The Frightening True Story Behind Those Green "Tranquility" Pills in 'The Queen's Gambit'

Photo credit: KEN WORONER / NETFLIX
From Marie Claire
Warning: This story contains spoilers for The Queen's Gambit. Drug addiction isn't a new concept on prestige television, but Beth Harmon's drug abuse in Netflix's new miniseries The Queen's Gambit looks a little different than her peers on similarly difficult shows. For one, the habit of the chess miracle begins in her childhood due to the orphanage to which she is sent after her mother dies. Every day the residents of the orphanage line up to get their "vitamins" - two tablets, one red and one green. Second, for much of the show, the drugs seem to help rather than harm Beth's quest to become chess grandmaster by "clearing her mind" and allowing her to plan entire games on the ceiling of her room.
It doesn't take long for Beth (played by Isla Johnston in her teens) to become delighted with the green pills that eventually turn out to be sedatives. And while it looks like Beth's addiction will end with the laissez-faire attitude that allowed orphanages to numb their wards - aside from her last attempt to break into the medicine room for so many of the leftover, now illegal pills swallow as possible - they will reappear a few years later. Beth's adoptive mother (Marielle Heller) relies on what she calls her "rest medicine" to help manage the stresses of her unfulfilled dreams and failed marriage. Beth, now played by Anya Taylor-Joy, quickly begins sucking out a handful of pills to keep to herself and immediately plunges them back into addiction.
So what exactly are these orphanage and maternal approved pills? Here's everything we know about the "green pills" in The Queen's Gambit.
Are the green "rest" pills real?
On the show, the pills are called Xanzolam, which is not a real drug. However, as Newsweek reports, Xanzolam shares many notable similarities with chlordiazepoxide, a benzodiazepine marketed as the Librium. It became very popular in the 1960s when The Queen's Gambit was discontinued and was packaged in two-tone green capsules similar to Xanzolam. After Librium was patented in 1958 and approved for medical use in 1960, it was generously prescribed as a cure for anxiety, insomnia, and withdrawal symptoms. This widespread use came to a head in the mid-1970s when the DEA introduced stricter regulations on Librium due to its overprescription and high potential for abuse.
These early sedatives were reportedly heavily marketed to young women and housewives who were physically healthy but who were struggling to cope mentally, likely due to dissatisfaction with their positions in America in the mid-20th century. Instead of helping them, oh, I don't know, securing financial independence or pursuing high-level careers outside the home, the doctors of the time offered them bottle by bottle sedatives instead. Tomayto, Tomahto.
Photo credit: Ken Woroner - Netflix
Do orphanages really have drugs for children?
Unfortunately. A 2018 report by BuzzFeed News alleged that intravenous sedatives were widely used to keep children calm during the mistreatment of many orphanages in the United States and Canada in the mid-20th century. In addition, several reports published in recent years have found that orphanages in countries like Russia, Ukraine, and Romania have used strong drugs for many decades after the point in The Queen's Gambit instructing Beth's Kentucky Orphanage to stop to soothe their wards in the process.
And it wasn't until 2018 that a federal judge confirmed that government officials forcibly tranquilized migrant children detained in facilities at the border while families were separated. The judge ordered officers to stop administering psychotropic drugs without parental consent, except in an emergency.
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