NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Better Living Through "Cosmetic Psychopharmacology"

July 23, 2003

Cosmetic psychopharmacology is the use of a drug to make someone who is not sick feel better than well. Access to these prescription medications is limited to those who fit into a diagnostic category for mental or behavioral problems, but others may benefit. For example:

  • The antidepressant Prozac enabled some nondepressed patients to become more assertive, mentally nimble and popular -- according to Peter Kramer, author of Listening to Prozac (1993) -- improving their sense of well-being and their lives.
  • Shyness became a treatable disease about five years ago when SmithKline Beecham unveiled Paxil, a drug to treat social phobia.
  • Eli Lilly is now advertising Strattera, the only drug FDA-approved for use in adults with adult attention deficit disorder (ADD), a condition about which most people were formerly unaware.

Like cosmetic surgery, the use of these drugs may not be medically necessary for some patients who would benefit. However, they are available only by prescription and require otherwise mentally well people to fit themselves into a diagnostic category in order to gain access. This encourages patients and doctors to expand the universe of the diseased.

Patients with genuine psychiatric problems that affect behavior should certainly have access to medications and third party coverage for their care, says Sally Satel.

Additionally, responsible adults who could benefit from these drugs should have access at their own expense.

Source: Sally Satel (American Enterprise Institute), "ADD Overdose?" Wall Street Journal, July 22, 2003.

For WSJ text (requires subscription),,SB105892212239632200,00.html


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