10 April 2004

How Necessary Are They?

Photo courtesy of The Province

At a time when you thought that it is only adults who get depressed, comes this disquieting news questioning the scientific wisdom of prescribing anti-depressant medication to children.

Dr. Jon Jureidini, head of the department of Psychological Medicine at Adelaide's Women's and Children's Hospital in Australia, analyzed the results of several published surveys comparing children prescribed drugs like Prozac, Aropax and Zoloft with those who took a placebo, and concluded severe side-effects, including the possibility of triggering suicidal behavior. His article was written in the current issue of the British Medical Journal (subscription needed) that came out yesterday.

In one study of Aropax, of which its authors claimed "most adverse events were not serious," Dr. Jureidini found seven patients who had to be put in hospital. In a Zoloft study, while the authors described it as "an effective, safe and well tolerated short-term treatment for children and adolescents", Dr. Jureidini found dangerous side-effects that occurred twice as often as in children taking the placebo.

Dr. Jureidini's warning comes in the heels of mounting worldwide concern about prescribing antidepressants wantonly. Last Feb. 2, the FDA advisory committee discussed new concerns about the unknown effects of psychotropic drugs on children and the fear that some antidepressants may increase suicidal tendencies. The FDA is re-examining 20 studies of eight antidepressants given to children and is expected to report its findings this summer.

US doctors wrote a record number of antidepressant prescriptions for children -- about 11 million -- in 2002, according to FDA estimates, and about 2.7 million of those prescriptions were for children 11 and under. Overall, sales of antidepressant drugs in the US increased from 14 million prescriptions in 1992 to 157 million in 2002. In Britain, health authorities have already ruled that Prozac is the only selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) safe enough for depressed children.

In my opinion, I think it makes perfect sense and antidepressant manufacturers couldn't be happier. I mean, if indeed the FDA committee results come out this summer and they find out that there is indeed an alarming link between antidepressants and increased suicidal risks, isn't that a glorious outcome for the antidepressant makers? Why do you buy antidepressants in the first place? To prevent getting depressed, right? To prevent suicide, right? But the scenario could be that they (antidepressant makers) knew this a long time ago. Businesswise, if more people end up committing suicide, antidepressant sales will increase more (more money for them, of course!) because people will mistakenly think that taking the medicines can save them from killing themselves, even when the grim reality is that these are the very culprits of their worsening condition.

There's nothing new here. As long as greed for profits and more profits rules the minds of drug manufacturers, we will see more news like this.

Being an optimist, I still hope that the summer results of the FDA committee on antidepressants will prove me wrong.

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