Monday, July 27, 2009

Take Two Cadillacs Every Night

I'm sure a great deal of research, money, and worry goes into the topic of naming new drugs, especially those that work on our minds. Sonata, for instance, is a great name for a sleeping pill. It sounds soothing and comfortable but not overpowering. You can go too far with names by promising too much. Is it any wonder that sedatives Halcion and Placidyl became so sought after?—the drugs were abused and turned out to be dangerous for many.

The newest antidepressants sound remarkably like cars, and maybe that's no accident. I'm going for a ride in my Celexa. Have you seen the new 2010 Remeron? Cymbalta sounds powerful, like an Escalade. All these names seem to suggest precision engineering, a quiet, smooth ride, a certain elegance in helping us to get over life's obstacles. By contrast, who'd want to ride in a Prozac? It sounds like a Yugoslavian import. Zoloft is a big German clunker. You can tell these drugs have had their day.

Since there are lots more new antidepressants in the pipeline, I have a suggestion for the pharmaceutical companies: take the car theme even further. Sierra is a nice name for a drug, as well as a car. Makes you feel rugged and powerful. Aspen, clean and bracing. Infiniti—talk about being above it all. Even cars whose names don't mean anything have such recognition that they would pack powerful placebo effects in pill form. I'm really beat; I think I'll take a BMW. Feeling depressed and anxious? Ask your doctor about Lexus. I'll bet the auto makers would be open to licensing the names, maybe even some tie-in marketing.

Since men buy most cars, though, maybe the drug manufacturers are neglecting the woman's market; after all, women are three times more likely than men to get diagnosed with depression. How about a Prada line of antidepressants? Maybe Donna Karan would be interested. I don't think I'd want my wife to take a Martha Stewart, though…I might not live up to her new standards.

But when you think about the psychological boost we get when we treat ourselves well and look good, maybe we could just eliminate the middleman…you know, the drug industry? We could get our health insurance to buy us a new wardrobe or a new car every couple of year instead of expensive anti-depressants.

Don't get me wrong. Depression is a serious disease. I treat patients for it and I have suffered from it myself. But this is an age of cosmetic psychiatry. Antidepressants are now half of the six top selling prescription drugs. For some people who really need them, they're a godsend; but for lots of other people, some sort of magic is being marketed in pill form. Wouldn’t we all be better off if we could figure out a way to separate some of those wishes from dependency on drugs?