Tried searching the internet for ages for this one. It is a really short story (I think no more than 5-6 pages) about a pharma drug testing lab of designer drugs that are able to trigger particular emotions. There are people watching the test subjects on camera, and I think there was either one or two protagonists, experiencing and describing the drug effects. The description of effects was extremely graphic, I think there was a suicide at the end. It could possibly be considered a psychological horror.

I read about this short story in one of the ezines, it was a review of the best short stories of the year (not sure about the year, definitely after 2000, probably in 2005-2015 period), it was something well-known like Salon or Slate, but I tried searching those ezines with no success. The story was in free access on some site, I am pretty sure the author was American.

2 Answers 2


Escape from Spiderhead by George Saunders.

Escape from Spiderhead is a tale that looks into a dystopian future, where convicts can either enter experimental drug testing programs or serve time in prison. After Jeff was convicted for murder, his mother had spent all her savings to get him out of real jail, and put him to a drug testing program. So Jeff is now a test subject for a new drug which attempts to control human emotions and abilities.

As a part of the experiment, test subjects have MobiPak™ attached to their backs and doctors remotely administer the drugs. There is an assortment of drugs under testing. Verbaluce™ makes the subjects express themselves eloquently, Vivistif™ helps subjects to be sexually aroused and feel love, and Darkenfloxx™ sends subjects to deep, dark holes. When the experiment grows darker and more disturbing, Jeff’s only hope of redemption is to Escape from Spiderhead.

It was published in New Yorker, December 20th, 2010. It is available online here but behind a registration wall. I have also found a copy here though whether this is legal I'm not sure.

It isn't a very short story. Indeed it's novella length. However it does match your description even down to Jeff committing suicide at the end:

Then came the horror: worse than I'd ever imagined. Soon my arm was about a mile down the heat vent. Then I was staggering around the Spiderhead, looking for something, anything. In the end, here's how bad it got: I used a corner of the desk.

What's death like?

You're briefly unlimited.

I sailed right out through the roof.

  • Wow, that's it! Thank you! For whatever reason I thought it was much shorter, maybe because of all the dialogue. Just re-read it, still grips one by the throat. Now I guess I have to read his short story collection.
    – Vlad
    Nov 17, 2020 at 19:13

There is the Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley. But that is a novel rather than a short story.

It does, however, have all the aspects you mention. From designer drugs, to an enthralled citizenry. It's a famous dystopia based on an ersatz drugged up happiness, whereas the other famous dystopia, was 1984, an indictment of a surveillance society that Orwell intended as a comment on the former Soviet Union, but can equally work as a warning to our own society, given how pervasive surveillance has become in our own society with the complicity of a few.

Intoxication is the theme that connects the two. In the former, the very real intoxication based upon drugs; and in the other, an intoxication based upon the power that pervasive surveillance gives.

Both of them served as a mirror of the world that Orwell and Huxley saw unfolding in front of them. In a sense, they were the real news, as some say fiction can be. Because whilst news gets stale as people's attention turn to something, a story that really gets to the real reality of things can last much longer than the mere happenstances of the time.

Perhaps you are mis-remembering?

  • If you mean to comment on a question please use the intended comment functionality, and don't write it as answer
    – fez
    Nov 17, 2020 at 11:20
  • 90% of the edit was talking about 1984 which is irrelevant to the suggested answer for the OP of Brave New World so I edited it out, though you have since added it back again. The answer would be better with it out in my opinion and as always comments should not be included in the answer but in the comments section.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Nov 17, 2020 at 11:50
  • I'm not going to remove the commentary that is completely unrelated to the question and answer at hand again myself. However, most of this is talking about 1984 and the themes of it rather than how Brave New World matches the OP's description.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Nov 17, 2020 at 11:55
  • Seeing your latest edit on a deleted answer, are you using SE through the app or through a web browser?
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Nov 17, 2020 at 12:04

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