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Becoming Neurochemical Selves 1
Becoming Neurochemical Selves
Nikolas Rose
How did we become neurochemical selves? How did we come to
think about our sadness as a condition called ‘depression’ caused by a
chemical imbalance in the brain and amenable to treatment by drugs that
would ‘rebalance’ these chemicals? How did we come to experience our
worries at home and at work as ‘generalized anxiety disorder’ also caused
by a chemical imbalance which can be corrected by drugs? How did we
– or at least those of us who live in the United States – come to code
children’s inattentiveness, difficulties with organizing tasks, fidgetiness,
squirming, excessive talkativity and noisiness, impatience and the like as
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder treatable by amphetamines?
How did some of us come to understand changes in mood in the last
week of the menstrual cycle - depressed mood, anxiety, emotional lability
and decreased interest in activities - as premenstrual dysphoric disorder,
treatable with a smaller dose of the very same drug that has become so
popular in the treatment of ‘depression’ – fluoxetine hydrochloride?
Perhaps some names give a clue. Depression: not so much fluoxetine
hydrochloride as Prozac. Generalized Anxiety Disorder: not so much
paroxetine as Paxil. ADHD: not methylphenidate or
amphetamine/dextroamphetamine but Ritalin and Adderall. Premenstrual
dysphoric disorder: not so much fluoxetine hydrochloride (again) but
Becoming Neurochemical Selves 2
Sarafem. And some more names: Prozac and Sarafem: Eli Lilley. Paxil:
GlaxoSmithKline. Ritalin: Novartis (Ciba Geigy). Adderall: Shire-
Richmond. In this paper I want to explore the linkages between the
reframing of the self, the emergence of these conditions, the development
of these drugs, the marketing of these brands and the strategies of the
pharmaceutical companies.
These do not just reshape our ways of thinking about and acting upon
disorders of thought, mood and conduct. Of course, they have enormous
consequences for psychiatry as it is practiced in the psychiatric hospital,
for the ‘community psychiatric patient,’ and in the doctors surgery. But
they have also impacted on the workplace and the school, the family and
the prison – not to mention the bedroom and the sports field. And this
recoding of everyday affects and conducts in terms of their
neurochemistry is only one element of a mode widespread mutation in
which we in the west, most especially in the United States, have come to
understand our minds and selves in terms of our brains and bodies. I have
started with neurochemistry: the belief that variations in neurochemistry
underlie variations in thought, mood and behaviour, and that these can be
modulated with drugs. I might have started with brain imaging: the
belief that it is now possible to visualise the activities of the living brain
as it thinks, desires, feels happy or sad, loves and fears, and hence to
distinguish normality from abnormality at the level of patterns of brain
activity. Or I might have started with genomics: claims to have mapped
precise sequences of bases in specific chromosomal regions that affect
our variations in mood, capacity to control our impulses, the types of
mental illness we are susceptible to and our personality. But here, I want
to start with the pharmaceuticals themselves.1
Psychopharmacological Societies
Over the last half of the twentieth century, health care practices in
developed, liberal and democratic societies, notably Europe and the
United States became increasingly dependent on commercially produced
pharmaceuticals. This is especially true in relation to psychiatry and
mental health. We could term these 'psychopharmacological' societies.
That is to say, they are societies where the modification of thought, mood
and conduct by pharmacological means has become more or less routine.
In such societies, in many different contexts, in different ways, in
relation to a variety of problems, by doctors, psychiatrists, parents and by
ourselves, human subjective capacities have come to be routinely re-
shaped by psychiatric drugs.
Whilst attempts at chemical solutions to psychiatric problems have a
long history, the modern era begins in the 1950s for it was at the is point
that drugs were formulated and marketed that were not merely sedative
but claimed to have a specific effect on particular symptoms of certain
3 Biotechnology between Commerce and Civil Society
psychiatric conditions. It is well known that the first widely used
psychiatric drug was chlorpromazine, developed from antihistamines by
company scientists at the pharmaceutical firm Rhône-Poulenc in the
years after the Second World War.2 Two French psychiatrists, Pierre
Deniker and Jean Delay, who administered it to a group of psychotically
agitated patients at the Hôpital Sainte-Anne in Paris in 1952, are credited
with the discovery of its psychiatric effects. It was taken by Rhône-
Poulenc to Canada, and licensed to Smith Kline and French who
promoted it heavily in the United States under the name of Thorazine
where it spread rapidly through the crowded psychiatric hospitals making
them $75m in 1955 alone. It was thought not to be a sedative like
barbiturates or chloral, but to act specifically on the symptoms of mental
illness. Nonetheless, up to the late 1960s, most psychiatrists thought of it
as a general ‘tranquillizer’. It was followed by the development of drugs
specifically claiming to treat depression and named ‘anti-depressants’:
Geigy’s imipramine (Tofranil) was tested by Ronald Kuhn at the
Münsterlingen Hospital near Konstanz during the early 1950s and despite
the initial lack of enthusiasm - depression was not seen, at that time, as a
major psychiatric problem - Tofranil was launched in 1958 and became
established as the first ‘tricyclic’ antidepressant in 1960s – so-called
because of its three-ringed chemical structure. It was followed by
Merck’s tricyclic, amitryptiline (Elavil) in 1961. Over the same period,
other drug companies and psychiatrists were experimenting with other
drugs – reserpine, isoniazid, iproniazid (Marsalid) – which would
eventually give rise to the influential ‘serotonin hypothesis of depression’
so crucial for the fabrication and marketing of Prozac and its sisters.
And, as we shall see, it was also in the 1950s that the pharmaceutical
companies developed and marketed drugs for the stresses and strains of
everyday life – the compounds that became known as ‘tranquillizers’.
Accurate comparative and historical data on psychiatric drug
prescribing since the 1950s is not readily available. But some can be
found in published sources, and some more is available from commercial
organisations that monitor the pharmaceutical industry, notably from the
leading organization monitoring the pharmaceutical industry, IMS
Health.3 In this paper, I draw upon these different sources of evidence to
illustrate some general trends and patterns. Whilst the interpretation of
the detailed figures is subject to many qualifications, and actual numbers
should be regarded simply as indicative, they are sufficiently robust for
these purposes.
Over the decade from 1990 to 2000, the growth in the value of sales of
psychiatric drugs is constant, yet uneven in different regions of the world
(Figure 1): 4 FIGURE 1:
Sales of psychiatric drugs 1990-200 in selected regions
Becoming Neurochemical Selves 4
In South America it has grown by 201.1%, in South Africa by 55.9%,
and in Pakistan by 137.8%. In the 'more developed' regions, Japan has
grown by 49.6% from an initially low base level of sales, in Europe, from
a relatively high base, growth has been by 126.1%, and growth in the
value of sales in the United States been by a phenomenal 638%. Within
these regions, the value of psychiatric drugs dispensed at pharmacies and
hospitals as a proportion of total drugs dispensed in this way varies
greatly. At the end of the decade in the United States, sales of prescribed
psychiatric drugs amounted to almost $19 billion- almost 18% of a total
pharmaceutical market of $107 billion,5 while the market in Japan, at
$1.36 billion, amounted to less than 3% of a total pharmaceutical market
of $49.1 billion.6
Of course, these data on the market for prescription drugs and its
growth are affected by the relative costs of the drugs, pricing decisions of
manufacturers for particular regions, financial regimes in operation in
different national health services, and the availability of certain
medications on a non-prescription, over-the-counter basis. Hence
financial data does not accurately represent changes in the rates of
prescribing of these psychiatric drugs. A better indication of this is trends
in terms of standard dosage units (see note 2 for an explanation of this
measure) (Figure 2):
Figure 2
Psychiatric drug prescribing 1990-2000 in standard dosage units
in selected regions
These data show that the rising trend in prescription of psychiatric
medication from 1990 to 2000 is less marked when measured in standard
dosage units. In the more developed regions, the United States shows a
growth of 70.1%, Europe shows a growth of 26.9%, Japan shows a
growth of 30.9%. In the less developed regions, South America remains
remarkably constant with a growth of only 1.6%, South Africa shows a
growth of 13.1%, but the use of prescription drugs in Pakistan grows by
33.4% (although from a low base).7
This variation in the quantity of drug prescribes is instructive, but we
see a rather different pattern when we relate the number of standard doses
prescribed in each region (IMS figures) to its population (our data)
(Figure 3).
Figure 3
Psychiatric drug prescribing 2000 in standard dosage units per
100,000 population selected regions
5 Biotechnology between Commerce and Civil Society
These figures for the year 2000 show that the annual rates of
prescribing psychiatric drugs are actually remarkably similar in the more
developed regions - the United States, Europe and Japan - at an average
of around 6.5 million standard doses per 100,000 persons. Similarly, the
rate of prescribing in the three less developed regions is roughly similar,
although it stands at around 12% of that in the more developed regions,
or around 750 thousand standard doses per 100,000 persons. However,
within these figures, there are significant regional variations in the
proportions of different classes of psychiatric drugs being prescribed. In
the United States, antidepressants form a much higher proportion of
psychiatric drugs than any other region, and antipsychotics, hypnotics
and sedatives are proportionally low. High proportions of tranquillizer
prescribing are shown in Japan, South America and Pakistan, with
correlatively low levels of antidepressant prescriptions. The USA is the
only region where psychostimulants such as methylphenidate and
amphetamine are a significant proportion of the psychiatric drug market,
amounting to almost 10% in 2000.
What accounts for the high rates of prescribing psychiatric drugs in the
'more developed' regions of Europe, Japan and the United States? And
how can the variations in the prescribing of different classes of drugs be
explained? In Europe and the United States, the context has been the
fundamental transformation of the locus of psychiatric care from the
closed world of the asylum to an open psychiatric system. But many
specifically pharmaceutical issues have played a key role. The
marketing strategies of the companies, the licensing regimes in force in
different regions, the availability of over-the-counter medication which
does not show in this prescribing data, the relative costs of the drugs and
the funding regimes in place, the beliefs of the medical and psychiatric
professionals and the demands of the patients and lay public have all
played their part. The consequence has been a fundamental shift in the
distinctions and relations between mental and psychological health and
illness, perhaps even conceptions of personhood itself.
The United Kingdom
Before considering these issues, it is worth pausing to examine the
prescribing data in more detail. Thus, for instance, in the UK, between
1960 (when the average number of inpatients in psychiatric hospitals was
around 130,000) and 1980 (when this figure had almost halved to around
70,000) the major growth in the psychiatric drug market was in the use of
tranquillizers (both major and minor) – from around 6 million
prescriptions per year to around 24 million (Figure 4).
Becoming Neurochemical Selves 6
Figure 4
Prescriptions for psychoactive drugs (millions) in the United
Kingdom 1960-1985 (Source: Ghodse and Khan 1988)
Over the following twenty years, the total number of prescription
items dispensed in the four main classes of drug used for psychiatric
conditions - hypnotics and anxiolytics, antipsychotics (a re-classification
of drugs previously classified as ‘major tranquillizers’ linked to beliefs
about their specificity of action) and antidepressants and stimulants, rose
from about 34.5 million items to about 44.5 million - a growth of almost
30% (Figure 5).
