This is the Fifteenth Modern Myth, featuring Crusoe. The rest can be accessed under the modern myth tag. There will be another next week. The Pharma Sub-Series of the Persecution Murder Mystery will resume in the first week of the New Year.
A strange man
It was a time when Crusoe managed to be in Europe in Septembers. In 1957, interested in the fuss surrounding the new tranquilizers, she dropped in to a World Congress of Psychiatry Meeting being held that year in Zurich. There was an extraordinary buzz – the excitement surrounding the discovery of chlorpromazine was growing not fading. It really did seem like a cure for schizophrenia or the harbinger of a cure that would arrive any day now.
The meeting was full of chatter about the next wonder drug about to appear and what it all meant. As one of the delegates put it, this was the only thing in the world besides football that would get the French and the Germans into the same room.
Needing a break from the razzmatazz, she slipped into a side room that looked quieter. There was a presentation just starting from an unusual man – older than the rest. He looked awkward and eccentric. Spindly, waving his arms around, insisting on his points she felt when no-one was arguing. There was an unprecedented number of delegates at the meeting – well over a thousand, but there was almost no-one in this room. She counted twelve aside from the speaker. Not even company people were there.
But if you could get past the combination of country accent and school-master style what he was saying was surprising. This pill, G22355, was different. Starting in January 1956, he had given it to agitated and psychotically depressed patients, the kind that nothing else except Shock Treatment touched. They mostly recovered in a week. The first was Paula JF – difficult not to wonder if JF meant Jewish Female. She recovered after six days. He didn’t have a name for his drug – it wasn’t a tranquilizer he said, it wasn’t a stimulant. He emphasized that it was for severe depression but then seemed almost to contradict himself by saying he had had a homosexual patient change orientation on it.
In the train station when she was leaving Zurich that evening, she spotted a number of the delegates she had seen at the meeting heading into the Banquet Room. She stopped one of them – almost a White Rabbit she thought – and asked what was up. He winked conspiratorially and said they were on their way to found a new Church. One dedicated to psychopharmacology. It was going to come into being over a meal in the Banquet Room.
A strange scene
Maybe it was the reception a year later on September 9th at the Pope’s summer residence in Castel Gandolfo that did it, Crusoe mused.
Once it had been agreed that the first meeting of the New College would be in Rome, one of those in the train station had used his influence to get Pius to address the delegates on the moral framework of the new field – and to bless them.
The Pope stressed that it was observance of the moral order that conferred value and dignity on human activities. Hardly profound. Difficult to take seriously, given his silence in the shadow of the death camps. But even though psychopharmacology was a Jewish thing. and the single largest section of the group listening to him were Jews, no-one questioned him.
Pius pointed to the risks that drugs like the new tranquilizers could be over-used. No hint here that the driver to over-use might come from industry.
People couldn’t be trusted. They had to be led. It was clear Pius saw himself as speaking to the leaders in the new field.
He said nothing about the visions, the spirituality, linked to Sandoz’s most famous drug – LSD – that along with chlorpromazine had created the New World.
This just didn’t feel like a message for the times, she thought.
It was openly accepted that the new College had been created by Sandoz, who had convened the Supper in Zurich. One delegate even joked that Sandoz’s boss, Rothlin, the President of the College, was the head of a new religion – a Pope. Rothlin though was a businessman – well maybe that’s what Pope’s were. Not someone anyone thought was likely to have had LSD himself.
Sandoz and other companies bankrolled the meeting, paid for the delegates to be there, and put on the coaches that took them from Rome to Castel Gandolfo. On other days, there were trips to Mussolini’s villa where the tour guides worked their way through the dictator’s mistresses.
She spotted the strange man from Zurich at the reception but when she looked for him later on the program he was nowhere to be found. There were others talking about his drug and calling it an antidepressant.
A few weeks later the front pages featured the death of Pius. The editorial writers wondered where the Church might go from there. None mentioned the fact that his brush with the new church of psychopharmacology had been one of his last engagements.
Fifty years later the talk was all about how to get things to go viral. Was it the Supper with a select few that was key, or was it delivering a message few understood to an audience of Twelve that did it, she wondered.
Illustration: The Miracle of the Chemical Cure, © 2014 created by Billiam James