Drug us, for we are weak

Robert Stacy McCain has his doubts about everyday selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors:

Ever since Prozac started making headlines back in the 1990s, I’ve been dubious about the “brain chemistry” approach to treating mood disorders with SSRIs, because of a common-sense skepticism toward the claims of scientific “experts.” Is it really a smart idea to be loading people up on complex chemicals with all kinds of potential long-term effects? I mean, how many people who start on anti-depressants in their teens or 20s ever actually get well?

That is to say, shouldn’t the goal of psychiatric treatment be to get patients to the point where they don’t need treatment any more?

On the other hand, the goal of pharmaceutical manufacturers is to keep the cash coming in, which requires that patients not get well. There will never, for instance, be a cure for type 2 diabetes, because there’s so much money to be made by drugging the sufferers indefinitely. Besides, actual cures tend to be extraordinarily expensive; the Death Panels™ are loath to spend that sort of money on people, unless campaign contributions are at stake.

And yet I can’t remember anyone ever saying, “Yes, I was diagnosed with chronic depression, but I took these pills for six months and it went away, so now I don’t need the pills anymore and I’m as cheerful as a songbird all the time.” But I digress …

No songbird, I; however, during the last quarter-century I have been prescribed two industrial-strength anti-depressants — neither, admittedly, SSRIs — and after all that, mood regulation is now left to a single benzo at a low dosage.

Still, I’m not claiming to be “cured,” only to be somewhat better able to cope.


  1. MM »

    24 December 2013 · 7:37 am

    Yikes, I followed your benzo link and that’s some scary shit.

    Far be it for me to play a doctor but have you tried exercise? These drugs have side effects that no one can possibly know all of them.

  2. CGHill »

    24 December 2013 · 9:29 am

    Scary indeed. I am decidedly less sedentary than the average IT person, but I wouldn’t call myself especially active.

    I figured all this stuff would turn my brain to gelatin at age 55, and therefore I probably shouldn’t worry about it. Five years later, not so much as a Jell-O Shot.

  3. canadienne »

    24 December 2013 · 11:03 am

    What are Death Panels?

    Also, exercise does help.

  4. CGHill »

    24 December 2013 · 11:31 am

    Allegedly mythical boards created as part of ObamaCare. The most obvious example of same was stricken from the law, though there is always going to be someone with access to the plug, should the plug be deemed pullable.

    (See, for instance, here.)

  5. Trumwill »

    24 December 2013 · 10:02 pm

    “better able to cope”… exactly!

    Look, of course it would be better if long-term chemical assistance weren’t necessary. And I’m amenable to the fact that a lot of people who use these drugs could find other ways to cope and improve to the point that these things aren’t necessary.

    But seriously, I’ve seen people ruin their lives and relationships with an insistence that they should be able to move on to the drugs. The fear that needing the drugs makes them weak. And so on. Arguments like RSM’s don’t particularly help in that regard.

    Taking drugs long-term may have bad side-effects… but long-term depression definitely does.

    My father is on various drugs at the moment. Ideally, the drugs would be for making him better so that he doesn’t need the drugs. But really? Most of them are probably for life because the alternative is worse and he can’t will his heart into ideal working condition. RSM seems to be of the mind that depressed people can will themselves – either through a change of perspective or perhaps a change of routine – into non-depression. Often true, of course, but often not.

    (Disclaimer: I am not on any anti-depression medication at the moment. I have taken it in the past, I may need it again. So I am the guy who doesn’t need it indefinitely. But I have my own problems – pertaining to that other thing that nobody really has that anyone can just will themselves out of if they only tried: attention deficit – that, if I actually choose to address, would likely involve lifelong medication. Because ain’t nothin’ else fixed it.)

  6. CGHill »

    24 December 2013 · 10:08 pm

    I admit to being nonplussed (which is not to say minused) by the massive volume of pharmaceuticals dumped into my system daily. Side effects? I wouldn’t even know anymore. But I know what happens if I stop, so I don’t.

  7. David W »

    2 January 2014 · 6:31 pm

    I’m rather confused. Most of the money made on insulin goes to Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Aventi. How does that keep Merck, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, and so on, from wanting to develop and sell a cure? What do they care if it puts their competitor out of business? Or if you don’t trust them to be greedy – how does that keep the NIH or the American Diabetes Association from funding researchers to do the same?

    Seems to me that it’s a much simpler issue. We know how to make and inject insulin. We don’t have a clue how to repair the pancreas.

  8. CGHill »

    2 January 2014 · 6:47 pm

    It’s not so much greed, I think, as it is a desire for a stable long-term cash flow, which is provided much more easily by a $2000 a year drug for 17 years’ worth of patent protection than by a one-shot (actually probably several shots) program that runs $15k or so, especially since few can take such a large hit to the wallet. (Deductibles, it appears, are increasing with regularity.)

    You’re quite correct about the pancreas, though: it’s a flipping mystery.

  9. David W »

    2 January 2014 · 7:28 pm

    Yeah, sure, if I were starting from scratch I’d rather own the steady income than the one-shot. But my point is that there’s no way to force it. I’d rather own the one-shot than own nothing while *you* have the steady income.

  10. CGHill »

    2 January 2014 · 7:40 pm

    And there’s always the possibility that should a small firm come up with the Megapill, or whatever, they’ll have to turn to one of the Big Boys to get it through the regulatory maze and the marketing jungle, which will almost certainly affect the numbers at some point. (So maybe you’re seeing some of my selection bias.)

  11. CGHill »

    6 January 2014 · 10:20 am

    Well, whether or not I was bluffing, someone just called.

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