Friday, 3 March 2017

The Complete History of Diazepam

The Full History Of Diazepam

At the end of the year in the US, the plant in which diazepam, the most popular drug in the world until the 1980s was developed and manufactured for decades, is no longer quite as popular, but the cultural revolution that provoked it is perceived until today.

IN THE 70s Elizabeth Taylor commented loudly that her diet consisted of a strict blend of diazepam and Jack Daniels. In 1966, the Rolling Stones dedicated to that drug a song from their album Aftermath, called "Mother's Little Helper" (Although she is not really ill, there is a small yellow pill / Mom runs to take refuge in her little help / Y Help on your way, help during your busy day).

So popular became the medicine diazepam.

It was the first drug to combat anxiety that came to capitalize sales for more than 100 million dollars; Which reached magazine covers as a topic of debate and that would forever change our relationship with medicines and how to deal with everyday problems. Diazepam sold us the idea that emotional problems did not have to be kept secret, that we did not have to be sick to take medication and that if a drug was good for the rest - including the big figures - it was also for us . We all believed it.

Approved by the FDA of the United States in 1963, in that country the diazepam had precedents. In 1955, the same agency had targeted the sale of Miltown, a drug capable of eliminating anxiety temporarily, but whose use was rather controversial due to the sedative effects it produced. The drug, whose active compound was meprobramate, would be the first anxiolytic sales success, a phenomenon that would begin to slowly change the social perception about drugs.

Prior to this, moderate anxiety had never been considered as a disease, but rather as a passing state from which a person was to emerge through his own means. And rather in silence. With the Miltown began to consider a new point of view, which dictated that medicines could serve not only to treat diseases, but also to relieve the burden of daily life. And quickly (in a couple of hours its effects began to be visible).

However, as Andrea Tone in his book The Age of Anxiety describes, the greatest revolution was to come. Faced with the enormous success of Miltown, pharmaceutical companies changed their way of conceiving the drug business and for the first time moved away from university laboratories and government funds. The mission? Win the frantic race to find the next best selling pill.

This was how the Roche laboratory recruited the Polish chemist Leo Sternbach, who at the Nutley Pharmaceutical Plant in New Jersey started the benzodiazepine era. The new compound synthesized by Sternbach had slightly longer lasting effects than the Miltown and its toxicity was minimal. It was approved by the FDA in 1960 and a month later began to be marketed as Librium. However, the bitter taste and short time of action of the Librium were two important factors against its commercialization. That is why the Polish chemist did not stop working until 1963, when he gave life to diazepam, the most refined benzodiazepine to date and that would govern the world's recipe books until the end of the 80's.

If the Librium had been unexpectedly lucrative, the gains that would be made with the diazepam would be astronomical. More powerful than the Librium, diazepam would become the most prescribed drug in the Western world between 1968 and 1981. And also the most publicized, which gave a social acceptance never before seen.

At Nutley, giant machines produced pellets at a rate of 400 per second. In 15 hours, the assembly lines of the company could generate 30 million of them, enough to satisfy the global consumption for only five days. In 1978 alone, Roche sold about 2.3 billion tablets, which it reached to medicate half the world.

In the United States the phenomenon was overwhelming, as was immortalized in the movie Starting over, 1979. There the character played by Burt Reynolds suffered a panic attack in the Bloomingdale's store and his brother asked the buyers: "Does anyone have a diazepam? ". All the women in the store opened their wallets and handed him a couple of pills.

The same thing happened all over the world.

In our country, the practice of taking a pair of diazepam out of the box to give to any friend or family member in trouble became so common that, according to a report published in the Revista Médica de Chile, in 1980, addiction to Benzodiazepines, to reach 1990 with 31.4% of the Santiagoians consuming this type of drug. "Take a diazepam", it became an commonplace sentence.

Two things were the phenomena that catapulted the fame of the drug. On the one hand, unlike other older drugs, the disclosure of the drug, from advertising and specialists, placed a strong emphasis on the scientific component of its operation. Talking about the efficacy of benzodiazepines meant beginning to talk about what they produced in the brain as they interacted with neurotransmitters. This opened up a completely new field for modern medicine, since if the anxiolytics worked, they were because they repaired a biochemical imbalance, that is, a physical problem. Never again fancy or hysteria: anxiety was a disorder that had to be treated with medication.

On the other hand, according to Katherine Sharpe in his book The Age of Zoloft: How the antidepressants made us happy, let us fall and changed who we are, was the subject of the discredit of Freudian psychotherapy. In the 60's began the mass boredom of people who during the last two decades had tried to cure their emotional problems with this type of treatment. Frustrated patients began to complain that psychoanalytic therapy was expensive and time-consuming, sometimes without even producing effective results. Why not use drugs better? Although they did not deliver a definitive solution, a few hours of calm a day were sufficient for the burdened patients.

Until the early 1990s the long reign of diazepam was unstoppable, then it began to be rapidly replaced by Alprazolam, a different type of benzodiazepine, whose metabolization time was much shorter and eliminated the sensation of sedation so characteristic of the previous drug. It would also start the extreme popularity of Prozac, which continues to promise to treat anxiety in the long run. Neither of them would have achieved so much fame had it not been for the road paved by the diazepam.

At the end of the year, the era of this popular drug is finally over. Although its sales are still interesting (48.7 million prescriptions over the past year), Roche has decided to close the mythical Nutley plant to open, in 2013, a smaller research office in New York, in order to Explore the drugs of the future. Who knows if any of their findings will change the pharmaceutical industry and our lives again.

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