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Mother's Little Helper – Valium at 35
ABC News, December 17, 1998

Dr Leo Sternbach

Say "Happy Birthday" to America's favorite chill pill – Valium turns 35 this month.

For a drug that's supposed to mellow you out, Valium has certainly hit some highs and lows since bursting onto the market in 1963. This wonder drug became our No. 1 prescription medicine. At peak consumption in 1978, Americans downed nearly 2.3 billion tablets as popular culture quickly nicknamed it "Executive Excedrin."

But after a few celebrity crash-and-burn stories, a Senate subcommittee looked into long-term tranquilizer addiction, raising public awareness about potential dangers.

Through it all, the father of Valium, Leo Sternbach, has kept the faith.

"Not enough people kept in mind the suicides that were averted and the marriages that were saved because of this drug," says Sternbach, who adds that he himself occasionally popped a "V".

Supporters say many publicized ODs were the result of misuse. Elvis Presley was mixing dangerous amounts of Valium and other prescription medicines when he was found dead on the red shag carpet of his bathroom at Graceland. Liz Taylor mixed her doses with Jack Daniels.

You never know what some people will do. Tammy Faye Bakker claimed to be addicted to a Valium-and-nasal-spray concoction.

Now 90, Sternbach has been retired for 25 years, but still keeps an office at Hoffman-La Roche in Nutley, N.J., where he works in the morning on his autobiography and acts as a father figure for younger chemists.

Sternbach stumbled across the chemical compound he later fashioned into what the Rolling Stones later called "Mother's Little Helper" before World War II, when he was developing dyes in the Polish city of Krakow.

In the early 1960s, he tested some tranquilizers on himself. But that ended after he was bedridden through two straight days of wicked hallucinations.

"I gave my wife a little scare," he said. "I did things differently after that."

A Hoffman-La Roche spokeswoman assures us that such testing, typical in bygone days among overenthusiastic chemists, is now strictly forbidden.

P.S.: Milton Berle once opined that you are only addicted to Valium "if you are taking more than your doctor."

from: ABCNEWS.COM, December 1998

Benzodiazepines and your patients: a management programme, Roche Products Ltd, ca. 1990.

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