Figure 5
Psychiatric drug prescribing (England) 1980 - 2000
Number of Prescription Items Dispensed (thousands)
(Source: Government Statistical Service)
A decline in prescriptions for hypnotics and anxiolytics of about 32%
(from about 24.5m prescription items to about 16.5m prescription items
per year) was matched by a rise in prescriptions for antidepressants of
about 200% (from about 7.5m prescription items to around 22m
prescription items per year).8 I will return to the increase in the use of
antidepressants later. The small increase in the number of prescriptions
dispensed for dexamphetamine and methylphenidate might seem
surprising, in view of the contemporary debates about the rise of the use
of these drugs for the treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity
Disorder. But the overall rise in prescription items dispensed - of about
130% - from just over 111 thousand items in 1980 to just over 260
thousand in 2000 - disguises the increase in the quantity of the drugs
being prescribed which has risen almost five-fold, from 6,280,790
standard units in 1980 to 29,358,340 in 2000: almost two thirds of this
growth is accounted for by Ritalin which was first introduced to the UK
in 1991. The net ingredient cost of these ADHD related drugs rose from
£72,970 in 1980 to a staggering £29,358,340 in the year 2000. The total
cost of all these classes of psychiatric drugs rose tenfold in the period
from 1980 to 2000, from around £50m per annum to around £530m in
2000. However this is broadly consistent with the rising cost of the drug
bill generally: expenditure on psychiatric drugs remains at about 8% of
NHS drug expenditure. This is a point that should be born in mind
throughout the paper: the increasing worldwide dependence of health
services on commercial pharmaceuticals is not restricted to psychiatric
drugs and much of the growth in this sector is in line with that in drugs
used for other conditions.
7 Biotechnology between Commerce and Civil Society
The United States
Data on overall trends in psychiatric drug prescribing in the United
States in the period from 1955 to 1980 - which would include drugs
dispensed in hospitals, by Community Mental Health Centers, and to
outpatients in drugstores - is difficult to obtain. It has been estimated
that by the mid 1970s more than one fifth of the non-institutionalized
population received at least one prescription of psychotropic drugs
annually; that in 1977, annual US expenditure on such drugs totalled
$850 million; and that in 1974 there were 70 million prescriptions for
Valium (diazepam) and Librium (chlordiazepoxide) amounting to 3
billion tablets of Valium and 1 billion tablets of Librium (Brown, 1985:
150). Figures on prescriptions dispensed by drugstores or pharmacies
show that the total numbers of prescriptions dispensed in this way
actually peaked in the early 1970s, and by 1980 the numbers more or less
returned to their1964 levels. This pattern that is largely explained by the
rise and fall of the use of minor tranquillizers (Smith, 1991).
Figure 6:
USA: Psychiatric drug prescriptions filled in US drugstores
(Source: M. Smith, 1991)
The first of the minor tranquillizers, mebrobromate, marketed by
Wallace under the name of Miltown, and by Wyeth as Equanil came onto
the American market in 1955, amid a welter of favourable publicity about
'happy pills' and 'aspirin for the soul' (my account is derived from Smith,
1991). Demand soon became greater than for any other drug marketed in
the USA and around 35 other 'tranquillizers' were brought to market, each
claiming to be better than the others. These drugs displaced the
barbiturates and other sedatives from their place in the pharmacopoeia,
although both doctors and lay people often confused them with
chlorpromazine and reserpine, and referred to them all as 'tranquillizers'.
By the end of the 1950s, a number of critical reviews were published,
arguing that the available studies failed to show that meprobromate was
more effective than placebo in treating anxiety; some claimed that, in
fact, it was not less toxic than Phenobarbital. In any event, this first
generation of minor tranquillizers were themselves soon to be displaced.
Librium, developed and marketed by Roche, was the first of the
benzodiazepines to come to market, and it soon became the most
prescribed drug in the USA. However it soon turned out that it had some
undesirable side effects and could cause fits if suddenly discontinued.
Valium, also marketed by Roche, displaced Librium from its top spot in
Becoming Neurochemical Selves 8
1969 (Shorter, 1997: 319):9
By 1970, one woman in five and one man in thirteen was using 'minor
tranquillizers and sedatives,' meaning mainly the benzos… For the first time,
psychiatrists were able to offer their patients a potent drug, unlike the mild
Miltown, that did not sedate them… The share of psychiatric patients
receiving prescriptions increased from a quarter of all office visits in 1975 to
fully one-half by 1990 (from 25.3 percent to 50.2 percent) With the
benzodiazapines as the entering wedge, psychiatry became increasingly a
specialty oriented to the provision of medication.
By the mid-1970s, the term Valium was being used generically to
mean tranquillizer (Smith, 1991: 12). But, in what was to become a
familiar pattern, initial professional enthusiasm, public eagerness and
glowing reports about efficacy gave way to critical reviews calling for
caution and further study. And before long, their were reports of
'overuse' and cries of alarm from some doctors and the press. The
manufacturers, supported by many respectable physicians, met theses
alarms by arguing that the drugs could, in fact, be used appropriately –
the problem could be solved by issuing clear guidelines for prescribing.
Nonetheless, in response to publicly expressed concerns, a series of
Congressional hearings from 1959 to 1965, and again in the 1970s,
considered various aspects of these tranquillizers and other drugs,
examining costs, prescribing practices, promotional literature and
advertisements. In 1962, an Act strengthened the powers of the Food and
Drug Administration in evaluating the safety of drugs and regulating the
ways in which they were advertised and promoted. Following this
legislation, on several occasions, the FDA required the manufacturers of
minor tranquillizers to modify their advertising, labelling and product
information. They were instructed to remove the implications that the
drugs should be used for managing the worries and stresses of everyday
life, and to stress the potential dangers of dependence and addiction and
the difficulties consequent upon discontinuation. In 1975, the FDA
moved the benzodiazapines and meprobromate to its 'schedule IV' which
controlled 'refills' or repeat prescriptions, and also imposed reporting
requirements on pharmacists: predictably, prescribing declined (Smith,
What of other psychiatric drugs over this period? Data on
prescriptions filled at pharmacies, even though they do not reflect
hospital prescribing, show that while prescriptions for antidepressants
rise until 1974 and then stay roughly constant, those for anti-psychotics
peak at the same date and then fall slowly. The explanation for this
pattern for antipsychotics may lie in the timescale of the acceptance that
these drugs, especially when prescribed at high doses over long periods,
produced adverse effects - notably the irreversible condition that became
known as tardive dyskinesia. In the early years of the use of neuroleptic
9 Biotechnology between Commerce and Civil Society
drugs, psychiatrists tended to assume that so-called extra-pyramidal
effects in patients being administered neuroleptic medication - Parkinson
like symptoms - were signs that the drugs were working, and hence
markers of a therapeutic reaction (This account is derived from Gelman,
1999, and Healy, 2002). Most believed that these effects disappeared
when the medication was discontinued, although there were reports from
the mid 1950s that Parkinson like symptoms and other effects might
persist - in the so-called 'neurotoxic reactions' (Hall, 1956, cited in
Gelman, 1999: 31). The syndrome of late onset severe movement
abnormalities most noticeable in the mouth, lips and tongue which now
known as tardive dyskinesia was actually first described within a few
years of the introduction of the neuroleptics (Leonard, 1992: 129).10 The
definitive English language article on neurological complications of the
antipsychotics was published in 1961, but there was continuing
scepticism from many psychiatrists about the reality of this problem and
its relation to drugs (Ayd, 1961). Over the 1960s many leading
psychiatrists involved in the developments of psychopharmacology
suggested that the dyskinesias could be demonstrated in untreated
patients and were actually a sign of the illness or that, in any event,
problems without the drugs were worse than those caused by the drugs.
But by the late 1960s, the view that long-term treatment might cause a
problem was being given authoritative support (Ayd, 1967; Crane,
1968.). The FDA and the American College of
Neuropsychopharmacology set up a Task Force which reported in 1973:
it acknowledged that tardive dyskinesia could be presumed to result from
treatment with antipsychotic drugs. Whilst the condition was "an
undesirable but occasionally unavoidable price to be paid for the benefits
of prolonged neuroleptic therapy" , if possible "neuroleptics should be
discontinued at the first sign of tardive dyskinesia. Whilst the
unnecessary use of high doses in chronic cases should be minimized" the
medications could still “be used with confidence – the overwhelming
clinical and objective evidence indicates that a majority of schizophrenic
patients” should continue to receive medication (Task Force, 1973).
Despite this cautious, vague and generally optimistic tone, the formal
professional recognition of the condition and its causation opened the
door for legal action. According to David Healy, the first case was in
1974, when SmithKline & French settled a claim for Thorazine induced
tardive dyskinesia and it seems that this led to the willingness of the
manufacturer to acknowledge the risk of tardive dyskinesia in package
inserts (Lennard and Bernstein,1974). Other lawsuits followed,
focussing on informed consent, medical negligence, misdiagnosis,
violation of civil rights and product liability. The American Psychiatric
Association set up a task force chaired by Ross Baldessarini which
reported in 1980: it acknowledged in its official summary that in routine
neuroleptic drug use over six months to two years, at least 10 - 20 percent
Becoming Neurochemical Selves 10
of patients would get more than minimum tardive dyskinesia.
By the 1980s, psychiatrists and the pharmaceutical companies were
increasingly involved in litigation. According to Peter Breggin, on 7th
October 1983, the official APA newspaper Psychiatric News carried the
IMPORTANCE OF APA REPORT' and reported that two precedent-
setting cases had been settled for $76,000 and $1 million, and a headline
in the January 1984 issue of Clinical Psychiatry News warned its readers
SUITS’ (Breggin 1993: 97, he is citing Psychiatric News, 7 October 1983
and Clinical Psychiatry News, January 1984). In 1985 the American
Psychiatric Association wrote to each of its members to repeat its
warning that “at least 10-20% of patients in mental hospitals” and at least
40 percent of longer term patients, would get more than minimal signs of
tardive dyskinesia, confirmed that children were also at risk, and stated
that they were “concerned about the apparent increase of litigation over
tardive dyskinesia” (Breggin, 1993: 97). By the end of the decade,
tardive dyskinesia lawsuits were on the increase, and, according to The
Psychiatric Times, out-of-court settlements were averaging $300,000 and
jury awards were averaging $1 million. The first ‘golden age’ of
psychopharmaceuticals which had begun with Thorazine (Largactil in
Europe) and which saw the development of a host of other
antipsychotics: thioridazine (Melleril), haloperidol (Haldol),
triflueroperazine (Stelazine) came to an end (Healy, 2002).
But despite the law suits, antipsychotic drugs had become central to
the rationale of deinstitutionalization in the United States by the mid-
sixties and to the management of the decarcerated – or never incarcerated
– population. The gradual acceptance of the reality of tardive
dyskinesia, of its prevalence, and of its causation by drug treatment could
not reverse the policy or the use of the drugs. A dual strategy took shape.
