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From Barnes & NobleBarnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
To anyone who has ever popped a pill -- or even contemplated popping one -- to cope with a messy divorce, a stressful job, or a bumpy airplane ride: Put down that water glass and read this book! Provocative and persuasive, Comfortably Numb argues that our increasing dependence on anxiety-reducing medication is not only costly and harmful to our quality of life but is unlikely to fix what truly ails us.
Barber, who has worked extensively with the homeless population, begins by reporting that in the late 1980s, when he first told friends about his work, few were familiar with either his clients' diagnoses or their medications. But just a decade later, more and more friends revealed that either they or their family members were depressed or suffering from another mental condition, and were now taking the same drugs as his clients. Mental illness was, he says, becoming "chic."
How did it happen? Barber maintains that the drug industry changed our perception of psychiatric medication from illness treatment to lifestyle enhancer. Direct-to-public advertising is to blame, he says. He also describes the scientific community's current inclination to view all behavior as biologically based. Add to this a health care system in which harried doctors can quickly dispose of their patients by writing a prescription, and it's no wonder that in 2006, 227 million antidepressant prescriptions were dispensed in the United States -- more than any other class of medication.
The kicker, Barber reports, is that while psychiatric drugs work for the mentally ill, they're far less effective on the "worried well," and they're much more expensive than alternative measures. He argues that many of these drugs, like SUVs, cell phones, and fast food, are "useful when you really need them, but mainly unnecessary and vastly and indiscriminately overused." Some key facts from his book include the astronomical sales of Zoloft (larger than that of Tide laundry detergent) and Zyprexa (greater than the total revenue of Levi-Strauss) and the mind-numbing statistic that the combined profits of the top ten drug companies in 2002 exceeded the profits of the other 490 Fortune 500 companies put together.
Houston, we indeed have a problem, and one that can't be solved by taking a pill. Comfortably Numb should be read by all Americans. It will certainly make them think twice before heading to the drugstore. (Spring 2008 Selection)