Sunday, January 15, 2023

the last book I ever read (Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Family, excerpt four)

from Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Family by Patrick Radden Keefe:

Just as women had outnumbered men in the wards of Creedmoor, it now emerged that doctors were prescribing Roche’s tranquilizers to women much more often than to men, and Arthur and his colleagues seized on this phenomenon and started to aggressively market Librium and Valium to women. In describing an ideal patient, a typical ad for Valium read, “35, single and psychoneurotic.” An early ad for Librium showed a young woman with an armful of books and suggested that even the routine stress of heading off to college might be best addressed with Librium. But the truth was, Librium and Valium were marketed using such a variety of gendered mid-century tropes—the neurotic singleton, the frazzled housewife, the joyless career woman, the menopausal shrew—that as the historian Andrea Tone noted in her book The Age of Anxiety, what Roche’s tranquilizers really seemed to offer was a quick fix for the problem of “being female.”

Roche was hardly the only company to employ this sort of over-the-top disingenuous advertising. Pfizer had a tranquilizer that it recommended for use by children with an illustration of a young girl with a tearstained face and a suggestion that the drug could alleviate fears of “school, the dark, separation, dental visits, ‘monsters.’ ” But once Roche and Arthur Sackler unleashed Librium and Valium, no other company could compete. At Roche’s plant in Nutley, mammoth pill-stamping machines struggled to keep up with demand, churning out tens of millions of tablets a day. Initially, Librium was the most prescribed drug in America, until it was overtaken by Valium in 1968. But even then, Librium held on, remaining in the top five. In 1964, some twenty-two million prescriptions were written for Valium. By 1975, that figure reached sixty million. Valium was the first $ 100 million drug in history, and Roche became not just the leading drug company in the world but one of the most profitable companies of any kind. Money was pouring in, and when it did, the company turned around and reinvested that money in the promotion campaign devised by Arthur Sackler.

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