Welcome to the first installment of guest blogger Brad Fidler’s new four-part series. Brad is a postdoc researcher at UCLA, where he is developing a new program on Internet history. He studies the crossovers between information technologies and psychiatry. Over the coming weeks, Brad will discuss the increasing use of psychiatric drugs in the treatment of, and the expanding definitions of, mental illness.
When mood stabilizers and stimulants fail to interest the American public– often because their use has been stigmatized– drug companies often look to rebrand them as diet pills. That’s what the pharmaceutical firm Vivus, Inc. plans to do with their new drug Qnexa. Vivus is planning to mix a mood stabilizer from the 1970s with a stimulant from the 1950s and sell the new cross-breed medication as a weight loss drug.
The two drugs that make up Qnexa have been criticized as a part of the bad form of medicating society, emblematizing the habit of profit-hungry pharmaceutical firms to “disease monger” and “sell sickness.” This backlash critique of psychiatry and psychiatric drugs has risen dramatically in the last few decades as pharmaceutical solutions to behavioral and mood problems have become more popular and more visible. It has remained relatively easy to critique the over-prescription of psychiatric drugs because the relatively private nature of the doctor-patient relationship has not been subject to scrutiny like public drug policy activities like community policing and foreign policy associated with the War On Drugs.
But the critique of pharmeceutical “disease mongering” is not just opportunistic; there are important historical reasons that we are suspicious of psychiatric treatments.