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June 30-July 7, 2003


The New Normal
I read “Pill Culture Pops” [by Ariel Levy, June 9] with amusement. I take a cocktail of nine medications just to function and be one of the “normal” people. And now you’re telling me the normal people are trying to be like me?
-Lisa Marie Garrison, Philadelphia, PA.

Fast-Mood Nation
As a psychoanalyst practicing in New York City, I was saddened by “Pill Culture Pops.” It is no surprise that a nation addicted to fast food is now becoming dependent upon a “fast mood” approach to managing the issues of life. I appreciate the positive effect a carefully prescribed and monitored course of medication can have when someone is suffering and unable to meet the demands of life. However, these drugs can be dangerous when used recreationally, no matter how cleverly one rationalizes their use. To depend upon self-medication during a time of increased stress—both from an increasingly dangerous world and from an economy that leaves many at risk—may in fact make us less able to use our abilities to master the world. This is where a well-trained therapist can usually be of help, in facilitating the process of encountering ourselves in a manner that supports both self-knowledge and the capacity to achieve more pleasure and success in life. However, this would require asking another question: “Who am I?”
-Jeffrey Werden, manhattan

She Wants A New Drug
As a woman who was unwilling to sacrifice her libido to Celexa, I was disappointed that Ariel Levy’s discussion of the sexual side effects of antidepressants was oblivious to the problems faced by women, who cannot resort to Viagra to keep “both erect and depression-free.” Ms. Levy’s neglect sadly reflects the medical community’s disregard for the effects of drugs on female subjects, which is apparent in the fact that most studies are conducted with males. Women are not small men, and we need our own version of Viagra (preferably covered by insurance).
-E. M. Shave, Manhattan

A Day In The Life
Since joining the working world, I have kept my ADHD condition under wraps to most people, and have done my best to conceal the fact that I am very well-medicated during the day. The problem is that Adderall is a very strong drug, and, as with any drug, coming down is extremely difficult to deal with both mentally and physically. I have since added Klonopin to my regimen, and Ambien to guarantee that I can get a decent night’s sleep. I don’t always follow my doctor’s orders, and often take my meds as I deem necessary. A recent experience of mine is a prime example of how being a self-medicated New Yorker can really pay off. After a long and stressful day on the trading floor, I found myself on an overcrowded subway train. It had been several hours since my second dose of Adderall for the day, and I was crashing hard. I popped .5 mg. of Klonopin and made it home feeling pretty good. I showered and put on my tux and headed out. After several hours of schmoozing and boozing, I finally made it home around 2:30 a.m., three sheets to the wind. I threw my tux on the floor, washed my face, brushed my teeth, and finished my bedtime routine by taking 20 mg. of Ambien. I was back on the train by 6:45 a.m., well-rested and ready to conquer the world.
-Thomas Anderson, Manhattan

Rx For Respect
While I had been working under the assumption that buying, selling, trading, and using prescription drugs without a prescription was dangerous, irresponsible, and illegal, I have now learned that it is “totally respectable.”
-Deborah Schiff, San Diego, Calif.

Confessions Of A Drugstore Junkie
I’ve been on prescription mood-altering drugs for five years. I even popped a Klonopin just for the hell of it while reading “Pill Culture Pops.” It’s nice to know that I am not the only “drugstore junkie” out there who self-medicates for recreational, as well as medicinal, purposes.
-Lauren M. Brown, Hoboken, N.J.

A Four-Point Plan
For those who are unable to find the right balance between their Percocet, Xanax, and Zoloft, I suggest the following: a regular workout schedule, a strong church community, a vacation somewhere other than the Hamptons, and time for personal reflection.
-David Sisco, Astoria

Vicodin Chic
As a psychiatrist specializing in addiction treatment, I was shocked and dismayed by your glorification of pill addiction. These people are playing with fire—one that will burn out of control for many. I receive calls from the addicted detailing their descent into the hells of addiction to Vicodin, Percocet, Ativan, Valium, and the like. Many can be helped, but some never return to wellness. Your piece makes such misery seem as chic as having a few cocktails on a sunny summer afternoon in the Hamptons.
-Stephen Gilman, Manhattan

Practitioners Make Perfect
‘Pill Culture Pops” neglects to mention the therapeutic approach to psychotropic drugs. We have come a long way in treating depression and anxiety with new drugs, but that isn’t the whole picture. Responsible practitioners also recommend psychotherapy in conjunction with taking medication.
-Patrick J. Suraci, Manhattan

New World
I was surprised that Ariel Levy made no mention of Brave New World, in which the inhabitants of a utopian society maintain their happiness through the use of mind-altering drugs. After reading the article, I’d agree with her that this is a “golden age of self-medication”—a new world, if you will. But it’s definitely not brave.
-Joshua Dym, Bronx

Taper Tantrum
You quote clinical psychopharmacologist Darwin Buschman as saying, “When one is addicted to benzodiazepines, withdrawal can be life-threatening.” Absolutely true, but even tapering off slowly isn’t risk-free. After years of taking one benzo after another, I slowly withdrew from Klonopin . . . and suffered through seven months of hallucinations, insomnia, and a whole range of horrible side effects. I wouldn’t go through it again for all the money in the world.
-Lesley Zimmermann, Great Neck, N.Y.

Philosopher’s Stoned
These pills, cool as they may be, don’t in the slightest address the real causes of people’s anxiety or depression. Funny, I don’t recall Socrates saying “Drug thyself.”
-Jeffrey Gross, Brooklyn

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