Medicine: Don't-Give-a-Damn Pills

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As one of Groucho Marx's writers told it: an unemployed actor was interrupted at breakfast by his wife carrying a Dagwood sandwich of unpaid bills. "What'll I do with these?" she asked. Replied the actor, with a careless toss of the head: "Tear 'em up and order some more Miltown."

Miltown, one of the two trade names for meprobamate, the latest popular tranquilizing drug, has become the fastest-selling pacifier for the frustrated and frenetic. The backlog of unfilled orders is at once the pride and despair of Wallace Laboratories in New Brunswick, N.J., makers of Miltown, and Philadelphia's

Wyeth, Inc., which calls the same drug Equanil. Hollywood is, naturally, the hottest market. A drugstore at Sunset and Gower splashed huge red letters across its window when a shipment arrived: "Yes, we have Miltown!" Most of the time, this and other drugstores are not so fortunate. Schwab's, Los Angeles' best known, has dispensed 250,000 pills (both brands) from four stores in four months, and has turned away more orders than it has filled.

For Friends Only. The craving for the "don't-give-a-damn" pills is not confined to Hollywood. In staid Boston the demand is as keen, but less shrill. It is the same in New York City, Washington,

D.C., Charlotte, N.C., and Houston, where druggists refuse to fill prescriptions for strangers, often have to limit regular customers to a dozen pills on account while they wait for an overdue shipment.

Developed by Wallace Labs' Dr. Frank M. Berger from a muscle-relaxing drug which had some incidental calming effect, meprobamate was not generally released until last summer. It was offered to doctors for treating walk-in neurotics rather than locked-in psychotics, with the assurance that it was free from the unpleasant (and sometimes dangerous) side effects of the earlier tranquilizers, chlorpromazine and reserpine.

"No Energy, of Course." Outside Hollywood, few users advertise the fact that they are among the pill buyers. But in the unbuttoned movie colony, Kendis Rochlen, movie columnist for the Mirror-News, reported: "I went from Ginger Rogers' party to Jose Ferrer's party to a dinner party, and everywhere they were talking about it. My husband is on it now. He used to be very nervous, really just miserable. Now he doesn't get mad as quick or stay mad as long. He has no energy, of course." Says Milton Berle: "It's worked wonders for me. In fact, I'm thinking of changing my name to Miltown Berle."

There is still little medical evidence as to how well the pills work. The manufacturers report customer satisfaction in two-thirds to three-fourths of cases, but there is no way of knowing how much of this is due to suggestion. One of the more convincing testimonials: Palm Springs Veterinarian Herman Salk (brother of Vaccine Maker Jonas Salk) reports that Equanil is dandy for neurotic dogs, changes them in a couple of days from biting, man-hating monsters into lovable rovers.