Are Your Prescription Drugs Leading a Double Life?

Did you know that the prescription drug you are taking to alleviate your premenstrual syndrome (PMS) might be Prozac — the antidepressant drug of the 1990s?

Or that the medication your doctor prescribed to help you quit smoking might also be prescribed as an antidepressant?

Prescription drugs are very complex, and their side effects often point towards uses other than those originally intended. Since prescription drugs are expensive to develop, pharmaceutical companies are highly motivated to look for ways to profit from their R&D investment by repurposing their products and marketing them to different demographic segments.

Case Example Number 1: Prozac and Sarafem

When the patent on Prozac expired in 2001, Eli Lilly saw sales of its blockbuster antidepressant drug plummet once lower-cost generic versions (fluoxetine hydrochloride) went on the market. At that point, Eli Lilly began marketing Prozac under a different name – Safarem – for women suffering from premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Some women were dismayed to discover that the drug they were taking was Prozac served up under a different name.

(See also: Prozac and PMS: What’s in a Name?

Prozac Backlash: Overcoming the Dangers of Prozac …

Case Example Number 2: Wellbutrin and Zyban

In 1997, Zyban (generic name: Bupropion) was approved as the first prescription drug to help smokers kick the habit. Zyban is also a powerful antidepressant, marketed as Wellbutrin. (See: National Library of Medicine PubMed Health article on Bupropion.

Case Example Number 3: Cymbalta

Cymbalta (generic name: Duloxetine) was also developed by Eli Lilly as a treatment for major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. As was the case with Prozac, Eli Lilly has found many other application for Cymbalta, including:

  • Pain Management: doctors often prescribe cymbalta to alleviate the pain and tingling caused by diabetic neuropathy (damage to nerves that can develop in people who have diabetes); and
  • Fibromyalgia: a long-lasting condition that may cause pain, muscle stiffness and tenderness, tiredness and difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.

Eli Lilly sought Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of Cymbalta for the treatment of stress urinary incontinence, but the drug was not approved in the U.S. because of concerns over liver toxicity and suicidal events. (See Wikipedia article on Duloxetine and U.S. National Library of Medicine PubMed Health article on Duloxetine.

There are many other case examples where one drug can be prescribed for multiple uses. If you have concerns about the drugs you or someone you know have been prescribed, be sure to ask your doctor and/or your pharmacist to explain the drug’s prescribed uses, contraindications, risks and potential interactions with other drugs you may be taking.

More Information

You may also be interested in this article from Cleansing Water’s February 2012 newsletter:.

Cleansing Water is a fully-licensed and insured home health care agency providing compassionate in-home health care, nursing and companion services for seniors and other individuals throughout Fauquier, Culpeper, Rappahannock, Prince William and Loudoun Counties, Virginia. For more information about our services, call us at (540) 341-0212 or email