Pharmaceutical Virtue


In the early history of psychopharmacology, the prospect of developing technologically sophisticated drugs to alleviate human ills was surrounded with a fervor that could be described as religious. This paper explores the subsequent history of the development of psychopharmacological agents, focusing on the ambivalent position of both the industry and its employees. Based on interviews with retired pharmaceutical employees who were active in the industry in the 1950s and 1960s when the major breakthroughs were made in the development of MAOIs and SSRIs, the paper explores the initial development of educational materials for use in sales campaigns. In addition, based on interviews with current employees in pharmaceutical sales and marketing, the paper describes the complex perspective of contemporary pharmaceutical employees who must live surrounded by the growing public vilification of the industry as rapacious and profit hungry and yet find ways to make their jobs meaningful and dignified. The paper will contribute to the understudied problem of how individuals function in positions that require them to be part of processes that on one description constitute a social evil, but on another, constitute a social good.

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I owe many thanks to Joe Dumit and Nathan Greenslit for their editorial suggestions. I also learned a lot from the responses of the participants in the seminar Vital Matters, II: Biotechnology, held at the University of Bergen in 2005. My heartfelt thanks go to the retired gentlemen from the pharmaceutical industry who gave me so much: not only did they deluge me with information and loan me precious artifacts, but they gave me insight into another world where virtue could be practiced very differently. I am equally grateful to the current employees of the industry who spent time talking to me and showed me how their work projects developed over time. The professionals in the industry who took me under their wings and introduced me to their colleagues, past and present, must remain anonymous, but they have my undying gratitude.

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Correspondence to Emily Martin.

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Martin, E. Pharmaceutical Virtue. Cult Med Psychiatry 30, 157–174 (2006).

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  • pharmaceutical marketing
  • pharmaceutical salesmen
  • pharmaceutical industry
  • psychopharmacology