|Utah may feel effect of drug
By Carey Hamilton
Few places in the
United States will be more affected by the national
debate over antidepressants than Utah, where a good many
medicine cabinets are stocked with depression busters.
But it may take more than a pill
to cure the headaches caused by the Food and Drug
Administration's decision last week to ask manufacturers
to put suicide warning labels on 10 antidepressants.
Utahns who say antidepressants
are dangerous lauded the move. Local psychiatrists,
however, warned the labels could scare off people who
need the drugs.
"There are many
physicians that think there's a great benefit from these
medications," said Fred Reimherr, an associate professor
of psychiatry at the University of Utah.
The FDA wants the pharmaceutical
industry to add or strengthen suicide-related warnings
on their labels, although the FDA said it is unclear
whether the drugs lead to suicidal thoughts or whether
the problem is the mental illness itself.
"The FDA acted with some hysteria
after hearing anecdotal reports," argued Michael Kalm, a
psychiatrist and spokesman for the Utah Psychiatric
Association. "The bottom line is these medications help
-- they are life savers. But prescribing must be done by
qualified professionals and they must monitor their
patients. Our concern is that patients will be
frightened away from treatment by unnecessary scares."
Manufacturers didn't immediately
say if they would comply with the FDA's labeling
Questions about the link
between suicide and some antidepressants came up last
summer when the British government banned Paxil for use
in children, saying it was potentially dangerous for
adolescents. The FDA followed the Brits' lead and
started its own investigation.
Ann Blake Tracy, the executive director of the Salt Lake
City-based International Coalition for Drug Awareness,
has been fighting for years to get Paxil and similar
antidepressants, called selective serotonin re-uptake
inhibitors (SSRIs), recalled for adults and youth. In
February, Tracy, who wrote the book Prozac: Panacea or
Pandora? Our Serotonin Nightmare, testified before the
FDA in Washington, D.C.
pleasantly surprised by the FDA's request, considering
they are taking on the largest drug companies in the
world and that there is sure to be public backlash over
labels on such popular drugs.
course I do believe the drugs need to be banned
altogether," Tracy said. "They are clearly deadly. But
those on them need to be weaned very slowly instead of
what they did to all those on Fen-Phen and Redux. Those
poor people suffered horrific withdrawal leading many to
turn to antidepressants, which work so similarly, in
order to handle the withdrawal."
Tracy has been hired as an expert witness in several
cases where plaintiffs have sued drug companies over the
supposed link between SSRIs and violent crime or
She worked as a
consultant for the family of Brynn Hartman, who killed
her comedian husband, Phil, and then shot herself. Brynn
Hartman was taking Zoloft and her family filed a
wrongful death lawsuit against the drug's maker, Pfizer
Inc., which was eventually settled out of court.
The FDA is continuing to study a
potential suicide link. Meanwhile, doctors are fielding
calls from patients who were spooked by the label news.
Reimherr said the FDA overstepped
"If the FDA thinks
people aren't being monitored closely enough when
they're prescribed antidepressants, they should just say
that," he said. "This is likely to create conflicts in
patients who are using them."
the highest per capita usage of such drugs, with 16
percent of the population taking the medications,
according to Express Scripts, a company that assembles a
yearly drug trend report. The second highest use is 14.4
percent in Maine.