didn’t kill cells or cause AIDS, why were patients getting sick when they interrupted their drug regimen? Although patients like Karri Stokely attributed her four-month post-drug illness to “the shock of no longer being on toxic drugs,” I didn’t accept it. Toxins don’t ordinarily make someone sicker when stopped – addictive drugs do that.

If someone takes regular doses of arsenic for six months, there is no evidence that their sudden abstinence would cause anything but a recovery. Conversely, addicts (and those who know them) understand the distress that comes with abstinence from coffee, tobacco, and harder drugs like alcohol, cannabis, opiates, meth or cocaine. The degree of withdrawal depends upon factors that include the addict’s health, dosage, resistance, the intoxicant, and how the drugs are metabolized. But while post-HIV drug symptoms sounded suspiciously like addiction withdrawal, I found little more than a mild warning (404) of the “potential for additive central nervous system effects when SUSTIVA is used concomitantly with alcohol or psychoactive drugs.” Nothing alluded to intoxicating properties of the drug itself.

When I met Karri Stokely last week, she explained her medical history, her two-month recovery from a post-operative infection, and various tests that eventually led to her HIV+ diagnosis in June 1996 when she began her treatment. (more) Karri reported that she was initially prescribed Combivir (AZT and 3TC) and Crixivan until 2001, when her doctor detected signs of liver damage and switched from Crixivan to Sustiva. After that, Karri took Combivir and Sustiva as prescribed until April 2007, when she discovered Dr. Duesberg’s questions about AIDS research.

After studying the information on Rethinking AIDS and Virus Myth, she abruptly stopped her medication. At first, Karri detected no adverse symptoms. During the second week, however, she noticed increasing symptoms of fatigue, exhaustion, depression, insomnia, body aches, and a significant loss of appetite. During the next month, she developed an extreme sensitivity to pain when touched, even when lying in bed or eating. Visits to the toilet and tub were difficult and, as the weeks passed, her weight dropped from her normal 135 to 114 (she’s 5-8). Karri also experienced night sweats and often noticed a thin green/yellow coating on her tongue. Most notably, her throat was sore and she possessed an almost continuous and unquenchable thirst. “I felt as if my system was shutting down,” she said.

Karri’s decline continued from April through August 2007, when her symptoms began to subside. She returned to her clinic for another blood test in August and, when the lab results returned a week later, the nurse called Karri in a panic: “Your lab tests are way off! You didn’t stop taking your drugs, did you?” The nurse became more alarmed when Karri admitted that she’d been off the drugs for four months. Nurse Nancy asked, “Why would you do such a thing? Do you know what happened to your lab work? “No.” “Do you even want to know what your lab work says?” “Yes.” “Your T-Cell count dropped to 97 (from 200s) and viral load to 135,000! Are you coming in?” A week later, Dr. Van Hook crossed his arms and scowled at Karri. “Why would you do this?” Karri asked him, “Did you know there is another view of HIV, that it might not cause AIDS?” “No,” said the doctor. “Do you want to know?” “No, Karri, I don’t want to know. You’ve done a very stupid thing and you will be dead very soon.” Karri Stokely didn’t die and, during the next two years, her symptoms disappeared entirely. After listening to Karri’s story and comparing notes with other reports, I noted similarities between Karri’s symptoms and known withdrawal syndromes, including those of antidepressants. I also found reports that HIV drugs were being crushed and smoked by addicts in Africa:

Smoking the pills has a hallucinogenic and relaxing effect… “When I asked them why they like doing it, they said it helps them relax and forget about their problems,” said Ms Nhlapo. “When you look at them, just a few seconds after taking it, they are in another world,” she added. The children do not know where they are and they stop making sense. The young users that Ms Nhlapo spoke to get access to these drugs from HIV patients or healthcare workers. They know when the individual patients go to collect the drugs and buy them, or if they do not have any money, they steal them.“When I was doing the story, many HIV patients were complaining that they don’t get the drugs and that queues are long and it was taking a long time to access them,” said Ms Nhlapo. 

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ABC News reported the drug as Efavirenz, also known as Sustiva – one of the two drugs Karri had taken for six years. I knew how better known addictive drugs worked and quickly dismissed the idea that an anti-bacterial drug could be addictive – until I stumbled upon Iproniazid.

