The fine print at the bottom of prescription drug commercials may provide ample comedic firepower — what are they hiding? — but underneath the humor lies a chilling reality: In their noble pursuit of making you healthy, prescription drugs put you at risk for a number of terrifying side effects, chief among them being antidepressants’ risk for suicide.
Where would we be without medication? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports nearly half of the U.S. population has used at least one prescription drug within the last month, with drugs ordered or provided during physician office visits totaling 2.6 billion in 2010. Antidepressants alone, which have been derided as overprescribed, are used by more than 10 percent of the population 12 years and older. Among women in their forties and fifties, the rate jumps to 25 percent.
What Antidepressants Do
With all this in mind, it’s helpful to understand why we even take antidepressants in the first place. Most antidepressants, the big names like Prozac, Zoloft, and Celexa, are classified as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These drugs work via the hormone serotonin, often referred to as the “happiness hormone,” to increase the levels in your brain by stopping (inhibiting) the absorption (reuptake) through the brain’s various receptors.
SSRIs don’t cure depression. They can only treat the symptoms, which, in this case, are hormonal imbalances. They’re also imperfect. Dr. Ann Blake Tracy, an expert on the flaws of drugs like Prozac and Zoloft, points out in her book Prozac: Panacea or Pandora? that “animal studies demonstrate that in the initial administration Prozac actually causes the brain to shut down its own production of serotonin, thereby causing a paradoxical effect or opposite effect on the level of serotonin.” The brain’s chemistry naturally wants to remain balanced, she adds, and any disruption from SSRIs or other medications throws that balance off.
What results from this volatility is something like a rollercoaster effect. A person’s mood goes from consistently depressed to temporarily content to all over the place very quickly. It’s for this reason the Food and Drug Administration requires “Black box warnings” on all SSRIs, stating explicitly that they double suicide rates from two per 1,000 to four per 1,000 in children and adolescents.
In pharmacology, this overall effect is known as a “paradoxical reaction.” A specific medication was intended to treat one symptom, but ended up producing it in greater magnitude. Benzodiazepines, common psychoactive drugs used to relax muscles and quiet convulsions, are prone to producing the exact opposite effects. Antibiotics as well, which have been in greater circulation in recent years, have been known to produce the “Eagle effect” — a phenomenon named after Harry Eagle, the physician who first noticed that when bacteria are exposed to antibiotics for a long enough time, their population rates not only stabilize; they increase.
Paradoxical reactions have been observed in depression sufferers and also obsessive-compulsive disorder sufferers. A 1990 study showed 10- to 17-year-olds were compelled to self-harm following administration of fluoxetine (Prozac), leading to the hospitalization of four out of the 42.
And while certifiable advances have been made in the 24 years following the study, SSRIs continue to carry the warning. They have to: As long as the medication that’s designed to realign the juices in our brain that make us happy or depressed can turn against us, the threat of ending it all will always be lurking in the fine print.
A Personal Note:
My son took Zoloft which had been prescribed to his wife. It was not long after that he shared with me that he took half of hers (one tablet 100mg) that he died by suicide. He told a friend that he was going to stop taking it because it made him feel strange and “loopy.” I remember years before when my family doctor prescribed Wellbutrin when I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease. It made me have terrible crying spells and vivid technicolor dreams. I realized it had to be the medication that was affecting me so negatively. I quit taking it and recovered from its adverse affects on my emotions. I wish that the world would see that it is NOT the depression that is causing the suicides of so many people globally. In fact, it is the “cure” that is killing people. More people are on anti-depressants than ever before…that should count for something in the quest to find out WHY people are dying this way.
And yes, there are people who will say they have been saved by this very kind of medication but I would bet that along with therapy and counseling they have improved…not by medication alone. There is too much at stake to take risks by being the guinea pig for the drug companies who only look out for their pockets…NOT your health.