Five years ago Mark Horowitz seemed an unlikely skeptic of psycho-pharmaceuticals. He had been taking the popular antidepressant Lexapro virtually every day for 15 years. He was so fascinated by the drugs that he spent three years hunched over a dish of human brain cells in a laboratory at King’s College London, measuring the effect of human stress hormones and drugs like Prozac and Zoloft.
Then, when he tried to wean himself off the medication, he suffered panic attacks, sleep disruptions and a depression so debilitating that he had to move back to his parents’ house in Australia—symptoms that he says were far worse than anything he experienced prior to going on the drugs. He went online and found thousands of others in a similar pickle. They had been unable to kick one of the psychiatric drugs known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, or SSRIs, which include Lexapro, Zoloft and Prozac, among others. Since withdrawal symptoms were thought to be mild and temporary, many of them, like him, had been told by doctors that they were experiencing a relapse of their depression.
The experience galvanized Horowitz to dig deeper into the claims that pharmaceutical companies, and the scientists they fund, have been making about these popular antidepressants.