I’d heard the ad on the radio while driving home with my two young sons from the park. The announcer asked if listeners had been diagnosed with depression, were currently in a sexual relationship and were interested in participating in a study to see if antidepressant medication interfered with their sex drive. Then he said the magic words that made me call the number: “Participants will be compensated for their travel and time.” Bingo! I was sold.
Six months before, I’d moved with my sons and began the divorce process with my husband. Money was tight, and I struggled to stay afloat and pay the bills. I’d recently begun a relationship with a new man who’d come to the U.S. from India on a work visa.
Although I was happy, I was also incredibly stressed. To top it off, my doctor had recently diagnosed me with a form of depression that only hit at certain stages in my menstrual cycle (PMDD). I had avoided medication at the time, but realized the clinical study was the perfect opportunity to possibly get treatment and make some extra cash. It seemed like a no-brainer to me.
I was told by the receptionist that I would have to come to their office to be screened. I hired a babysitter the next afternoon and drove downtown where I waited in a room filled with other young adults like me who hoped to be selected for the study. The doctor asked me a series of questions, explained the rules (take a pill twice a day, write it down in a log book, record any sexual activity, come to the office once a week to see a psychologist and turn in the log book) and told me that if I was approved, I’d receive a monthly stipend of about $450.
I tried to keep my cool but probably looked a little overeager. At the time, $450 was enough to pay almost half of my rent. It wasn’t a ton of money, but it would make things a lot easier for me and my sons.
I nearly squealed when the doctor told me I was the perfect candidate and welcomed me to the trial.
Because the study was a double-blind (meaning not even the doctors knew if I was getting an antidepressant or a placebo pill), I had no idea if I was actually taking any medication. Dutifully each morning and each night, I swallowed the pill and wrote down the time and date in my log.
I didn’t mention it to the man I was dating because I was a little bit embarrassed to admit that I had a diagnosis of depression and needed money so badly that I was willing to be a lab rat for a pharmaceutical company for cash.
I was concerned that the medication would impact my sex drive or ability to climax. Shortly after I began the meds, which the doctor told me could take up to two weeks to take effect if they were indeed antidepressants, I was happy to find that — whatever the pill was — it did nothing to dampen my sexual stamina or orgasm intensity.
When I received the first check, I did a happy dance with my sons, who were 5 and 3 years old at the time. We went to McDonalds (don’t judge, it was 14 years ago, and no one was talking about GMOs and pink slime yet) and had celebratory chicken nuggets and a McFlurry. I felt empowered doing the study, as if, through each pill I swallowed, I was somehow helping humanity. The checks weren’t so bad, either.
The study ended six months later and, honestly, I was sad about it. For me, the clinical trial had been a positive, even rewarding experience. Years later, when my former best friend was struggling through a custody battle with her ex and needed to make extra money in addition to her full-time job, I suggested searching for a clinical trial.
To our surprise, we found a study that needed participants to stay in a hospital for a week to be infected with and subsequently treated for (I can’t believe I’m writing this) the Bubonic Plague. After the laughing fit was over, we both seriously considered it.
“A week-long hospital stay kind of sounds awesome,” my friend said.
Neither of us saddled up and allowed ourselves to be infected with the Plague but, even to this day, I’m not immune to looking up clinical trials in my area to see what study might be available.