Prozac History

Prozac History

Aug 03

Prozac (fluoxetine), also known as “bottled sunshine” to many celebrities and millions of the depressed, is a class of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).  It was first approved as an antidepressant in December 1987 by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US. The patent held by developer Eli Lilly and Company in August 2001.

The history of Prozac, which is also the background to fluoxetine which is now available under generic brands, is quite interesting and a bit disturbing. Originally documented in 1974, it was initially tested on humans as an antihypertensive, because it showed that it lowered the blood pressure in lab animals. However, it was a no-go in human testing. Eli Lilly did not give up on the drug, and tried it again as an anti-obesity drug. Again, no joy. But a strange thing happened during the human trials: five participants who exhibited mild depression reported feelings of upliftment while taking Prozac.

Quick to take advantage, Eli Lilly proposed the drug as an antidepressant for both adults and children, and Prozac became the stuff of legends. Or at least, it was promoted as such by the celebrities who swore by its positive effects, and by the time the drug was on the shelf for 3 years, it was considered a wonder drug, a problem-free quick fix. It also popularized the term SSRI to denote a class of antidepressants. Many more drugs were developed along this line as a result.

In the decades since it was approved, Prozac has become a panacea of all ills. Prescriptions for the drug increased four-fold between 1991 and 2009, and it was not restricted to treating depression. Other FDA approved uses were for the treatment of panic disorder, bulimia nervosa and obsessive compulsive disorder. Off-label uses included post traumatic stress disorders, obesity, and cataleptsy. It has even become standard to prescribe Prozac to the recently bereaved, although grief is not a pathologic condition.

That is the interesting part. The disturbing part is that no one really knows how Prozac actually works. SSRIs are thought to block the reabsorption of the feel-good chemical serotonin so that it stays longer in the brain, lifting one’s mood. But this is merely the theory, not the fact. The fact is, many scientists today contend that fluoxetine in particular does not work on patients with mild to moderate depression. Moreover, there are serious side-effects that accompany the indiscriminate use of Prozac, including birth defects, suicidality, and sexual dysfunction. Despite these ever-increasing concerns about the health effects of Prozac, it continues to be one of the most prescribed antidepressants in the market even with newer and “safer” alternatives.

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