On the one hand, the pharmaceutical industry met with FDA to discuss
how to label the propensity of their compounds to cause tardive
dyskinesia. On the other hand, the search began for alternative drugs that
would not produce such damaging side effects. This track would
eventually lead to the marketing of the so-called 'atypical neuroleptics'.
But it also underpinned other attempts to engineer so-called 'smart drugs'
which could be said to directly target the neurochemical bases of the
illness, or at least the symptoms, with the minimum of collateral damage.
The first fruit of this line of thinking would be Prozac, soon followed by
closely related Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. These were
apparently 'smart' targeted drugs that seemed to have minimal adverse
effects, were safe in overdose, seemed not to be ‘addictive’ and, so it
seemed, did not cause tardive dyskinesia. But it would not be long after
the introduction of Prozac and its sisters that these assumptions would be
challenged, and the shadow of the law would once more fall over
11 Biotechnology between Commerce and Civil Society
Despite the problems of adverse effects that affected both the minor
tranquillizers and the anti-psychotics, the dependence of psychiatry on
psychopharmacology was entrenched over the 1980s. Indeed, other legal
decisions reinforced the overall push towards psychopharmacology as the
treatment of choice for most psychiatric conditions. The famous
Osheroff case brought in 1982 involved a claim of malpractice against
Chestnut Lodge whose psychodynamic approach was made famous by
Hannah Green in I Never Promised You a Rose Garden on the grounds
that he was denied available psychiatric medication that had proven
efficacy. While the case was in fact settled out of court in 1987, and thus
did not set a legal precedent, it generated much discussion. It was used
to argue that the most valid and convincing evidence of efficacy must be
derived from randomised control trials, and that psychotherapies had not
passed any equivalent of the scrutiny maintained by the FDA over drugs.
From this point on, psychiatrists and psychiatric institutions had to think
of the legal consequences whenever they chose not to prescribe
medication for their patients.
Other changes in the US health care system in the 1980s also
contributed to the rise of psychopharmacology. The first of these relates
to research and development. The pharmaceutical industry's potion of
total U.S. health R&D funding grew from 13 percent in 1980 to 52
percent in 1995. During this same period, despite substantial increases in
financial support for health research through the National Institutes of
Health, the federal government's share of total health R&D funding
dropped from 57% to 37%. Non-profit organizations contributed 4
percent to health R&D funding and state and local governments added 7
percent (National Center for Health Statistics, 2002: Table 125). When
pharmaceutical companies provide a majority of funding for research
and development in the US health sector, they clearly have considerable
power, not just to determine new product development, but also to shape
the very styles of thought which organise responses to mental health and
mental illness. Secondly, the funding of health care provision has shifted
with the introduction of managed care and the reduction of in-patient
treatment. Since 1980, pressure on funding in the health care system,
amongst other things, has led to a decline in overall rates of
hospitalisation for all conditions by over 30% (Popovic and Hall, 1999).
Although only 12% of the US population is covered by Medicaid,
Medicaid patients account for 50% of all hospitalisations for
schizophrenia and 28% of all hospitalisations for depression, and there is
great pressure to reduce Medicaid budgets (Elixhauser et al, 1997),
2000). And in the regime of 'managed care', a Health Management
Organisation acts as an intermediary between the users of health care
services, the funders and the providers. These HMOs are commercial
companies whose profits depend upon their success in implementing a
Becoming Neurochemical Selves 12
range of what are euphemistically termed 'cost-containment techniques' -
procedural rules governing the choices of doctors and others, for example
by placing strict limits on periods of hospitalisation, refusing to authorise
requests by medical staff for extended stay, controlling the drug budget
by monitoring prescribing practices in the interests of cost saving and
insisting on generic alternatives where available, requiring physicians to
adopts a step-care technique in which they begin with the lowest cost
treatment and only progress to higher -cost alternatives if these are
deemed 'ineffective', delimiting the amount of service, and the type of
service, which may be provided for particular conditions. In this context,
drug treatment outside hospital becomes the treatment of choice,
although short-term, focussed, behavioural or cognitive therapy may also
be funded, designed to ensure that the patient has the in sight to recognise
that he or she is suffering from an illness, and hence to increase the
likelihood of compliance with medication.
Thus, perhaps, the current levels of psychiatric drug prescribing in the
United States should come as no surprise (Figure 7).
Figure 7:
USA: Psychiatric drug sales 1990-2000 in US Dollars
(Source: IMS Health)
In the year from July 1999 to June 2000, sales of psychiatric drugs, at
ex-manufacturer prices, totalled 15,203,486,000 US dollars (1990:
2,502,703,000). 58.4% was for antidepressants (1990: 38.2%). 22.8%
was for antipsychotics (1990: 10.1%): the increase in value here
presumably arises from the marketing of the so-called atypical
antipsychotics since, as we see below, it does not reflect an increase in
numbers of these drugs prescribed. 9.3% was for tranquillizers (1990:
39.5%), 5.5% was for hypnotics and sedatives (1990: 9.2%) and 3.9%
was for psychostimulants (1990: 3.0%).
Of course, such figures are affected by variations in price, for example
the lapse of patents on certain drugs and their availability in generic
forms.11 A more accurate guide to trends is provided by data expressed in
terms of the number of standard doses sold (Figure 8).
Figure 8:
USA: Psychiatric drug prescribing 1990-2000 in Standard Units
(Source: IMS Health)
Over the decade from 1990-2000 there were two principal contributors
to the overall growth in prescribing. Tranquillizers show a 32.5% growth
over the decade, peaking and falling away after 1998. Antidepressants
show a steady growth over the period, amounting to 205% overall.
Indeed the growth in use of antidepressants may have contributed to the
13 Biotechnology between Commerce and Civil Society
fall off in the use of tranquillizers in the mid-1990s, because it appears
that Prozac and the other SSRI drugs were now being prescribed for the
treatment of conditions where minor tranquillizers would previously have
been given. At the end of the decade, antidepressants were by far the
most extensively prescribed psychiatric drug, amounting to around 45%
of all drug prescribing, with tranquillizers constituting around 27%.
However, whilst the commonly accepted view is that the growth in the
diagnosis of depression is linked, more or less directly, to the availability
of the new antidepressants, the figures do not entirely bear that out
(Figure 9).
Figure 9
Antidepressant prescribing in the USA 1990-2001
In SUs
The SSRI family of antidepressants do show a spectacular rise of over
1300% over this period – with final prescribing levels more or less
equally split between fluoxetine (Prozac), Sertraline (Zoloft) and
Paroxetine (Paxil) though with the newer SNRIs coming up fast. But the
traditional antidepressants also show a steady rise, though from a higher
base, and by 2001 they still amount to 48% of the total antidepressant
market. It seems that, however it is treated, what is involved here is the
increase in the diagnosis of something called depression, as that which is
potentially treatable by antidepressants. Although, as we shall see below,
these antidepressants have spread beyond their initial niche, and extended
their claims of efficacy to a whole class of relatively new conditions – the
anxiety disorders.
It is widely accepted that there is something of an epidemic of
Attention deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in the United States. The
aggregated data for prescriptions of psychostimulants from 1990 to 2000
(in Figure 8) thus initially seem surprisingly. This illustrates some of the
cautions that need to be used in interpreting this aggregated data, which
combines the trends in prescribing in the different drugs within each
class. The class of psychostimulants as a whole has shown very little
overall growth over this decade, remaining at just under 10% of all
prescribed psychiatric drugs. But it covers a range of different
preparations, not just amphetamines, dexamphetamine,
methamphetamine, and methylphenidate - the CNS stimulants used in the
treatment of ADHD. Two other groups of drug classed as
psychostimulants were prescribed heavily in the United States up until
the mid-1990s. The first of these were the amphetamine based drugs that
were marketed heavily as anti-obesity drugs up to the mid 1990s,
including dexfenfluramine (Adifax; Diomeride; Dipondal; Glypolix;
Becoming Neurochemical Selves 14
Isomeride; Isomerin; Obesine; Redux; Siran) and fenfluramine. These
were removed from the US market around 1997 after evidence of severe
adverse effects was finally accepted (Muncie, 2001). The second group
of drugs were stimulants based on caffeine and epinephrine, such as
Viviran, which also disappear from the IMS data in the mid-1990s, as
their status changed and they became available over-the-counter. If we
consider just the drugs used to treat ADHD, data provided to the US
Drug Enforcement Agency by IMS Health show that after increases in
the early 1990s, prescriptions for methylphenidate levelled off at about
11 million per year, and those for amphetamines, primarily Adderall
(which is an amphetamine-dextroamphetamine mixed salt) increased
dramatically since 1996, from about 1.3 million per year to about 6
million per year. Collectively this indicates an increase of prescriptions
for ADHD by a factor of 5 in the period 1991 to 1998. Our own IMS
data shows that the total number of standard units prescribed rose by
almost 800 percent from 1990 to 2000, from around 225 million to
around 1,800 million, the early growth being in Methylphenidate –
Ritalin – whose dominance has recently been challenged by
dexamphetamine – Adderall.
Figure 10
Psychostimulant prescribing in the USA 1990-2001
In SUs
The epidemic of prescribing for ADHD in the United States seems a
pretty clear example of a ‘culture bound syndrome’. The medications
used here are potential drugs of abuse subject to the provisions of Article
16 of the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and their
manufacture and consumption is monitored by the United Nations
Narcotics Control Board, which reports annually. The U.S. Drug
Enforcement Administration used UN Narcotics Control Board figures in
its congressional testimony in May 2000, to claim that domestic sales of
methylphenidate, calculated in kilograms per year, had risen by 500%
from 1991 to 1999, and those for amphetamine had risen even more
sharply, by 2000%, although from a lower base (U. S. Drug Enforcement
Agency, 2000). Data in the Narcotics Control Board reports for 1995,
1996 and 1998 (Figures 11 and 12) show the trends for the consumption
of methylphenidate and amphetamines in various countries from 1993 to
Figure 11
Calculated Daily Consumption of Methylphenidate per 1000
inhabitants in Selected Regions
15 Biotechnology between Commerce and Civil Society
(Source: UN Narcotics Control Board 1997, 1998, 2000
Figure 12
Calculated Daily Consumption of Amphetamine per 1000
inhabitants in Selected Regions
(Source: UN Narcotics Control Board 1997, 1998, 2000
Overall, these data show that by the year 2000, around seven million
standard doses of psychiatric medication were being prescribed in the
United States per 100,000 population – or an average of around 70 doses
per person per year.
Accounting for psychopharmacology
The patterns of growth in the commercial value of the market for
psychopharmaceuticals are clear enough, at least in the United States and
the UK, and in Europe more generally. As we have seen earlier, there are
broad similarities between overall rates of psychiatric drug prescribing
proportional to population size in the USA, Europe and Japan, and broad
similarities, although at a much lower level, between the three ‘less
developed’ regions of South Africa, South America and Pakistan.
