Many people suffer from depression at some point in their lives. Among women in western countries, major depression is by far the most common illness (Shorter 43). Treatment for depression varies among health care providers, but the prescription of antidepressants seems to be the most common remedy. Prozac and other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are being used to treat depression, panic disorder, bulimia, obsessive-compulsive behavior, and many other illnesses. Prozac has become the most common and best-selling antidepressant in the United States. It has been prescribed for over twenty-one million people (Packard 18).
Nonetheless, many of these people are unnecessarily taking Prozac and it is doing them more harm than good. There are many possible causes for depression, ranging from stress, physical and emotional changes, crises, and chemical imbalance in the brain. There are also several ways to treat depression such as therapy, a change in diet, and a regular exercise program. The current trend is for doctors to immediately prescribe Prozac before exploring the other treatment options. However, Prozac “was associated with more hospitalizations, deaths, or other serious adverse reactions reported to the FDA than any other drug in America” (qtd.
in Freundlich 2). Eli Lilly Pharmaceutical Company created Prozac in 1974, but it wasn’t approved by the FDA until 1987. The first of the SSRIs, Prozac inhibits or blocks the recapture of the neurotransmitter serotonin by nerve cells (“Prozac” 2). This allows the serotonin to remain in the brain for a longer period of time creating a lasting euphoric state. Serotonin plays a complex part in the functioning of the body and brain. Researchers and doctors are just starting to understand its role. “So far, the tools used to manipulate serotonin in the human brain are more like pharmacological machetes than they are like
scalpels–crudely effective but capable of doing plenty of collateral damage” (Lemonick 3). Prozac is supposed to help improve a person’s mood by increasing the level of serotonin present in the brain. However, problems can occur if receptors in the brain stem and spinal cord are over-stimulated. Sufferers endure fever, chills, muscle spasms, agitation and confusion, dubbed “serotonin syndrome” (“Warning” 1). Frank Van Meerendonk was prescribed Prozac in 1990. He was taking this medication not because of depression but for dizziness, fatigue, tinnitus and hearing loss, after severe flu.
After five days on Prozac, he was a wreck. “I felt as if a magnet were pulling the back of my head. There were electrical surges rising in my body… I was terrified” (qtd. in “Warning” 1). He was suffering from serotonin syndrome. “Serotonin syndrome… is a very dangerous and a potentially fatal side effect of serotonergic enhancing drugs which can have multiple psychiatric and non-psychiatric symptoms” (“What is Serotonin Syndrome? ” 1). This toxic condition requires increased clinical awareness in order to prevent, identify, and treat the condition immediately. The rate of incidence of this syndrome is on the rise.
The suspected cause of that increase is the introduction of the SSRIs. Serotonin syndrome is generally caused by a combination of two or more drugs, one of which is often a selective serotonergic medication. The drugs which are known to most frequently contribute to this condition are the combining of monoamine oxidase inhibitor with Prozac. The best treatment for serotonin syndrome is to cease taking the offending medication or medications and wait for the symptoms to resolve. If the offending medication is discontinued, the condition will frequently resolve on its own within twenty-four hours (“What is Serotonin Syndrome?
” 1-2). Many victims of the over-prescription of Prozac are children. In 1997, at least 580,000 children (Huffington, “Peppermint” 28) were being prescribed Prozac, even though safety and effectiveness in pediatric patients had not, and still has not, been established (Huffington, “U. S. Attention” 1). As with most antidepressant prescriptions, doctors are prescribing Prozac for children without any psychiatric evaluation. Yet, in a Prozac ad, symptoms of depression included feeling “unusually sad or irritable” to finding it “hard to concentrate,” both of which are things that all normal children
experience at some time (Huffington, “Peppermint” 28). Prozac and other SSRIs are some of the biggest money makers ever for the pharmaceutical companies. The use of Prozac among children from ages 6-12 went from 41,000 in 1995 to 203,000 in 1996 (“ICFDA” 3). The number of new Prozac prescriptions written for children increased almost four hundred percent in just one year. Prozac is a very potent mind-altering drug that has not been approved for use in children and yet “children are popping it like candy” (3). One 30mg dose has clearly been shown to double the level of cortisol. An elevated amount of cortisol impairs the development
and regeneration of the liver, kidneys and muscles. It also slows linear growth (3). It is perfectly legal for doctors to prescribe Prozac to children, but “off-label” prescribing can be complicated. When a drug is tested and a dosage is set for an adult body, the same medication given to a person half the size can have unexpected effects. Antidepressants can lead to agitation and nervousness in anyone, in children, they may trigger full-blown manic episodes (Kluger 94). In a study completed at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center six percent of the children treated became manic (Crowley 74).