While being studied as a possible treatment for tuberculosis in 1952, this antibacterial agent was discovered to have psychoactive properties. “Terminally ill patients who were given this drug became cheerful, more optimistic, and more physically active.” Iproniazid and similar compounds slowed the breakdown of norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine “via inhibition of the mitochondrial enzyme monoamine oxidase.” These neurochemicals affect the same receptors as cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, cannabis, and other more commonly known addictive drugs. These antibacterial agents have since become known as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), which are now used as antidepressants (SSRIs) under the names of Prozac, Paxil, Lexapro, Zoloft, and Effexor.

Iproniazid withdrawal symptoms were similar to those Karri described. The research, production, and distribution of this class of drugs is not without controversy. Japanese researchers recently reported antidepressant (SSRI) users “who developed increased feelings of hostility or anxiety, and have even committed sudden acts of violence against others.” (Other SSRI stories indexed here.)

Texas psychiatrist Karen Wagner MD was recently exposed for failing to disclose a $160,000 payment from GlaxoSmithKline while understating the dangers of Paxil for children. Many of these known SSRI withdrawal reactions are consistent with Karri’s post-Sustiva experience.

As for Nurse Nancy’s report of Karri’s erratic T-Cell counts and viral loads, numerous clinical studies show a direct connection between the stress of withdrawal (cocaine and heroin) and decreases in immune function for up to two years. Those reports show a direct correlation between addiction, withdrawal, and the human immune system (white blood cells, T-cells, and viral loads) regardless of whether HIV is present or not.

But because AIDS experts and testing rely on T-cells and viral loads to establish HIV infection, it’s hard to understand how the experts know the difference between HIV infections and physiological changes due to illicit drug use. This would also explain why active and former drug addicts are frequently identified as HIV carriers. The revelation that Sustiva is not reported to be an extremely addictive psychotropic drug is disturbing. After speaking with patients like Karri who interrupted their prescriptions, it now appears that abstinence from so-called “ARVs” like Sustiva results not in an increased risk of AIDS but, instead, precipitates the onset of a painful and violent withdrawal syndrome not dissimilar to withdrawal from cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, and alcohol.

Unfortunately for patients like Karri, AIDS clinicians typically mischaracterize the withdrawal syndrome as a manifestation of AIDS that will soon kill them. Unless given further information, care, and nurturing, most patients are physically and emotionally unprepared to contradict their white-coated physicians. Once the drug is re-administered, however, the “AIDS symptoms” disappear in ways not unlike junkies who inject a long-awaited dose of heroin.


It is not known how many AIDS medications are addictive or why; nor have I established whether the pharmaceutical industry unintentionally or deliberately marketed addictive drugs for the purpose of misleading otherwise uninfected individuals. But if a retired cop can identify Sustiva’s addictive properties, it’s hard to understand how the GlaxoSmithKline’s PhDs could have missed so much evidence. Intentional or not, by marketing this class of drugs (MAOIs and SSRIs) as “AIDS medications,” the pharmaceutical industry has built into its HIV cocktails a mechanism that punishes HIV patients when they interrupt their drug use.

Karri’s cocktail contained two drugs – a deadly poison (AZT) that kills and a highly addictive drug that makes patients feel cheerful, more optimistic, and more physically active. At $419/mo, a patient (or taxpayers) would pay $5,028 a year for Sustiva alone. Multiplied by the alleged HIV+ US population of 1,185,000, receipts could total $6 billion/year. Multiplied by the estimated global HIV+ population, GlaxoSmithKline could generate $100 billion in sales and tax deductions annually. Despite these facts, no one can seriously believe that a pharmaceutical company would deliberately poison and addict millions of homosexuals, drug users, and illiterate Africans for $100 billion dollars a year. No, that’s out of the question. Of course they wouldn’t. But if the pharmaceutical industry knows that Sustiva and/or other HIV drugs are addictive, it would also explain the hysterical attacks by so-called AIDS researchers who, instead of delivering proof that HIV attacks cells and causes AIDS, attack individuals like Karri Stokely who have the temerity to ignore the results of HIV tests that prove nothing.

While the Harrison Act of 1914 prohibits the distribution of addictive drugs to perpetuate addiction, the evidence suggests that GlaxoSmithKline has circumvented the spirit of this law by delivering intoxicants, other than opiates and coca, to millions by classifying them as HIV treatments. Karri Stokely is one of many former HIV patients who have kicked the habit and now live a happy, healthy and drug-free life. I look forward to the day when politicians jump start the agencies that are supposed to be looking out for the most vulnerable in the US, Europe, and Africa.

UPDATE: See also HAART Exposed: Sustiva Causes AIDS Symptoms