Figure 13
Psychiatric Drug Prescribing in Selected Regions
Proportions prescribed 2000 in different therapeutic classes
in SU per 100,000 population
(Source: IMS Health)
The most interesting comparator for the UK and the USA is Japan. As
we saw earlier, while the overall rate of psychiatric drug prescribing in
Japan is broadly similar to that in Europe and the United States, at around
6.6 million SUs per annum per 100,000 population, a far greater
proportion of those prescriptions are for tranquillizers and anti-psychotics
and less than 15% are for antidepressants. Japan seems not to have had
the wave of concerns over the benzodiazepines and the traditional
neuroleptics that shook psychopharmacology in the West nor does it
seem to have experienced the ‘epidemic’ of depression and anti-
depressants (Healy 2002). Indeed fluoxetine hydrochloride was never
marketed in Japan, and the first SSRI type drugs (fluvoxamine and
paroxetine) did not come on the market until 1999 and 2000. And
ADHD is only just being ‘discovered’ in Japan.
How, then, can we account for the specificity of the UK and USA?
The best researched case is that of depression. Of course, the simplest
Becoming Neurochemical Selves 16
explanation for the remarkable rise in diagnosis of depression and the
prescription of antidepressants over the last decade is, first, that that
depression is more common than has previously been realised, and
second that we now have powerful and effective new drug therapies to
treat it. The first seems to be the view, for example, of the World Health
Organisation, whose 2001 report claimed depression affects over 340
million people worldwide, argued that it is exacerbated by social factors
such as an aging population, poverty, unemployment and similar
stressors, and predicted “By the year 2020, if current trends for
demographic and epidemiological transition continue, the burden of
depression will increase to 5.7% of the total burden of disease, becoming
the second leading cause of DALYs [disability adjusted life years] lost.
Worldwide it will be second only to ischemic heart disease for DALYs
lost for both sexes. In the developed regions, depression will then be the
highest ranking cause of burden of disease” (WHO 2001: 30).
The second is certainly the view, not just of the drug companies and
some psychiatrists, but also of some key campaigning groups. Thus by
2001 the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill proclaims mental illness a
treatable brain disorder treated with medication just like diabetes is
treated with insulin:12
Mental illnesses are disorders of the brain that disrupt a person's thinking,
feeling, moods, and ability to relate to others. Just as diabetes is a disorder of
the pancreas, mental illnesses are disorders of the brain that often result in a
diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.
Mental illnesses do not discriminate; they affect people of every age, gender,
race, religion, or socioeconomic status. Mental illnesses are not the result of
personal weakness, lack of character, or poor upbringing. In the United States,
over seven million adults and over five million children and
adolescents suffer from a serious, chronic brain disorder. These
illnesses have a great impact on society. Four of the top ten leading
causes of disability are mental illnesses including major depression,
bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorder, and the
estimated cost of mental health care is over $150 billion per year. But
far more important is the effect untreated mental illness has on the lives of
individuals and their loved ones.
These brain disorders are treatable. As a person with diabetes, takes insulin,
most people with serious mental illness need medication to help control
symptoms. Supportive counseling, self-help groups, housing, vocational
rehabilitation, income assistance and other community services can also
provide support and stability, contributing to recovery.
And it says of depression:13
17 Biotechnology between Commerce and Civil Society
Whatever the specific causes of depression, scientific research has firmly
established that major depression is a biological brain disorder.
Norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine are three neurotransmitters
(chemical messengers that transmit electrical signals between brain cells)
thought to be involved with major depression. Scientists believe that if there is
a chemical imbalance in these neurotransmitters, then clinical states of
depression result. Antidepressant medications work by increasing the
availability of neurotransmitters or by changing the sensitivity of the receptors
for these chemical messengers.
Scientists have also found evidence of a genetic predisposition to major
depression. There is an increased risk for developing depression when there is
a family history of the illness. Not everyone with a genetic predisposition
develops depression, but some people probably have a biological make-up
that leaves them particularly vulnerable to developing depression. Life events,
such as the death of a loved one, a major loss or change, chronic stress, and
alcohol and drug abuse, may trigger episodes of depression. Some illnesses
and some medications may also trigger depressive episodes. It is also
important to note that many depressive episodes occur spontaneously and are
not triggered by a life crisis, physical illness, or other risks.
In both the UK and the USA, campaigns to ‘recognise depression’
operate in these terms: arguing that depression is an illness, often
inherited in the form of increased susceptibility and triggered by life
events, that it is often untreated, and that drugs form the first line of
treatment – for example in the recent Defeat Depression in the UK. This
view of the biochemical basis of, and treatability of, depression has also
been popularised in a number of autobiographical accounts by well-
known public figures: for example, Darkness Visible by William Styron,
or The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon (Styron, 1991, Solomon,
2001 ).
Most of those who have explored this rise are not satisfied with such a
‘realist’ account. There is certainly convincing epidemiological evidence
that such factors as poor housing, poverty, unemployment or precarious
and stressful working conditions are associated with increased levels of
psychiatric morbidity. But these factors do not seem sufficient to account
for such a rapid increase in diagnosis and prescription, even if it was
accepted that contemporary social conditions were more pathogenic than
those that preceded them. Older sociological explanations that linked the
rise of mental disorders to general features of social organization have
fallen out of fashion – for example, the suggestion that urban life
generates neurasthenia or that capitalism isolates individuals and hence
places strains on them that lead to mental breakdown – with the possible
exception of feminist accounts in terms of patriarchy. Alain Ehrenberg
has recently suggested that the very shape of depression is the reciprocal
Becoming Neurochemical Selves 18
of the new conceptions of individuality that have emerged in modern
societies (Ehrenberg 2000). At the start of the twentieth century, he
argues, the norm of individuality was founded on guilt, and hence the
exemplary experience of pathology what that of neurosis. But in
societies that celebrates individual responsibility and personal initiative,
the reciprocal of that norm of active self-fulfilment is depression, now
largely defined as a pathology involving the lack of energy, an inability to
perform the tasks required for work or relations with others. Whilst such
a global cultural account is unconvincing, it is certainly the case that the
shape and incidence of the pathology of depression in western developed
nations can only be understood in relation to contemporary conceptions
of the self involving the obligation of freedom: responsibility, choice and
active self-fulfilment. The continual incitements to action, to choice, to
self-realisation and self improvement act as a norm in relation to which
individuals govern themselves and are governed by others, and against
which differences are judged as pathologies.
But other factors also need to be addressed. First, no doubt, these
developments are related to the increasing salience of health to the
aspirations and ethics of the wealthy west, the readiness of those who live
in such cultures to define their problems and their solutions in terms of
health and illness, and the tendency for contemporary understandings of
health and illness to be posed largely in terms of treatable bodily
malfunctions. Second, they are undoubtedly linked to a more profound
transformation in personhood. The sense of ourselves as ‘psychological’
individuals that developed across the twentieth century – beings
inhabited by a deep internal space shaped by biography and experience,
the source of our individuality and the locus of our discontents – is being
supplemented or displaced by what I have termed ‘somatic individuality’
(Novas and Rose, 2000). By somatic individuality, I mean the tendency
to define key aspects of ones individuality in bodily terms, that is to say
to think of oneself as ‘embodied’, and to understand that body in the
language of contemporary biomedicine. To be a ‘somatic’ individual, in
this sense, is to code one’s hopes and fears in terms of this biomedical
body, and to try to reform, cure or improve oneself by acting on that
body. At one end of the spectrum this involved reshaping the visible
body, through diet, exercise, and tattooing. At the other end, it involves
understanding troubles and desires in terms of the interior ‘organic’
functioning of the body, and seeking to reshape that – usually by
pharmacological interventions. Whilst discontents might previously have
been mapped onto a psychological space – the space of neurosis,
repression, psychological trauma - they are now mapped upon the body
itself, or one particular organ of the body – the brain.
This is not the place to explore the processes that have led to such
19 Biotechnology between Commerce and Civil Society
discontents and their treatments being understood in this way – premised
on the belief that the brain itself is the crucial locus of the disorder and
the target of the treatment. However it is possible to consider one limited
aspect of this, which concerns the reshaping of particular kinds of
experiences as mental disorders amenable to pharmacological treatment.
Most notable, here, is the way in which many pathologies of the active,
responsible, choosing self have come to be seen as depression, and
depression itself has come to be linked with anxiety disorders – in
particular generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic
disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and post traumatic stress
disorder.14 This involves a co-production of the disease, the diagnosis
and the treatment. This can be seen in the strategies of psychiatrists, of
health care professionals, of some support and anti-stigma groups, but
most significantly of the pharmaceutical companies themselves. The
earliest (and most quoted) example of this co-production of disorder and
treatment concerns depression. Frank Ayd had undertaken one of the key
clinical trials for Merck, which filed the first patent for the use of
amitryptiline as an antidepressant. Ayd’s book of 1961, Recognizing the
Depressed Patient argued that much depression was unrecognized, but
that it did not require a psychiatrist for its diagnosis – it “could be
diagnosed on general medical wards and in primary care offices” (Healy
1997: 76). Merck bought up 50,000 copies of Frank Ayd’s book (Ayd,
1961) and distributed it worldwide. As Healy argues, Merck not only
sold amitryptiline, it sold a new idea of what depression was and how it
could be diagnosed and treated. From this point on it appeared that
there was an untapped market for antidepressant drugs outside hospitals.
There was also an audience for the idea that the certain drugs specifically
targeted the neurochemical basis of depression, and pharmaceutical
companies invested funds in research to develop antidepressants,. Rating
scales to identify depression were developed (notably the Hamilton
depression scale); these generated new norms of depression which were
not only used to test the efficacy of drugs, but also changed the shape of
the disorder itself. Across the 1960s depression became linked to levels
of secretion and reuptake of brain amines in the synapses – gradually
coming to focus on serotonin. The serotonin hypothesis of depression
was formulated, and despite its obvious scientific inadequacies, it became
the basis of drug development leading to the SSRIs and the basis of a
new way of thinking about variations in mood in terms of levels of brain
chemicals that penetrated deeply into the imagination of medical
practitioners and into popular accounts of depression.
