Drug makers are hell-bent on recovering the antidepressant customer base represented by women of childbearing years. With doctors now reluctant to prescribe the drugs to pregnant women, a new recruitment scheme has cropped up. Screening programs are being set up all over the country to screen every pregnant woman for mental disorders.
The name-brand selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressants, or SSRIs, with a stake in this controversy, include Paxil, by GlaxoSmithKline; Zoloft, from Pfizer; Prozac by Eli Lilly; Celexa and Lexapro, from Forest Laboratories; and Luvox, from Solvay.
According to one of the world's leading experts on SSRIs, Dr David Healy, a professor at the University of Wales College of Medicine, "there is quite a movement at the moment to say all pregnant women are depressed."
Every pregnant woman, he explains, can have depressive symptoms such as fatigue, disturbed sleep, and anxiety at times, along with loss of interest in sex. "But," he says, "having depressive symptoms and being depressed are two different things."
"When people get the flu," he points out, "they have a full house of depressive symptoms but doctors would not prescribe antidepressants to people with the flu."
The Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Illinois continues to recommend that SSRIs be used to treat pregnant women even despite recent warnings concerning birth defects and other life-threatening disorders in children born to mothers who took antidepressants during pregnancy. "Any woman," the Hospital warns, "who is thinking about becoming pregnant, is pregnant, or had a baby within the past year can be affected by depression or other mood disorders."
Good Samaritan screens all new mothers, according to a March 1, 2007 Naperville Sun article, and universal screening may soon become state law in Illinois through legislation called the, Postpartum Mood Disorders Prevention Act, that was introduced in February 2007. Similar legislation has been adopted or introduced in several other states.
According to the Sun, if the new legislation introduced in Illinois becomes law, it will require health care professionals to:
"Assess women for mood disorders at least four times: at a prenatal checkup in the third trimester of pregnancy, prior to discharge from the place where they give birth, at the initial postnatal checkup and at every postnatal checkup until the child's first birthday."
And the new potential customer base for SSRIs is no longer limited to postpartum depression, it has now been expanded to include, "mood disorders."
The Good Samaritan Hospital website also instructs women to "check your symptoms for a variety of postpartum mood disorders."
“They are trying to talk women into believing they have a mental illness,” says Karen Barth Menzies of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei, Goldman & Menzies, one of the attorneys leading the charge against the antidepressant manufacturers for failing to warn about birth defects. “But the symptoms they are being told to check for are no different than what any person may feel on a bad day or when they are under the weather. By their definition, everyone is mentally ill and should pop a psychotropic pill,” continued Menzies.
Talk about market expansion, even in the best of cases, the odds are fairly good that a new mother may be in a bad mood on at least one of those 4 days, leading to a label of “mental illness requiring medication.”
For its article, the Sun interviewed a first-time mom named, Jami. Shortly after she gave birth at Good Samaritan, a nurse psychotherapist had Jami fill out a 15-question test. And surprise, surprise, Jami flunked the test, started seeing a shrink and is now on an SSRI.
"I learned I had anxiety before," she told the Sun. "(People like me are) overachievers, our resumes look like we're 40 or 50, but when we have a baby, it can come out very intense."
So Jami agreed to take Lexapro for 6 months for anxiety, something she did not originally want to do, according to the Sun.