December 03, 2004

One pill makes you larger...

What about nine prescriptions a day? Your size and mileage may vary.

According to The New York Times, the National Center for Health Statistics found that "more than 40 percent of Americans take at least one prescription drug, and 17 percent take three or more...."

Finally, a field in which I can be an overachiever without any major effort on my part.

It also said: "Use of prescription drugs in the United States is rising among people of all ages, and the nation's medicine chests are more crowded than ever." Not exactly a profound observation. Come to my house and check out my nightstand.

Note to consumers: medicine chests are a lousy place to store drugs. They need to be kept in a cool, dry environment, which does not exactly describe your average bathroom.

The article wasn't particularly analytical. It said that "adults' use of antidepressants almost tripled from 1988 to 2000," without making the obvious connection: Prozac, the first SSRI, came off the assembly line for the public in 1988. I was among its early recipients, way before it became front-page news.

I have many tales about the previous generations of antidepressants, starting with my 1980 introduction to an MAO inhibitor, the first generation of antidepressants that began with the release of an MAOI in 1956. Its side effects were potentially lethal: if you ate aged cheese and drank chianti or other red wines, you might just keel over and die. But, hey, you might not be depressed.

Then came the tricyclics -- Tofranil, Elavil, Pamelor, and their relatives. No lethal interactions, but side effects galore. In my case, they didn't help. I couldn't stop crying. Finally, the third generation emerged, and I became the Prozac poster adult, a title I retain to this day.

Of course, many other drugs have been added and deleted over the years, including Effexor and Welbutrin, the latter of which has TV commercials on a par with the Zoloft and Imitrex (for migraine). One pill just doesn't do it all, and certainly not in the time frame depicted in the commercials.

I get migraines. I use Imitrex and its cousins for wallpaper. Give me the old-time, proven, cheap, effective narcotics any day. Don't bother me with your worries that I'll become addicted. After 25 years, it's a little late for that memo to go anywhere but the circular file.

I'm waiting for the lithium commercial that shows how it calms down manic-depressive (bipolar, as its been rechristened) activity. Ever watch a manic friend go shopping, and make a five-figure addition to her credit card bill? (Yes, Bergdorf will let you return stuff.) Or visit me during a week in which I barely get out of bed except to feed Bunny?

Life can be such a joy. You will note that the antidepressant consumption study stopped in 2000, the year Bush junior was elected. I'd bet that number has skyrocketed since.

In the interest of full disclosure, I used to be a freelance editor, at magazines and newspapers throughout Manhattan, including the Times. I know how these stories are put together, and how many layers of people read them before deeming them fit to print. The old saying that you don't want to watch how newspapers and sausages are made is true. What you know may turn you away from ever reading or eating again.

If you know anything about a given topic, you will know that 90% of what any reporter writes is incorrect, but since no one at the publication knows the subject, any logical questions or corrections can and will fly right out the door.


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