The central presupposition, perhaps more significant than any
individual drug, was that of specificity. This presupposition was actually
three sided. First, it was premised on the neuroscientific belief that these
drugs could, and ideally should have a specificity of target. Second, it
Becoming Neurochemical Selves 20
was premised on the clinical belief that doctors or patients could
specifically diagnose each array of changes in mood, will, desire, affect
as a discrete condition. Third, it was based on the neuroscientific belief
that specific configurations in neurotransmitter systems underlay specific
moods, desires, and affect. The three presupposition were then mapped
onto one another. Thus the iconic status of Prozac arose less from its
greater efficacy in treating clinical depression, than from the belief that it
was first ‘smart drug’, in which a molecule was designed with a shape
that would enable it specifically to lock into identified receptor sites in
the serotonin system – hence affecting only the specific symptoms being
targeted and having a low ‘side effect profile’. And, on the other hand,
its status was confirmed by clinical reports and popular accounts such as
those given by Peter Kramer to Elizabeth Wurtzel of the specific
psychological transformations wrought by the drug. These
presuppositions have fuelled an industry of commentary – utopian or
dystopian – on cosmetic psychopharmacology and the possibilities of
reshaping our human nature at will, most recently from Gregory Stock on
the and former side and Frances Fukuyama on the latter (Stock, 2002;
Fukuyama, 2002). However, as neurochemical and pharmacological
research proceeded, the simple belief that there was one kind of receptor
for each neurotransmitter was shown to be wrong – in the case of
serotonin there were at least seven ‘families’ of 5HT receptors and most
had several subtypes. This might have proved fatal for this explanatory
regime, but it did not. It was now argued that each of these subtypes of
receptors had a specific function, that anomalies in each type were
related to specific psychiatric symptoms, and that they could be
ameliorated by drugs designed specifically to affect them.
The premises of specificity were central to the vigorous campaigns
that the pharmaceutical companies mounted to marker their products to
physicians. Take this advertisement for Lustral (sertraline) published in
the British Journal of Psychiatry in 1991:
Figure 14
Lustral: “The choice is simple – with bright prospects in mind”
British Journal of Psychiatry, 1991
On the one hand, the specific advantages of the molecule in question,
sertraline, are stressed – its selectivity, effectiveness, low side-effects,
low dependency, compliance and simplicity. On the other that
assemblage of virtues is condensed into a simple brand name – Lustral-
manufactured by Pfizer (marketed as Zoloft in the USA) with its smiley
image and rising sun logo.
Or consider this advertisement for Prozac published in the American
Journal of Psychiatry in 1995.
21 Biotechnology between Commerce and Civil Society
Figure 15
The Prozac Promise
American Journal of Psychiatry, 1995
“The Prozac promise” to the doctor and his or her patient is to deliver
the “therapeutic triad” of convenience, confidence and compliance. But
one can note here the increased space in he advertisement devoted to
adverse events. This may have something to do with the fact that in
Autumn 1994, the first lawsuit against Prozac reached the courtroom in
Louisville, concerning Joseph Wesbecker who some five years earlier,
shortly after being prescribed Prozac, had shot 28 people at the printing
plant where he worked, killing 8 before shooting himself. This case
brought longstanding concerns about adverse effects of these drugs into
the public domain – concerns about increases in agitation (akathesia) and
suicidal ideation in a small but significant number of those administered
Prozac which had led the German licensing authorities to insist upon
product warning in 1984 before they would issue a licence. As the first
generation of the drugs goes out of patent, the manufacturers are also
fighting against a shoal of analogous cases. Thus in June 2001, court in
Cheyenne, ordered GlaxoSmithKline to pay $6.4m (£4.7m) to the family
of Donald Schell who shot his wife, daughter and granddaughter and then
killed himself - two days after his GP prescribed Paxil (paroxetine,
known as Seroxat in Europe) for depression. The jury decided that the
drug was 80% responsible for the deaths. And two weeks earlier, in May
2001, an Australian judge ruled that having been prescribed sertraline –
Zoloft - which is Australia’s most widely used antidepressant - caused
David Hawkins to murder his wife and attempt to kill himself: “I am
satisfied that but for the Zoloft he had taken he would not have strangled
his wife” (Justice Barry O’Keefe).15 And, if that were not enough,
criticisms are now mounting of the difficulties of withdrawing from this
medication – not dependency as is often suggested, but the severe and
unpleasant physical effects – pains, sweating, nausea and much more –
which occur when patients who have been taking these drugs for a while
cease to take them – no doubt caused by the fact that the molecules act
very widely in the body, and the artificial raising of the levels by the
drugs leads to a down regulation of the bodies own production of, or
sensitivity to the molecules in question.16
Recall that Prozac was initially marketed as a specific for mild to
moderate depression, but was soon surrounded by claims that it was
much more versatile, acting, for example, on eating disorders, obsessive
compulsive disorder and even low self-esteem. For some, this
questioned the very distinctions and classifications on which modern
American psychiatric medicine rests. For a belief in the reciprocal
specificity of disorders and drug action implies that the drugs, and the
span and limits of their efficacy, should determine the criteria for
Becoming Neurochemical Selves 22
inclusion in, and the boundaries around, mental disorders. But, more
immediately, this diversity of classifications provides a key marketing
opportunity. Companies seek to diversify their products and niche
market them, either by making minor modifications to produce new
molecules, or by licensing their existing drugs as specifics for particular
DSM IV diagnostic categories. The best example here concerns the
anxiety disorders Social Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder and
Generalized Anxiety Disorder and their relation, in the first instance, with
one particular brand – Paxil owned by GlaxoSmithKline. Let me focus
on Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
As recently as 1987, the section on prevalence of this disorder (coded
300.02) in the third, revised edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical
Manual of the American Psychiatric Association said “When other
disorders that could account for the anxiety symptoms are ruled out [they
previously stipulated that the disorder should not be diagnosed if the
worry and anxiety occurs during a mood disorder or a psychotic disorder,
for example], the disorder is not commonly diagnosed in clinical
samples” (APA, 1987: 252). By the publication of DSM IV, in 1994, the
same section read “In a community sample, the lifelong prevalence rate
for Generalized Anxiety Disorder was approximately 3%, and the
lifetime prevalence rate was 5%. In anxiety disorder clinics,
approximately 12% of the individuals present with Generalized Anxiety
Disorder” (APA, 1994). In this move, GAD was reframed: the diagnosis
could now co-exist with mood disorders, and could be separated out from
the general class of mood disorders. The clinical trials of Paxil in the
treatment of GAD thus enabled it to be advertised as a specific treatment
for this condition, and hence the disorder could be freed, in its public
representations at least, from depression. And once it could stand as a
diagnosis without subsumption into the class of depression, its
prevalence could be recalculated. By April 2001, when GlaxoSmithKline
announced that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had
approved Paxil for the treatment of GAD – the first SSRI approved for
this disorder in the US - it was widely being claimed that GAD affected
“more than 10 million Americans, 60 percent of whom are women”.17
In fact, Paxil had been widely used “off label” for the treatment of
GAD before being specifically licensed for the condition. Licensing is
significant, however, because it allows marketing for the licensed
indication. Hence, as soon as the licence was issued n the Spring of 2001,
GlaxoSmithKline engaged in a marketing campaign in the US. What was
characteristic about this campaign is that it marketed, not so much the
drug, Paxil, as the disease, GAD. Whilst the USA is one of the few
countries that allow ‘direct to consumer’ advertising of prescription drugs
– which has grown into a $2.5 billion a year industry since drug
advertising legislation was relaxed in 1997 – it is not the only country
where “disease mongering” has become a key marketing tactic.18 As Ray
23 Biotechnology between Commerce and Civil Society
Moynihan and others have recently pointed out, this process involves
alliances are formed between drug companies anxious to market a
product for a particular condition, biosocial groups organised by and for
those who suffer from a condition thought to be of that type, and doctors
eager to diagnose under-diagnosed problems (Moynihan, Heath and
Henry, 2002; Moynihan, 2003). Disease awareness campaigns, directly
or indirectly funded by the pharmaceutical company who have the patent
for the treatment, point to the misery cause by the apparent symptoms of
this undiagnosed or untreated condition, and interpret available data so as
to maximise beliefs about prevalence. They aim to draw the attention of
lay persons and medical practitioners to the existence of the disease and
the availability of treatment, shaping their fears and anxieties into a
clinical form. These often involve the use of public relations firms to
place stories in the media, providing victims who will tell their stories
and supplying experts who will explain them in terms of the new
disorder. Amongst the examples given by Moynihan et al. – which
include baldness and Propecia, erectile dysfunction and Viagra, irritable
bowel syndrome and Lotronex, and Pfizer’s promotion of the new
disease entity of ‘female sexual dysfunction’ – is the promotion by Roche
of its antidepressant Auroxix (moclobemide) for the treatment of social
phobia in Australia in 1997. This involved the use of the public relations
company to place stories in the press, an alliance with a patients group
called the Obsessive Compulsive and Anxiety Disorders Federation of
Victoria, funding a large conference on social phobia, and promoting
maximal estimates of prevalence. These are not covert tactics – as a
quick glance at the Practical Guides published on the Web by the
magazine Pharmaceutical Marketing will show.19
“Paxil ® … Your life is waiting” announces the Paxil website,
proclaiming Paxil to be the first and only FDA-approved SSRI for GAD
– a site which helpfully provides a Self-Test for the condition with
encouragement to consult a healthcare practitioner who can make the
diagnosis.20 And consider the text of a “direct to consumer” television
advertisement for Paxil in the United States in October 2001 (Figure 15).
Figure 16
Paxil: “The real story about chronic anxiety”
US Television, October 2000
Here is how the action of Paxil is described to physicians in the
information issued by the manufacturers:21
The antidepressant action of paroxetine …its efficacy in the treatment of
social anxiety disorder … obsessive compulsive disorder [OCD], and panic
disorder [PD]) is presumed to be linked to potentiation of serotonergic activity
in the central nervous system resulting from inhibition of neuronal reuptake of
Becoming Neurochemical Selves 24
serotonin (5-hydroxy-tryptamine, 5-HT). Studies at clinically relevant doses in
humans have demonstrated that paroxetine blocks the uptake of serotonin into
human platelets. In vitro studies in animals also suggest that paroxetine is a
potent and highly selective inhibitor of neuronal serotonin reuptake and has
only very weak effects on norepinephrine and dopamine neuronal reuptake. In
vitro radioligand binding studies indicate that paroxetine has little affinity for
muscarinic, alpha1-, alpha2-, beta-adrenergic-, dopamine (D2)-, 5-HT1-, 5-
HT2- and histamine (H1)-receptors; antagonism of muscarinic, histaminergic
and alpha1-adrenergic receptors has been associated with various
anticholinergic, sedative and cardiovascular effects for other psychotropic
Thus these rather general and fuzzy new disorders such as OCD and
PD are connected up to a whole style of molecular argumentation
designed to emphasise the specificity of the neurochemical basis of the
diagnosis and the mode of action of the drug. This new style of thought
is thus simultaneously pharmacological and commercial. Drugs are
developed, promoted, tested, licensed and marketed for the treatment of
particular DSM IV diagnostic classifications. Disease, drug and
treatment thus each support one another though an account at the level of
molecular neuroscience.
