The history of Valium is not a long one, only 40 years. During the 1960's
and 1970's, psychopharmacological medications entered American life. These
drugs became known as "Mother's Little Helpers" because of their
alleged ability to "help" or "treat" the pressures of
motherhood, single-hood, and other womanly problems. Feel-good remedies and
snake-oil cures have been around forever. Lifestyle drugs, which garner attention
in the media, aren't that big a business. But Valium, from the Latin for "to
be strong and well," is different.
Valium was introduced by a Swiss drug company called Roche Labs in 1963,
where it quickly became one of mother's little helpers for millions of housewives
throughout the '60s and beyond. Throughout the history of prescription medication,
Valium was the first billion-dollar medicine and one of the first brand-name
drugs. Valium launched the era of blockbuster medicines. More prescriptions
were written for Valium than for any other drug between 1969 and 1982. Valium
enabled Roche to build a worldwide reputation in psychotropic medications.
It was initially
believed that Valium was not addictive and that it was nearly impossible
to take a lethal dose by a suicidal person. After about ten years on the market,
Valium had been prescribed to 59.3 million patients. Accounting for 81% of
the tranquilizer market in the U.S., critics felt Valium was over marketed
by Hoffman-LaRoche. Around 1975, Valium was being abused on the street as
an illegal drug. Valium was still considered generally safe, but soon reports
of dependency and withdrawal began to be made. Hoffman-LaRoche was accused
of failing to adequately warn physicians and patients of the risk of dependency
and ignoring early warnings of serious Valium complications.
During the 1970's, Elliot Valenstein sums up the history of the over-prescription
of Valium. "...there is no doubt, as in the Rolling Stones song "Mother's
Little Helper", far too many women had the habit of "running for
the shelter" of the pill that would help them get through their day."
During this era of the benzodiazepine craze between 1965-1979, numerous magazines
printed articles regarding the consumption of medications such as Valium.
These articles were in magazines such as Newsweek, Time, and Science Digest.
Articles also appeared in woman's magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Ladies'
Home Journal. Theses articles were read by a wide audience and generally accepted
by most. Articles wrote about a new type of relationship between doctor and
patient, one where emotional problems could be cured simply by visiting a
doctor and obtaining a prescription for a miracle pill.
This practice of telling your doctor what you feel is best for you and what
medication you would prefer to take has continued throughout history. Today,
individuals "doctor shop", looking for those doctors who will prescribe
them the specific medication that they are looking for. Nowadays, many are
juggling doctors, making constant trips to the emergency room, and going to
several pharmacies in different towns in order to get their "little helpers".
A 1981 report made a possible link between Valium and the rapid growth of
cancer cells, further affecting the once popular prescription Valium.