In the 1980s, historian of pharmacology Mickey Smith wrote that new blockbuster medicines enter society by a three-step process. First, a wild popular embrace, driven by overestimation of the drug’s potential, leads to overuse; next, the sudden discovery of “problems” with the drug leads to a backlash; and finally, a state of equilibrium is reached, in which the drug is used judiciously, its real benefits and limits seen clearly at last. Smith called these three stages the “law of the wonder drug.”
I remembered Smith’s formula not long ago, while talking to an old friend on a summer ramble around New York City. The substance of our conversation was that antidepressants – a topic we’d bandied back and forth together for almost 20 years, in various states of using them ourselves and not – had begun to seem quaint. Maybe even a little retro, like lava lamps or tube socks.
So begins a short, cutting essay on antidepressants.
The piece is timely: once considered miracle drugs for depression, this medication class has come under sharp criticism, and yet has gained wide acceptance. In my clinical work, I’m surprised by the large number of patients – particularly younger patients – who hesitate about these medications; I’m also surprised by the large number of patients – particularly younger patients – who are on these medications.
This week’s Reading: “The silence of prozac” by author and essayist Katherine Sharpe, which was just published in The Lancet Psychiatry.