Are Drug Companies Acting Responsibly by Delaying New Antidepressants?

Pharmaceutical Companies Delaying New Antidepressant Formulas

Nausea, weight gain, loss of sexual desire, fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide…these are just some of the potential side effects of taking antidepressants. Antidepressants such as Prozac or Zoloft have become household names, yet many people do not realize the long list of side effects that can make depression worse, not better. In light of the ongoing controversy surrounding antidepressants, pharmaceutical companies have withheld the release of any new antidepressant drugs until they can complete more research. This may point to companies finally taking more responsibility in the drugs they put on the market.

Issues with Antidepressants

The World Health Organization estimates that more than 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression. The medical world recognizes antidepressants as a safe and effective way to combat depression, leading to a high number of prescriptions every year. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, the percentage of Americans on antidepressants almost doubled from 1999 to 2012, from 6.8% to 13%. More and more children and adolescents are taking prescription antidepressants, as well as adults. This increase has subsequently led to an increase in negative side effects and public outcry against pharmaceutical companies.

There is a consistent trend of higher risk of suicidal thinking in patients under the age of 18 who take antidepressants, compared to those taking a placebo. According to multiple studies, antidepressants double the risk of suicidal thoughts, from 2% to 4%, in both children and adults. Suicidal thinking is a very serious side effect, especially in vulnerable adolescents. Many people react badly to antidepressants, leading to incidents of mania, psychosis, and violence. Others become more depressed than they were prior to taking the drug.

In 2004, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took the strongest available action to warn patients of the risks of antidepressants short of removing them from the market – a Black Box Warning. This warning discusses the risk of hostility, agitation, and suicidal thoughts. Antidepressants also run a high risk of drug misuse and abuse. Abusing antidepressants does not lead to drug cravings like heroin and alcohol do, but can create a harmful physical dependence. Until now, pharmaceutical companies continued to produce the drugs, and doctors continued to prescribe them. However, there may be a change on the horizon.

Pharmaceutical Companies Pause Production

As of January 2017, scientists have announced a delay in the release of any new antidepressant formulas due to “high financial risk.” Guy Goodwin, professor of psychiatry at Oxford University, spoke about the pause in antidepressant formula production. He attributes it to lack of investment in research. Goodwin said it takes approximately one billion dollars to complete trials before a company can release a new drug – a price tag pharmaceutical companies aren’t willing to pay. Companies need a greater understanding of how depression actually works before they can create a safe, effective solution. Goodwin says the pause is a “failure of science.”

In contrast, neuroscientist Apryl Pooley stated the pause is a result of a “failure of capitalism.” She points out that the pharmaceutical industry has made billions of dollars in the last 40 years, promoting that a chemical imbalance is the primary cause of depression and mental illness – and that a drug can correct this imbalance. She believes part of the solution for new depression treatments would be to increase federal funding for research, but she also says this will not happen when companies are trying to “profit off of depression.”

Whether the halt in antidepressant production is a failure of science or capitalism, it is a step in the right direction for people suffering from depression around the world. Scientists believe it may be another ten years before a new antidepressant hits the market – giving pharmaceutical companies an opportunity to invest in new research and properly test new drugs before putting them in the hands of the masses. It may also give the medical industry time to fix holes in the system, reducing the number of incorrect depression diagnoses and the unnecessary prescribing of antidepressants. All around, the pause bodes well for people with depression and those struggling with addiction.

Better Drugs in the Future?

To many, the pause signals a much-needed change in pharmaceutical company thinking. Instead of pushing new medications that can lead to negative side effects, drug abuse, and health problems, companies are taking a more responsible stance. Scientists are finally admitting there is no clear understanding of the benefits of antidepressants versus the drawbacks, and will not create a new antidepressant until they can invest in more in-depth research. This may be the pause the world needs from harmful, dangerous, and counterproductive antidepressant medications.

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