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Prozac and Viagra

On Friday August 3, 2001, I was in New York visiting the offices of CBS Evening News and 48 hours. I had a break in the action and sat down to read USA Today. An article grabbed my attention. It was a story about Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton pushing for federal support for birth control for women. She argued persuasively that if the federal government was willing to support Viagra for men it should certainly support birth control for women. She reasoned that if the government didn’t support Viagra for men, there would less need for birth control for women. It was a compelling piece and I gave it a great deal of thought.

After a few minutes I was back in action meeting and greeting the folks at CBS. I met Elizabeth Kaledin the medical correspondent for CBS News. We struck up a conversation. The story she had been working on, and the one that would be aired that night on CBS Evening News, was about the expiration of the patent on Prozac. The thrust of the story was that now that the patent on Prozac had expired; other drug manufacturers could jump in and market a generic drug. I immediately thought of the story I had been reading and launched forth on a discussion of it. “That’s interesting,” I said, “I was just reading about Prozac. I didn’t realize it had been on the market long enough for the patent to expire.” “Oh yes,” Elizabeth said,” It was patented in 1988.” I said “Wow! I never heard of it until Bob Dole started advertising it.” (You careful readers have surely noticed by now that I was having a very senior moment.) Elizabeth looked at me with a funny expression on her face. “I didn’t know Dole ever advertised Prozac.” “Yes,” I said, “Senator Dole was enthusiastic in his praise for Prozac. He seemed to think it dramatically improved his relationship with his wife. In fact, other politicians, such as Senator Clinton, have been talking about it as recently as yesterday. “Really,” said Elizabeth. “I would have thought Prozac might put Senator Dole right to sleep and wouldn’t think Senator Clinton would mention it at all.”

I am still without a clue as I warmed to the conversation. “I have a friend who is 82 years old who went for a physical the other day and was asked by the nurse to list all the drugs he was taking and how often he took them. He listed Prozac (It’s a long lasting senior moment.) and told the nurse he only took it when he wanted to have sex. ‘Unfortunately’, he said, ‘the instructions say not to take it more than once a day.’” “That is very interesting,” Elizabeth said.

I could scarcely believe how many points I must be scoring with this intelligent, attractive, and charming woman, with a degree in English literature.

Me—“Recently I’ve noticed that professional athletes and younger people are using it.”
Elizabeth--“Yes,” it’s being prescribed for even preschool children. In fact, in 1996 it was prescribed for 8,000 children under 5 years old. In 1997 40,000 children under 5 years old were taking Prozac.”
Me—“I’m astounded. That seems awfully young to need it. I can’t imagine that kids that young are even thinking about …well, you know. I didn’t starting thinking about it until I was in the fourth grade.”
Elizabeth—“A lot of young kids are very active or depressed. Prozac is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor which helps kids deal with depression.”
Me—“I would be depressed too if I thought I needed Prozac—which I don’t, really I don’t, I swear I don’t—to function. But when I was 5 years old I wouldn’t have known what to do with a…you know, if I had one. Kids must be a good bit more advanced than I was at 5 years old. Forty thousand little kids using this stuff. Amazing.”
Elizabeth—“You might be even more amazed to learn that it’s being prescribed for more than 600,000 young teenagers.
Me—“That many need it! Good Lord. What’s this world coming to? I may have thought a lot about sex when I was a teenager but hormones rather than drugs kept me functional.
Elizabeth—“Are we talking about the same thing? It almost sounds like you are talking about Viagra rather than Prozac.”

Well that pretty much ended the conversation. I hope Elizabeth doesn’t remember my name. I’m fairly certain she wouldn’t. I suspect, however, she will remember the conversation. She smiled in polite amusement as I excused myself and left her office.

Something must have struck her funny after I left because I could hear her laughing uproariously even when I was several hallways away.