Monday, Mar. 31, 2003

A Pill to Make Your Day

Dec. 19. 1987

Fluoxetine hydrochloride had been approved for use in Belgium the year before. But the imprimatur of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration heralded a whole new era. At first, just scientists were excited, because Prozac, as the Eli Lilly company christened it for the market, was the first in a new class of medications that would treat depression by exquisitely controlling the levels of serotonin, a brain chemical involved in mood. But the FDA's approval letter became the founding charter for a Prozac nation, as vast numbers of American consumers were seduced by a prescription to lift one's mood. Today they spend more than $1 billion on Prozac each year, to treat not just depression but also obsessive-compulsive disorder and premenstrual syndrome. The cultural revolution has escalated with the arrival of new antidepressants without Prozac's occasional side effects — nightmares, violence, loss of libido. And in the tradition of imitation as the ultimate form of flattery, by 2001 cheaper generic fluoxetine hit the market.