As an SSRI drug for the treatment of depression, Paxil had arrived
relatively late on the scene. But nonetheless the rate of increase in
prescribing in the US kept pace with the brand leaders, and by 2001, as it
succeeded in linking itself to the treatment of the anxiety disorders, it
achieved a market share about equal to Pfizer’s Zoloft and Lilley’s
Figure 17
SSRI and related drug prescribing USA 1990-2001
Source: IMS Health
Other drug manufacturers rushed to trial and re-licence their own
antidepressants so that they could promote them as treatments for GAD
and the other related anxiety disorders- Wyeth with Venlafaxine XF,
Pfizer with Zoloft – or to patent and licence new molecules specifically
for this diagnosis. Pfizer’s bought the rights to Pagoclone from Indevus
Pharmaceuticals, but returned them in June 2002 when the results of its
clinical trials failed to show levels of efficacy significantly above placebo
– Indevus stocks dropped by 65% on the day of the announcement and
Pfizer concentrated their efforts on their own drug Pregabalin.22
Shareholder value and clinical value appear inextricably entangled.
These links and relays between classification of disorders, marketing
disorders and testing, licensing and promoting psychopharmaceuticals
have recently come in for much criticism. Many leading figures in
American – and worldwide – psychiatry act as consultants for the
25 Biotechnology between Commerce and Civil Society
pharmaceutical companies, rely upon them for funds for their research,
are involved in trialling, testing and evaluating their products, are on the
committees responsible for revising and updating diagnostic criteria,
advise the licensing authorities on the acceptability and risk of drugs, and
indeed have financial interests and shares in the companies themselves.23
Take Professor Kenneth Blum as an example chosen more or less at
random. Blum is the author of numerous articles that claim to find
associations between the genes responsible for various aspects of the
neurotransmitter systems – such as dopamine D2 receptors and dopamine
transporters – and particular DSM IV pathologies especially those related
to substance dependency and various forms of ‘compulsive’ behaviour.
The newsletter of Secular Organizations for Sobriety – an organization
providing a non-religious alternative to "Twelve Step" recovery programs
– provides us with a helpful biography.24 Blum, a member of the Advisor
Board of this organization, is considered an international authority in
neuropsychopharmacology and genetics, has published over three
hundred articles on neuropsychopharmacogenetics and is a full
professor of Pharmacology at the University of Texas Health Science
Center, San Antonio. He chairs scientific conferences worldwide
including two Gordon Alcohol Research Conferences (1978, 1982), and
is currently the chairman of the first Gordon Research Conference on
Psychogenetics. But he is also the managing director of 1899 Limited
Liability Corporation a Virginia biotechnology firm, Scientific Advisor
for Zig Ziglar Corporation, and Chief Executive Officer of
Pharmacogenomics Inc. Pharmacogenomics Inc. is a wholly owned
subsidiary of ACADIA Pharmaceuticals which specialises in genomics-
based drug discovery and tries to link genomic and chemical information
to generate gene-specific small molecule drugs with improved side effect
profiles for neuropsychiatric and related disorders, and is
commercializing this pipeline through licensing and discovery
collaborations with pharmaceutical partners.
By the 1990s a fundamental shift had occurred in psychiatric thought
and practice. No matter that there was little firm evidence to link
variations in neurotransmitter functioning to symptoms of depression or
any other mental disorder in the living brains of unmedicated patients –
although many researchers are seeking such evidence and occasional
papers announce that it has been found. And no matter that most of the
new smart drugs are no more effective than their dirty predecessors for
moderate or severe depression – they are favoured because they are
claimed to be safer, and to have fewer ‘unwanted effects’. A way of
thinking has taken shape, and a growing proportion of psychiatrists find
it difficult to think otherwise. In this way of thinking, all explanations of
Becoming Neurochemical Selves 26
mental pathology must ‘pass through’ the brain and its neurochemistry –
neurones, synapses, membranes, receptors, ion channels,
neurotransmitters, enzymes… Diagnosis is now thought to be most
accurate when it can link symptoms to anomalies in one or more of these
elements. And the fabrication and action of psychiatric drugs is
conceived in these terms. Not that biographical effects are ruled out, but
biography – family stress, sexual abuse - has effects through its impact
on this brain. Environment plays its part, but unemployment, poverty
and the like have their effects only through impacting upon this brain.
And experiences play their part – substance abuse or trauma for example
- but once again, through their impact on this neurochemical brain. A
few decades ago, such claims would have seemed extraordinarily bold –
for many medico-psychiatric researchers and practitioners, they now
seem ‘only common sense’.
And, in the same movement, psychiatry has become big business. One
of the criticisms of the private madhouses before the spread of public
asylums was that they were generating what was termed ‘a trade in
lunacy’ in which profit was to be made by incarceration – leading to all
manner of corruption (Parry Jones, 1972). No-one made enormous sums
out of public psychiatry in the nineteenth century, or indeed up until the
middle of the twentieth. One of the eugenic arguments in Nazi Germany
was that the care of the psychiatric ill was an enormous drain on the
public purse (Burleigh, 1994). Of course, as we all know, in the second
half of the twentieth century, psychotherapy and counselling became big
business. But psychiatry itself – in the mental hospitals, the clinics, the
GPs surgeries and the private psychiatric consulting room - also became
a huge and profitable market for the pharmaceutical industry. Only the
large pharmaceutics companies can now afford the risk capital involved
in developing, trialling and licensing of a new psychiatric drug. And
because contemporary psychiatry is so much the outcome of
developments in psychopharmacology, this means that these commercial
decisions are actually shaping the patterns of psychiatric thought at a
very fundamental level. The factories of the pharmaceutical companies
are the key laboratories for psychiatric innovation, and the psychiatric
laboratory has, in a very real sense, become part of the
psychopharmacological factory. Many of these large multinational
conglomerates make a considerable proportion of their income from the
marketing of psychiatric drugs, and their success, or failure, in attracting
market share is key to maintaining the shareholder value of the company.
Paul Rabinow’s assessment of the new life sciences is especially apt for
psychiatry – the quest for truth is no longer sufficient to mobilise the
production of psychiatric knowledge – health – or rather, the profit to be
made from promising health - has become the prime motive force in
generating what counts for our knowledge of mental ill health (Rabinow,
1996). Nonetheless, but from another perspective the developments in
27 Biotechnology between Commerce and Civil Society
psychiatric drug use are merely one dimension of a new set of relations
between ideas of health and illness, practices of treatment and prevention
of bodily malfunctions, and commercially driven innovation, marketing
and competition for profits and shareholder value. Where Foucault
analysed biopolitics, we now must analyse bioeconomics and bioethics,
for human capital is now to be understood in a rather literal sense – in
terms of the new linkages between the politics, economics and ethics of
life itself.
Of course, to identify this new medico-industrial complex and to point
to its power is not to critique it. In a situation where only investment of
capital on a large scale is capable of producing new therapeutic agents,
such linkages of health and profitability might well be the inescapable
condition for the creation of effective drugs. But the consequences of
many of the developments we have charted here cannot be reduced to a
debate about efficacy, as if illness, treatment and cure were independent
of one another. We have seen that, in certain key respects, the most
widely prescribed of the new generation of psychiatric drugs treat
conditions whose borders are fuzzy, whose coherence and very existence
as illness or disorders are matters of dispute, and which are not so much
intended to ‘cure’ a specific transformation from a normal to a
pathological state as to modify the ways in which vicissitudes in the life
of the recipient are experienced, lived and understood. The best selling
drugs these days are not those that treat acute illnesses, but those that are
prescribed chronically. These include Lipitor for the lowering of blood
lipid levels thought to predispose to heart attack and stroke; Premarin for
the treatment of the effects of the menopause in particular its effects on
sexuality; Atenolol and Norvasc for the long term management of high
blood pressure; Prilosec for the treatment of Gastroesophageal Reflux
Disease and heartburn. As for psychiatric drugs in the top twenty most
prescribed drugs in the USA in 2001, Xanax is 10th – it is a
benzodiazapine used for the management of anxiety disorders - and two
of the SSRIs we have discussed here - Zoloft (sertraline) and Paxil
(paroxetine) – are in 14th and 15th place.25 These are the drugs most
amenable to the extension and reshaping of the boundaries of disease and
‘treatability’. They promise a power to reshape life pharmaceutically that
extends way beyond what we previously understood as illness. Not just
Premarin and its sisters, but previous generations of pharmaceuticals for
contraception, have rewritten the norms of reproduction – its timetables,
its kinship relations. Premarin and other forms of hormone replacement
treatment have rewritten the norms of female ageing. Drugs such as
Alazopram are rewriting the norms of social interaction. So the
capitalisation of the power to treat intensifies the redefinition of that
which is amenable to correction or modification. This is not simply
blurring the borders between normality and pathology, or widening the
net of pathology. We are seeing an enhancement in our capacities to
Becoming Neurochemical Selves 28
adjust and readjust our somatic existence according to the exigencies of
the life to which we aspire.
As is well known, Gilles Deleuze (1995) has suggested that
contemporary societies are no longer disciplinary, in the sense identified
by Foucault – they are societies of control. Where discipline sought to
fabricate individuals whose capacities and forms of conduct were
indelibly and permanently inscribed into the soul – in home, school or
factory – today control is continuous and integral to all activities and
practices of existence. In the field of health, the active and responsible
citizen must engage in a constant monitoring of health, a constant work
of modulation, adjustment, improvement in response to the changing
requirements of the practices of his or her mode of everyday life. These
new self-technologies do not seek to return a pathological or problematic
individual to a fixed norm of civilised conduct through a once-off
programme of normalisation. Rather, they oblige the individual to engage
in constant risk management, and to act continually on him or herself to
minimise risks by reshaping diet, lifestyle and now, by means of
pharmaceuticals, the body itself. The new neurochemical self is flexible
and can be reconfigured in a way that blurs the boundaries between cure,
normalisation, and the enhancement of capacities. And these
pharmaceuticals offer the promise of the calculated modification and
augmentation of specific aspects of self-hood through acts of choice.
Psychiatric drugs today are conceived, designed, disseminated in the
search for biovalue. But they are entangled with certain conceptions of
what humans are or should be – that is to say, specific norms, values,
judgements internalised in very idea of these drugs. An ethics is
engineered into the molecular make up of these drugs, and the drugs
themselves embody and incite particular forms of life in which the ‘real
me’ is both ‘natural’ and to be produced. The significance of the
emergence of treatments for mental ill health lies not only in their
specific effects, but also in the way in which they reshape the ways in
which both experts and lay people see, interpret, speak about and
understand their world. Hence the growing market for non-prescription
products that claim to enhance serotonin levels in the brain – in health
food shops and of course on the internet. A cascade of claims are made
that everything from chocolate to exercise makes you feel good because
it ‘enhances serotonin levels’. It seems that individuals themselves are
beginning to recode their moods and their ills in terms of the functioning
of their brain chemicals, and to act upon themselves in the light of this
belief. Psychoanalysis brought into existence a whole new way of
understanding ourselves – in terms of the unconscious, repression,
neuroses, the Oedipus complex, and, of course, the theme of the
centrality of sexuality to our psychic life. So it makes sense to ask
whether general practitioners, psychiatrists and other mental health
practitioners are beginning to see the problems their clients and patients
29 Biotechnology between Commerce and Civil Society
experience in terms of this simplistic model of mental ill health as a
disorder of neurotransmitters. To see in this way is to imagine the
disorder as residing within the individual brain and its processes, and to
see psychiatric drugs as a first line intervention, not merely for symptom
relief but as specific treatments for these neurochemical anomalies. If we
are experiencing a ‘neurochemical’ reshaping of personhood’, the social
and ethical implications for the twenty first century will be profound.
