Valley of the Dulls

This article appeared in O, the Oprah magazine, and there’s a quite a story behind it. While I was doing the reporting for Carved in Sand, I learned from various experts that antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs could make both your memory and your motivation vanish. I brought this information to my editor at O, Liz Brody, and she asked me to write a long feature on the subject. I was dying to do it, of course—I like nothing more than getting the goods on the pharmaceutical industry. But I was nervous: I knew that O was packed full of Big Pharma advertising and that if such an article ran, these big-ticket advertisers would be extremely unhappy. I asked the magazine to sign a letter guaranteeing that I would get paid my full fee, no matter how big a stink the advertisers made. We were on target for publication until Christmas Day, when my phone rang. It was Liz. Advertisers were upset. There was some possibility that the magazine would have to kill the story. I had my letter and my fee, but I couldn’t back away quietly. I knew the piece was groundbreaking, showing these drugs in an extremely unflattering light, at a time when antidepressants were still hailed as the antidote to practically anything. Painstakingly, Liz and I went over every fact, checking and double-checking, which in the middle of the holiday season was not easy. The piece ran, with a few minor deletions. Within hours, my mailbox was flooded with emails from faithful “O” readers, women who—up until that moment—had no idea what had become of their brains. (Years later, I still get such letters.) Since then, there have been several fine books published about the overuse of antidepressants, including The Emperor’s New Drugsby the estimable researcher Irving Kirsch, PhD. It’s a book that anyone who has ever popped a Prozac—or considered doing so—ought to read.