Pharmacological Solutions

  • Ali Haggett
Open Access
Part of the Mental Health in Historical Perspective book series


In a lengthy and well-cited article published in the Journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners in 1971, Peter Parish, physician and medical sociologist at University College Swansea, stated that as a result of advances in psychopharmacology and the influences of advertising, ‘large sections both of the medical profession and the general public have come to regard psychotropic drugs as a universal panacea for a wide range of social and emotional problems’.1 The resulting cost to the NHS was considerable. As Parish pointed out, between 1965 and 1970, 47.2 million psychotropic drug prescriptions were dispensed under the National Health Service (NHS), costing a sizeable £21.5 million.2 The soaring cost of psychotropic drugs prompted much debate in the medical press about their use and efficacy. Interest was particularly focused on prescribing patterns between individual doctors and between practices across the country — and on how doctors gained information about indications for different drugs. Additionally, there were heated debates about the efficacy of different groups of drugs. Although there was much confusion and disagreement on these topics, research articles nonetheless reflected one consistent finding: at least twice as many prescriptions for psychotropic drugs were issued to women than to men. From mid-century, on both sides of the Atlantic, scholars and clinicians have attempted to account for this difference.


  1. 1.
    P. A. Parish, ‘The prescribing of psychotropic drugs in general practice’, Journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners (1971), 92, Supplement 4, 1–77, on 1. Parish undertook research into –and taught –pharmacology. He stressed the importance of teaching pharmacology to GPs.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    See Andrea Tone, The Age of Anxiety: A History of America’s Turbulent Affair with Tranquilizers (New York, Basic Books, 2009), p. 196. For a full discussion of women and psychotropic medication in Britain see Ali Haggett, Desperate Housewives, Neuroses and the Domestic Environment 1945–1970 (London, Pickering and Chatto, 2012).Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    For the history of this discovery, see David Healy, The Antidepressant Era (Cambridge Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1997), pp. 43–8.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    David Healy, The Creation of Psychopharmacology (Cambridge Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 2002), p. 4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Mickey C. Smith, A Social History of the Minor Tranquilizers: A Quest for Small Comfort in the Age of Anxiety (New York, Pharmaceutical Products Press, 1985), p. 12.Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    Malcolm Lader argues that studies in the early 1960s indicated that there was the potential for dependence if benzodiazepines were used in large doses for prolonged periods, but that little notice was taken of negative reports due to the widespread perception of their safety. See M. Lader, ‘History of benzodiazepine dependence’, Journal of Substance Abuse (1991), 8, 53–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Christopher M. Callaghan and German E. Berrios, Reinventing Depression: A History of the Treatment of Depression in Primary Care, 1940–2004 (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 38.Google Scholar
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    John A. H. Lee, Peter A. Draper and Miles Weatherall, ‘Medical care: prescribing in three English towns’, Milbank Memorial Fund (1965), 43, 2, Part 2, 285–90, on 288.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Interview with Robert Manley. See also Richard Moore, Leeches to Lasers: Sketches of a Medical Family (Killala, Ireland, Morrigan, 2002). Moore recalled: ‘mysterious substances like Syrup of Tolu and Pulv Tragacanth –relics of a bygone age’, p. 220.Google Scholar
  10. 27.
    For a cultural history of strychnine, see John Buckingham, Bitter Nemesis: The Intimate History of Strychnine (Boca Raton FL, Taylor and Francis, 2008).Google Scholar
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    Karen Dunnell and Ann Cartwright, Medicine Takers, Prescribers and Hoarders (London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972), p. 71.Google Scholar
  12. 43.
    See for example, Dunnell and Cartwright, Medicine Takers, Chapter 3, and M. Balint, J. Hunt, D. Joyce, M. Marinker and J. Woodcock, Treatment or Diagnosis: A Study of Repeat Prescribing in General Practice (London, Tavistock, 1970), Chapter 4.Google Scholar
  13. 47.
    See J. T. Silverstone and B. D. Lascelles, ‘A double blind trial of Durophet M in the treatment of obesity in general practice’, Journal of the College of General Practitioners (1965), 9, 304–10.Google Scholar
  14. 57.
    Ruth Cooperstock and Henry L. Lennard, ‘Some social meanings of tranquilizer use’, Sociology of Health and Illness (1979), 1 (3) 332–47, on 335.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 66.
    See, for example, Judith Williamson, Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising (London, Marion Boyers, 2002 edition), p. 11.Google Scholar
  16. 77.
    P. Williams, J. Murray and A. Clare, ‘A longitudinal study of psychotropic drug prescription’, Psychological Medicine (1982), 12, 201–6, on 203, 205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 82.
    Joanna Murray, ‘Long-term psychotropic drug-taking and the process of withdrawal’, Psychological Medicine (1981), 11, 853–8, on 855.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Ali Haggett 2015

Open Access This Chapter is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License, which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ali Haggett
    • 1
  1. 1.University of ExeterUK

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