For these drugs are becoming central to the ways in which our conduct is
problematized and governed, by others, and by ourselves – to the
continuous work of modulation of our capacities that is the life’s work of
the contemporary biological citizen.
1. In this paper, I draw upon data collected by myself and Mariam Fraser for
our study ‘The Age of Serotonin’, funded by the Wellcome Trust Programme
in Biomedical Ethics based in the Department of Sociology at Goldsmiths
College, University of London. Thanks to our researcher, Angelique Praat,
for her work on the collection and analysis of some of this material. Like all
who investigate this area, my work follows lines of enquiry first opened up
by David Healy, and my argument is indebted to his work. I also draw upon
a survey commissioned for that study from IMS Health, detailed in footnote
2 below, and would like to thank Robin Keat, Pete Stephens and Ian Webster
of IMS in particular for their help and advice data.
2. The best historical work on the development of psychopharmacology has
been done by David Healy, and I draw extensively on this here: notably The
Antidepressant Era, Harvard University Press, 1997; I would also like to
thank him for letting me see The Creation of Psychopharmacology, Harvard
University Press, 2002, in manuscript.
3. For the UK, it is possible to obtain roughly consistent figures for the period
commencing in 1980 by the Government Statistical Service and they kindly
provided us with a breakdown of their data, which we use in this analysis.
For drugs that are listed in the schedules of the UN Convention on
Psychotropic Substances of 1971 – hallucinogens, stimulants, depressants
and some analgesics that have medical and scientific uses but can also be
drugs of abuse – international comparative data is published annually in the
reports on psychotropic substances of the International Narcotics Control
Board Now available on line at
However, these data do not include most antidepressants or antipsychotic
drugs: for that, one has to go to commercial organizations providing data to
the drug companies themselves.
To access this data, we commissioned a customised study from IMS Health
based on the data that they compile from over 120 countries, and includes,
for the countries chosen, drugs prescribed in hospital and sold through retail
outlets. These data provided the basis for calculations made by our team,
and IMS has no responsibility for these or our interpretations. The regions
chosen for this study are USA, Japan, Europe (UK, Germany, France, Spain,
Italy, Belgium, Austria, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands,
Portugal, Greece), South America (Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia,
Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela), South Africa (data for other countries in Sub-
Becoming Neurochemical Selves 30
Saharan Africa was not available) and Pakistan (12 year data for India was
not available).
Our principle comparative measure is the Standard Dosage Unit (SU). SUs
are determined by taking the number of counting units sold divided by the
standard unit factor which is the smallest common dose of a product form as
defined by IMS Health. For example, for oral solid forms the standard unit
factor is one tablet or capsule whereas for syrup forms the standard unit
factor is one teaspoon (5 ml) and injectable forms it is one ampoule or vial.
This is the best available measure for comparative purposes, but it is far from
perfect. For example a 30 day pack of a product given 4 times a day will
contribute 120 SUs for each pack sold whereas a similar pack of a once daily
product will contribute only 30 SUs. Many more products now have once
daily dosing regimes than in the past. In such circumstances SU analyses can
make it appear that the market has collapsed even though the days of
treatment will have remained constant or increased. There are therefore some
risks to using SUs for comparative purposes over the time periods and the
regions reported here, and where these are of particular relevance we have
tried to supplement SUs with other measures. Dates shown are calendar
years except for the two most recent years - for technical reasons arising
from IMS data techniques, 1999 covers the four quarters from July1999 to
June 2000, and 2000 covers the four quarters from July 2000 to June 2001.
Prices refer to total sales ex-manufacturer (not retail prices) in US dollars at
the exchange rate at the date in question. Figures credited to IMS Health are
based on that report, but the analysis, charts and figures are our own. Some
drugs used to treat psychiatric conditions, such as the anti-convulsants, are
not included, as most prescriptions for such drugs are for non-psychiatric
4. Of course, data on medications obtained on a prescription basis are obviously
rather limited, as they show prescribing practices rather than consumption
practices and we know that consumers often do not take all, or any, of the
drugs they are prescribed. And aggregated data conceals significant
5. For technical reasons, to do with a change in counting methods, these figures
refer to the period for the twelve months to July 2000.
6. Figures from IMS Health.
7. Of course, even these data are affected by national policies, as they refer to
drugs obtained on prescription, not those available over-the-counter (OTC) –
hence if a drug or group of drugs moves from prescription status to OTC
status, it ceases to appear in the figures.
8. Earlier comparable figures are not available. Note that the data up to 1990 are
not consistent with data from 1991 onwards. Figures for 1980-90 are based
on fees and on a sample of 1 in 200 prescriptions dispensed by community
pharmacists and appliance contractors only. Figures for 1991 onwards are
based on items and cover all prescriptions dispensed by community
pharmacists, appliance contractors dispensing doctors and prescriptions
submitted by prescribing doctors for items personally administered.
9. For the 1970 figures, Shorter uses Parry et al., 1973: 769-783; 775. For the
later figures he uses data from the National Center for Health Statistics Vital
and Health Statistics in various years.
10. Leonard claims that the first report was by Schoneker within five years of the
introduction of the neuroleptics.
11. Also it should be noted that in 2000 alone, U.S. prescription drug sales
increased by 14.7 percent. New products and changes in utilization
31 Biotechnology between Commerce and Civil Society
accounted for a 10.8 percent increase in drug expenditure while price
inflation accounted for 3.8 percent (IMS America, 2000).
12., 12.8.02
13., 12.8.02
14. We have already seen that anxiety, not depression, has been until recently
the exemplary pathology in Japan. DSM IV distinguishes Mood Disorders,
which include the major depressive disorders, from Anxiety Disorders. Of
course, the SSRI drugs were not marketed in the first instance for major
depression or bipolar disorder, but for mild to moderate depression, and it is
in this fuzzy area that the new links between depression and anxiety are
being established. Whilst marketing strategies tend to avoid coding the
anxiety disorders as forms of depression, psychiatrists themselves tend to see
them as closely linked conditions.
15. Quoted at
16. A 1997 review of these effects can be found on the website of the American
Society of Consultant Pharamcisits, 12.8.02
17. On the Doctor’s Guide website,,
18. Cassels, Alan (2002) ‘The drug companies' latest marketing tactic: "disease
awareness" pitch--a new licence to expand drug sales’, at,
19., 12.8.02
20., 12.8.02.
21., 12.8.02.
22. 15.8.02;
23. Healy 1997; see also the resignation letter of leading American social
psychiatrist from ‘The American Psychopharmaceutical Association: Lauren
Mosher, Resignation letter to APA, 1998: at, 12.8.02
24., 12.8.02.
25. Listed on the Rx List at; With the end of
its patent and the proliferation of alternative formulations of fluoxetine,
Prozac has slipped well down the list.
Becoming Neurochemical Selves 32
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Becoming Neurochemical Selves 34
Figure 3
Psychiatric drug prescribing 2000 in standard dosage
units per 100,000 population in selected regions
(Source: IMS Health)
South America
South Africa
SUs per 100,000 population (thousands)
Hypnotics and Sedatives
Calculated Daily Consumption of Amphetamine per 1000
in selected
(Source: UN Narcotics Control Board 1997, 1998, 2000)
1993-1995 1994-1996 1996-1998
UK and NI
New Zealand
South Africa
35 Biotechnology between Commerce and Civil Society
Figure 4
Prescriptions for psychoactive drugs (millions) in the United
Kingdom 1960-1985
(approximate figures, redrawn from Figure 1 of Ghose and Khan, 1988, derived mainly
from the Office of Health Economics, London)
1960 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985
Number of prescriptions
Hyp no t ics
Becoming Neurochemical Selves 36
Figure 5
Psychiatric drug prescribing (England) 1980-2000 (number
of prescription items dispensed in thousands)
(Source: Government Statistical Service)
1980 1982 1984 1986 1988 1990 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000
Prescription Items (thousands)
Hyp n o ti cs And
Anxiolyt ics
Drugs Used In
Ps ycho ses &
Drug s
37 Biotechnology between Commerce and Civil Society
Figure 6
USA: Psychiatric dru
prescriptions filled in US dru
(Source: M. Smith, 1991,
A Social History of the Minor Tranquilizers
1964 1966 1968 1970 1972 1974 1976 1978 1980
Prescriptions (millions)
Becoming Neurochemical Selves 38
Figure 7
USA: Psychiatric drug sales 1990-2000 in US Dollars
(Souce: IMS Health)
1990 1992 1994 1996 1998 1999 2000
Sales in USD (millions)
Hypnotics and
39 Biotechnology between Commerce and Civil Society
Figure 8
USA: Psychiatric dru
1990-2000 in Standard Units
(Source: IMS Health)
1990 1992 1994 1996 1998 1999 2000
Standard Units (millions)
Hypnotics and
Becoming Neurochemical Selves 40
Figure 9
ntidepressant Prescribing USA 1990-2000 in SUs
(Source: IMS Health)
1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001
Standard Units (Millions)
SSRI ant idepressants
All Ot her
41 Biotechnology between Commerce and Civil Society
Figure 10
Psychost imulant Prescribing in the USA in St andard Units
(Source: IMS Health)
Standard Units (millions)
Becoming Neurochemical Selves 42
Figure 11
Calculated Daily Consumption of Methyphenidate per 1000
inhabitants in selected regions
(Source: UN Narcotics Control Board 1997, 1998, 2000)
1993-1995 1994-1996 1996-1998
Defined Daily Doses per 1000
inhabitants per day
UK and NI
New Zealand
South Africa
43 Biotechnology between Commerce and Civil Society
Becoming Neurochemical Selves 44
Figure 13
Psychiatric Drug Prescribing in Selected Regions
Proportions prescribed 2000 in different therapeutic
classes (SU per 100000 popn)
(Source: IMS Health)
USA Europe Japan South
America South
Africa Pakistan
Hypnotics and
45 Biotechnology between Commerce and Civil Society
Figure 14
Lustral: “The choice is simple – with bright prospects in mind”
British Journal of Psychiatry
Becoming Neurochemical Selves 46
Figure 15
Prozac: The Prozac Promise
American Journal of Psychiatry
47 Biotechnology between Commerce and Civil Society
Female Character 1:
’m always thinking something terrible is going to happen
, I
can’t handle it
Female Character 2:
You know, your worst fears, the what ifs … I can’t control it, and I’m always worrying about everything
Female character 3:
ts like a tape in your mind, it just goes over and over… I just always thought I was a
Male character:
ts like I never get a chance to relax. At work I’m
nse about stuff at home. At home I’m tense about stuff at work
Female narrator
f you are one of the millions of people who live with uncontrollable worry, anxie
and several of these symptoms….
