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Soc Stud Sci. 2004 Apr;34(2):247-69.

The anxieties of globalization: antidepressant sales and economic crisis in Argentina.

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  • 1Department of Sociology, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093-0533, USA.


This paper describes the role of market research firms in shaping the actions of key players in the pharmaceutical arena. It focuses on strategies for marketing novel antidepressants (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, SSRIs) to doctors in Buenos Aires during the Argentine financial crisis of 2001, posing the question of whether increased antidepressant sales were due to the social situation or to promotional practices. This case demonstrates how 'pharmaceutical relations' - interactions between doctors and pharmaceutical companies - are structured by a gift economy whose effects are monitored through the sales numbers produced by database firms. It suggests that the use of these numbers takes on special importance given the distinctiveness of both the Argentine context and the antidepressant market. More generally, the case points to the interpretive flexibility of psychotropic medication. In the Argentine setting, doctors' prescription of SSRIs was dependent neither on a diagnosis of depression nor on a biological understanding of mental disorder. These drugs found a different means of entering the professionally mediated marketplace: doctors understood and used SSRIs as a treatment not for a lack of serotonin in the brain, but for the suffering caused by the social situation - the sense of insecurity and vulnerability that the economic and political crisis had wrought.

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