- "Kids are different today,"
I hear every mother say, "Mother needs something today to calm her
down." And 'though she's not really ill, there's a little yellow pill
She goes running for the shelter of her mother's little helper. And it
helps her on her way, gets her through her busy day.
- -- "Mother's Little Helper,"
The Rolling Stones, 1966
- Mick Jagger's sarcastic vocals aside,
there has been a revolution over the past five decades in the way many
people cope with the daily stresses that assault and sometimes overpower
- Since the 1950s, several generations
of Americans have turned to medicine -- with the expectation that new pills
would help make them happy, less depressed, better workers, better lovers.
This trend started in 1955, when Wallace Laboratories and Wyeth Laboratories
began marketing an anti-anxiety drug known generically as meprobamate --
and commercially as Miltown and Equanil.
- At the time, Miltown was believed to
reduce anxiety and stress without side effects (it was later determined
that it could become addictive, as well as dangerous with other drugs).
It was also believed to be a breakthrough from previous treatments -- which
involved sleep-inducing or potentially lethal sedatives and narcotics.
- Within months, Miltown became part of
American popular culture. Milton Berle, whose television program was watched
by millions weekly, jokingly called himself "Miltown Berle."
Favorable articles on the drug ran in TIME, Look and other magazines. A
year after Miltown's release, 5 percent of the American population was
- Miltown's success prompted the Swiss-based
pharmaceutical group Hoffman-LaRoche to leap into the tranquilizer market.
That company's response to Miltown was from a different chemical family
-- the benzheptoxdiazines, substances used for dyeing products. The result,
chlordiazepoxide, went on the market in 1960 and was called Librium after
the word "equalibrium." A search for an improved version of Librium
led Hoffman-LaRoche chemists to Diazepam -- which was stronger and required
smaller doses. It was marketed as Valium.
- Until the appearance of Prozac in the
1980s, Valium was the largest-selling pharmaceutical drug in history. By
the middle of the 1970s, more than 60 million Valium prescriptions were
written each year. But Valium's unhealthy side was also revealed at that
time -- it, too, turned out to be addictive. Several well-publicized cases
of celebrities' struggles with the drug brought Valium sales back closer
to Earth by the start of the 1980s -- when an anti-ulcer medicine took
over as the most widely prescribed drug in America.
- The 1980s also brought in a new generation
of anti-depressants, the SSRIs -- or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.
Those drugs, which include Prozac, remove depression's chemical source
by keeping serotonin -- which is linked to mood -- from being too quickly
reabsorbed by brain neurons. They are also considered much safer than the
earlier, tricyclic anti-depressants -- which increase serotonin levels
in the body.
- The popularity of Prozac, as well as
the increased use of the stimulant Ritalin to control attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder in children, has underscored America's growing use
of drugs to control depression, emotional problems and other unwanted behaviors.
At a recent meeting of the Pediatric Academic Society, the results of a
poll of 600 doctors were released. Nearly 75 percent of the doctors surveyed
said they had prescribed an anti-depressant to patients under the age of
- "America is a technical culture,
and if anything we're wedded to the notion that there is some sort of magic
answer to even human ills," says Dr. Peter Whybrow, director of the
UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute. At the same time, he notes the invaluable
contribution these drugs have made to society within the past 20 years.
- "People realized the nature of mental
illness ties into everybody's life, ties into the stressors and strains
everyone experiences. By the '80s you find that individuals are much more
willing to tell you that they are depressed -- that taking an anti-depressant
is not like admitting to having syphilis."
- But more openness about America's use
of legal drugs has also exposed fears surrounding the medications. Following
the recent massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, authorities revealed
that Eric Harris -- one of the two teen-agers who hunted down classmates
before committing suicide -- had been prescribed the SSRI known as Luvox,
an anti-depressant medication commonly used to treat patients with obsessive-compulsive
- Soon after that announcement, the president
of the American Psychiatric Association, Dr. Rodrigo Munoz, said there
"is little valid evidence to prove a causal relationship between the
use of anti-depressant medications and destructive behavior. On the other
hand," he added, "there is ample evidence that undiagnosed and
untreated mental illness exacts a heavy toll on those who suffer from these
disorders, as well as those around them."
- That sentiment is echoed by Whybrow.
- "There are a group of people in
the world, probably a large percentage between 10 and 20 percent, who have
a vulnerability to behavioral dysfunction," he says. "Modulation
of that vulnerability through psychopharmacology has been a godsend to
them and their families."
- "MILTOWN" BERLE
- Television comedian Milton Berle helped
make Miltown a household word in the 1950s.
- In 1957, sales of Miltown were at $28
- BEST SELLER
- By the middle of the 1970s, more than
60 million Valium prescriptions were written each year.
- In 1978, an estimated 20 percent of all
American women and 14 percent of American men were taking Valium.
- 'BETTER THAN WELL'
- With its introduction in the 1980s, Prozac
was proclaimed a wonder drug by the media, as well as by some researchers.
- According to the research firm IMS America
LTD, Prozac is prescribed 350,000 times each year to children under the
age of 16.
- NEXT BIG THING
- During its first week on the market,
more than 436,000 Prozac prescriptions were reportedly filled.
- The average psychiatric consultation
lasts more than 40 minutes. The average consultation for internal medicine
- TIED TO TRAGEDY
- One of the students blamed for the massacre
at Columbine High School had been prescribed the anti-depressant Luvox.