Symptoms roll across the screen:
ou could be suffering from Generalized Anxiety Disorder and a chemical imbalance could be to blam
PAXIL works to correct this imbalance to relieve anxiety.
rescription Paxil is not for everyo
Tell your doctor what medicines you are taking…. Side effects may include decreased appetite, dry mouth, sweating, nausea, constipation,
sexual side effects, tremor or sleepiness. Paxil is not habit forming
Female character 1:
’m not bogged down by worry anymore, I feel
ke me again, I feel like myself
Figure 16
Paxil: “The real story about chronic anxiety”
American Television
October 1991
Becoming Neurochemical Selves 48
Figure 17
SSRI and related drug prescribing USA 1990-2001
Source: IMS Health
SSRI and Related Dru
USA 1990-2000 in SUs
(Source: IMS Health)
SUs (thousands)
... Poderíamos, pois, abordar a problemática da verdade não mais em termos de obrigação, mas de autogoverno em relação às formas da verdade. Assim, nenhum sujeito contemporâneo se encontraria obrigado a subjetivar-se sob a forma de biodentidade; entretanto, essa discursividade bioidentitária tem acionado intensivamente modos de autogovernar-se e constituir-se como sujeito na contemporaneidade (ROSE 2004(ROSE , 2010(ROSE , 2013ORTEGA, 2008). ...
... Para o autor, tais saberes se constituiriam como tecnologias de poder nos processos de subjetivação.Essa perspectiva viabilizaria a concepção de subjetividades somáticas, si-mesmos biológicos(ROSE, 2013). Sistemas, órgãos, células, neurotransmissores, ligações químicas, sinapses e sinais elétricos seriam vistos como as bases da mente e do corpo, subjetivando os indivíduos em neurochemical selves, passíveis de se compreenderem como formados e governados por matéria neuroquímica(ROSE, 2004). Na mesma linha,Ortega (2008) nos interpela provocativamente sobre o modo como temos nos subjetivado em bioidentidades, questão que nos remete à exploração das implicações desse atual sabera neurociêncianas tradicionais formas de conceber o homem.A criação dessas novas práticas e saberes sobre a mente e o corpo conduz quem estiver no interior destas a outro estilo de pensamento(ROSE, 2013;ROSE;ABI-RACHED, 2013). ...
... Sistemas, órgãos, células, neurotransmissores, ligações químicas, sinapses e sinais elétricos seriam vistos como as bases da mente e do corpo, subjetivando os indivíduos em neurochemical selves, passíveis de se compreenderem como formados e governados por matéria neuroquímica(ROSE, 2004). Na mesma linha,Ortega (2008) nos interpela provocativamente sobre o modo como temos nos subjetivado em bioidentidades, questão que nos remete à exploração das implicações desse atual sabera neurociêncianas tradicionais formas de conceber o homem.A criação dessas novas práticas e saberes sobre a mente e o corpo conduz quem estiver no interior destas a outro estilo de pensamento(ROSE, 2013;ROSE;ABI-RACHED, 2013). ...
Full-text available
Focalizando a prevalência discursiva da neurociência na contemporaneidade, o artigo visa apreender os modos como os saberes pedagógicos, psicológicos, biológicos e neurológicos têm se articulado num âmbito específico da produção discursiva educacional brasileira atual, a fim de matizar seus efeitos nos processos de veridicção e constituição de subjetividades. Inspirando-se teórico-metodologicamente em Michel Foucault, toma como locus documental um conjunto de publicações da revista de divulgação pedagógica Nova Escola, no período de 2011 a 2016. A análise discursiva de enunciados aponta três principais aspectos: articulação entre corpo e subjetividade; atualização das discursividades de expertise nos processos de patologização e medicalização da vida; reconfiguração das políticas de cognição.
... 12,65 In many clinical settings, patients are increasingly presenting with a self-diagnosis or explanation of their behaviour in neurobiological or neurochemical terms. 66 This explanatory model draws on prevailing brain-centric models of mental disorders that are taught to medical students, used in neuroscience research, promoted by pharmaceutical industry advertising, and widely disseminated through popular culture. These models explain symptoms via alterations of specific neurotransmitters and explain the efficacy of medications via their effects on related synaptic receptor sites. ...
Psychiatry has increasingly adopted explanations for psychopathology that are based on neurobiological reductionism. With the recognition of health disparities and the realisation that someone's postcode can be a better predictor of health outcomes than their genetic code, there are increasing efforts to ensure cultural and social-structural competence in psychiatric practice. Although neuroscientific and social-cultural approaches in psychiatry remain largely separate, they can be brought together in a multilevel explanatory framework to advance psychiatric theory, research, and practice. In this Personal View, we outline how a cultural-ecosocial systems approach to integrating neuroscience in psychiatry can promote social-contextual and systemic thinking for more clinically useful formulations and person-centred care.
... The concept of biologisation is an example that demonstrates how inequalities in society can be unhooked from and obscure more structural issues of gender, race, and class and indeed can come to replace previous versions of problematisation. Nikolas Rose (2004Rose ( , 2013, for example, identified shifts away from a view of the subject responsible for social problems as rooted in psychology, a view that underpinned governance via expectations, exhortations, and supports for self-regulation. This, he argued, was shifting towards a somatic view that focuses on the biological brain: a 'new century of biological citizenship.' ...
... Questo aspetto può essere ulteriormente approfondito ed esploso, anzi, imploso attraverso una proposta teorica di Nicholas Rose (2004). Infatti, Rose (2004) si domanda: come abbiamo fatto a diventare dei sé neurochimici? ...
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La tragedia del Covid ha messo a nudo, in forma estesa, l’importanza della salute, delle cure e della sanità pubblica. In molti casi le vittime del Covid-19 sono state persone anziane con malattie croniche. La malattia, oltre a produrre sofferenze enormi nei pazienti e nei loro famigliari, incide sulla spesa pubblica in modo consistente, con i costi del comparto sanitario che raggiungeranno presto livelli non sostenibili. Basterebbero questi motivi per mobilitarsi nella speranza di un sostanziale cambio di paradigma e tentare di rimpiazzare, o almeno integrare, la società della cura con la società della prevenzione e del wellness. Accanto a questa necessità va però aggiunta una componente solo a prima vista accessoria: la felicità e il benessere soggettivo. In questo volume, forniamo un’introduzione a queste tematiche: un itinerario sociologico che si conclude mostrando come il benessere dei singoli fiorisca laddove trovi contesti sociali che integrano la dimensione del wellness con la giustizia sociale.
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The theory that depression is caused by a serotonin abnormality of other chemical imbalance has become widely accepted by the public and is one prominent justification for the use of antidepressants. However, it has been increasingly questioned and there is little evidence it has empirical support. In response, leading psychiatrists suggested it was an ‘urban legend’ that was never taken seriously by the psychiatric profession. To interrogate these claims, we examined the coverage of the serotonin theory of depression in a sample of highly cited and influential academic literature from 1990 when the theory started to be popularized to 2010 when these responses were articulated. We analysed 30 highly cited reviews of the aetiology of depression in general, 30 highly cited papers on depression and serotonin specifically and a sample of influential textbooks. The majority of the aetiology reviews supported the hypothesis, including some that were entirely devoted to describing research on the serotonin system, and those that reviewed the aetiology of depression more broadly. Research papers on the serotonin system in depression were highly cited and most of them strongly supported the serotonin theory. All textbooks supported the theory, at least in some sections, and devoted substantial coverage to it, although some also acknowledged it remained provisional. The findings suggest that the serotonin theory was endorsed by the professional and academic community. The theory is compared to an exhausted Kuhnian paradigm with professional equivocation about it acting as a means of defending it against encroaching criticism. The analysis suggests that, despite protestations to the contrary, the profession bears some responsibility for the propagation of a theory that is not empirically supported and the mass antidepressant prescribing it has inspired.
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This paper considers the implications of the rise of the new molecular genetics for the ways in which we are governed and the ways in which we govern ourselves. Using examples of genetic screening and genetic discrimination in education, employment and insurance, and a case study of debates among those at risk of developing Hunt-ington's Disease and their relatives, we suggest that some of the claims made by critics of these new developments are misplaced. While there are possibilities of genetic dis-crimination, the key event is the creation of the person 'genetically at risk'. But genetic risk does not imply resignation in the face of an implacable biological destiny: it induces new and active relations to oneself and one's future. In particular, it gener-ates new forms of 'genetic responsibility', locating actually and potentially affected individuals within new communities of obligation and identi cation. Far from gener-ating fatalism, the rewriting of personhood at a genetic level and its visualization through a 'molecular optic' transforms the relations between patient and expert in unexpected ways, and is linked to the development of novel 'life strategies', involving practices of choice, enterprise, self-actualization and prudence in relation to one's genetic make-up. Most generally, we suggest, the birth of the person 'genetically at risk' is part of a wider reshaping of personhood along somatic lines and a mutation in conceptions of life itself.
IntroductionPhysiology of SleepUse of Hypnotics
• Neurotoxic reactions were observed in 36 of 90 patients who received chlorpromazine over a period of about two months. The earliest findings were cogwheeling of the limbs and loss of associated movements. The latter together with rigidity of limbs and of face were most frequent. Tremor, skin changes, disturbances of gait, drooling, and general poverty of movement were also observed. The syndrome resembled paralysis agitans. Patients of the hebephrenic type were especially susceptible, but intensity of symptoms was not strongly correlated with dosage or psychiatric improvement, and there was no relation to hepatic dysfunction. Improvement generally occurred within a month of the time when administration of chlorpromazine was discontinued, but six patients still showed neurological signs 60 days or more thereafter.
Book InformationThe Creation of Psychopharmacology. The Creation of Psychopharmacology David Healy , Cambridge, Mass., and London : Harvard University Press , 2002 . 469 . £27.50 . ISBN 0–674–00619–4 By David Healy. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Mass., and London. Pp. 469. £27.50. ISBN 0–674–00619–4, 0–674–00619–4.
Data on national patterns of use of psychotherapeutic drugs derive from a national sample of American adults. During the year preceding the interview, 13% of the men and 29% of the women had used such prescription drugs in particular minor tranquilizers and day time sedatives. Prevalence of prescription drug use varies greatly by sex, age, and region of the country. Comparable data from Europe indicate American rates to be consonant with those for other Western industrialized nations. Findings suggest Americans are rather conservative in their use of prescription psychotherapeutic drugs and that most of the users felt they had benefited from the drugs. Over the counter drugs were used by 10% of adults, most commonly by respondents age 18 to 29. Over the counter use is short term and most users reported little or no benefit.
Since 1959 a growing number of reports have described a new type of neurological disorder in mental patients. This disorder, known as tardive dyskinesia, has been observed in approximately 500 cases but, judging from the accurate observations made by three separate groups of investigators, the syndrome is likely to be more frequent than one may suspect. Although manifestations of tardive dyskinesia occur in a number of diseases of the central nervous system, there is considerable evidence that the largescale use of phenothiazines or similar drugs in recent years is responsible for the great number of patients in mental hospitals exhibiting myoclonia and choreo-athetoid symptoms.