Magazine article Drug Topics

Tranked Out

Magazine article Drug Topics

Tranked Out

Article excerpt


The woman at the counter was in her mid-30s. She was fashionably dressed in black slacks and a diaphanous white blouse. I looked down at the prescription on the counter. Librium 25 mg tid. What the - ? #90, with 5 refills. What the - ? again.

I gave her a little nod and pointed to the counseling area. We met at the window. "How long have you been taking this?"

This drug is a minefield. Especially if taken for a long time. Withdrawal is brutal.

Then I saw I had asked a stupid question. The patient was born in 1933.

"You're blushing," she said. "Have I embarrassed you?"

"Actually I embarrassed myself. I see that the patient is 80 years old. Your mom?"

"My dear auntie," she said. "She's the last of that generation." She looked grave. Obviously, her aunt was an important person in her life.

"Are you her caregiver?"

A deep breath. "I'm her part-time caregiver. For as long as it takes. She still has her own apartment," she said. "She put me through college. If we have to move her to our place, we will."

"I was going to warn you about this drug." I said, "But when the patient is 80 years old, my only advice is to never allow her to run out. The withdrawal could kill her."

The niece explained that her auntie had been taking one drug or another for decades. Her "condition" is "female hysteria." It was a syndrome once known as "The widows' disease." Victorian doctors became very rich treating this condition.

Old wine in new bottles

Female hysteria ceased to be a real condition in 1952. But we have been treating the widows' disease with prescription drugs for decades. We are still selling drugs for hysteria. They write prn for anxiety. I suppose it would not be helpful to write prn spinsterhood.

I knew nothing about female hysteria until I Googled it. My gosh, this has been a lucrative condition. There was no chance that the patients would die. They returned to the doctor regularly and refilled their prescriptions like clockwork. Ka-ching.

Phénobarbital. We dispensed it by the hundreds until the 1960s. Then it was butisol sodium (Butabarbital Sodium, McNeil). Amytal sodium (Amobarbital Sodium Eü Lilly) was favored when the Lilly man had been in town leaving samples. …

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