How Anecdotes Sell Drugs: On the 30th Anniversary Edition of “Listening to Prozac”


From Los Angeles Review of Books: “The statistics on antidepressant use in the United States are sobering. The proportion of those over age 12 taking antidepressants grew by an astonishing 400 percent between the periods 1988–94 and 2005–08. Women took antidepressants two and a half times as often as men, and 23 percent of women between the ages of 40 and 60 were taking the drugs. By 2019, more than 10 percent of female teenagers were taking them (twice the rate among their male equivalents), while at the other end of the age spectrum, almost a quarter of women over the age of 60 used them. And many of these patients had been taking these pills continuously for over a decade, despite there being no studies of the effects of taking these powerful drugs over such an extraordinarily long period. Peter D. Kramer’s 1993 bestseller Listening to Prozac can fairly claim to have played a key role in encouraging these developments. Last year, Kramer chose to issue a 30th anniversary edition of his book, whose appearance celebrates what he claims has been a major step forward in the treatment of depression and other forms of psychological distress.

. . . Listening to Prozac’s 30th anniversary edition is adorned with a new preface and afterword by its author. It constitutes a tribute of sorts to the power of celebrity and to the persistence of the myth that depression is a brain disorder that can be abolished by ingesting one of Big Pharma’s magic bullets. According to surveys, that belief is now held by over 80 percent of Americans—one of whom, it turns out, is still Peter Kramer. Those who don’t believe this fairy tale are, he alleges, simply ignorant anti-psychiatrists or members of the cult of Scientology, who are relying on ‘irrelevant, spurious, or zombie research.’ They deny what, for Kramer, remains the reality even now, 30 years on from his infomercial for Prozac. We should, he tells us in his revised edition, celebrate ‘our own good fortune. Without further improvement, the antidepressants we’ve had access to for sixty years are miraculous.’

. . . Anniversaries are usually occasions for celebration. This one is not.”

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  1. Ha I just got my copy of Talking Back to Prozac by Peter Breggin and about to start reading it. Now I realize that the Breggin book, also released in 1994, must have been a response to Kramer’s Listening to Prozac.

    Interesting that in the article linked above the writer points out that Dr. Kramer disingenuously acknowledges at the very end of the updated version that some of the basic premises of the book were false and that the promise of personality change through medication that he had confidently trumpeted fell flat.

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  2. The whole review is well worth reading. It exposes big pharma marketing had more to do with the popularity of these drugs than anything and that Kramer is a lying toad who should have stuck to writing novels and stopped being a doctor. He is a sham.

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