Mania is not the only major risk for children taking Prozac. Emotional development might also suffer. “It’s one thing to fool around with the serotonin levels in a brain that’s already hardened and set, but quite another thing to manipulate a young, still elastic brain” (Kluger 94). Kids are receiving antidepressants not in addition to care and counseling, but as a cheap substitute. A 1995 study discovered that counseling and medication, when combine, are the most effective ways to treat depression and also less costly in the long run, since they may help prevent recurrences (Scheller 18). After all, “A pill alone is not
usually a cure” (Crowley 74). Drug companies sponsor research and offer grants, trips, and other financial enticements which contaminate the findings of the research. In an article in the British Medical Journal, three physicians editorialize that Prozac is not addictive. The doctors had just returned from an all-expense paid trip, courtesy of Prozac manufacturer Eli Lily, to a symposium in Phoenix (Huffington, “U. S. Attention” 1). Peter Breggin, author of Talking Back to Prozac, researched clinical trials of the drug before it was marketed and concluded that they were inadequate because:
-they were too short (four to six weeks) -they did not include children, the elderly, or the suicidal -many patients dropped out following adverse reactions -patients were given sedatives to reduce Prozac’s stimulating effect -fewer than one in three trials showed Prozac to be effective (“Warning” 3). The bulk of studies done for the FDA approval of psychiatric drugs such as Prozac show them to be of no value. The companies are allowed to choose two often marginally or questionably successful studies as ‘proof’ that the drugs work. If Prozac is not a miracle medicine then why are so many people still taking it?
Prozac is no more effective than any other antidepressant. It “… is not a wonder drug. People on Prozac do not have unusual or sensational results” (“Prozac’s Can” 1). But it, along with other SSRIs, is more often prescribed than other antidepressants because they have less severe side effects. Still, all SSRIs have side effects such as sexual dysfunction, nausea and other gastrointestinal discomfort, diarrhea, headache, dry mouth, nervousness or agitation, sweating, dizziness, tremors, and sleepiness or insomnia. These side effects can cause serious problems for some patients. Alternative
treatments such as change in diet or exercise would not lead to these side effects. Numerous doctors acknowledge that Prozac is not as effective as they had believed at first. A Flemish psychiatrist, Dr. Guido Peeters proposed that: “It is well known in medical circles that you are more likely to prescribe a drug when it is new. There’s a placebo effect that produces hope in the scientific community and among patients. Prozac seemed to work well in the beginning and it can be useful, although it’s probably over-prescribed. It’s easy for doctors to hand out pills and many patients prefer to go for
the ‘quick-fix’ pill rather than discuss their problems (qtd. in “Warning” 4). Prozac is a result of our lackadaisical culture’s tendency to medicate major social problems rather than act on them. “The over-prescribing of drugs has made possible the supression of signals a society needs to detect and address growing problems” (Huffington, “U. S. Attention” 1). Psychiatric drugs should be prescribed by psychiatric doctors. The percentage of people wrongly taking antidepressants would drop along with the number of serious adverse reactions. Prescription drugs are the third leading cause of death in America.
Every year approximately 200,000 people die from prescription drug reactions and anther 80,000 die from medical malpractice. You have a seven times greater chance of dying walking into your doctor’s office than you do getting behind the wheel of your car (“ICFDA” 1). When seeking medical help for depression, great caution is advised. Look at all the options. Read the current research. Make sure you know all the side effects of the drug you are about to take, your life may depend on it. Most depressed people would benefit from other non-medicated alternate treatments which they would be more likely
to receive if the family doctor no longer had access to the easy way out, Prozac. Works Cited Crowley, Mary. “Do Kids Need Prozac? ” Newsweek 20 Oct. 1997: 73-74. Freundlich, Naomi. “When the Cure May Make You Sicker. ” Online. BusinessWeek. Internet. 15 Apr. 1999. Available: http://www. businessweek. com/1998/11/b3569025. htm Huffington, Arianna. “Peppermint Prozac. ” U. S. News & World Report 25 Aug. 1997: 28. —. “U. S. Attention Deficit on Legal Drug Risks. ” Online. The Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology. Internet. 19 Apr. 1999. Available: http://www. breggin. com/RitalinAH2. html “ICFDA.
” Online. International Coalition for Drug Awareness. Internet. 3 May 1999. Available: http://www. drugawareness. org/ Kluger, Jeffrey. “Next Up: Prozac. ” Time 30 Nov. 1998: 94. Lemonick, Michael D. “The Mood Molecule. ” Online. Time. Internet. 15 Apr. 1999. Available: http://cgi. pathfinder. com/time/magazine/1997/dom/970929 Packard, Helen C. Prozac: The Controversial Cure. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc. , 1998. “Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil. ” Online. Internet. 28 Apr. 1999. Available: http://www. depression. com/anti/anti_09_ssri. htm “Prozac’s Can and Can’t-do Powers. ” Online. Internet. 3 May 1999.
Available: http://www. obs-us. com/obs/english/books/pg/pg280. htm Scheller, Melanie. “The Brave New World of Antidepressants. ” Current Health Jan. 1997: 16-18. Shorter, Edward. “How Prozac Slew Freud. ” American Heritage Sept. 1998: 42-44+ “Warning: This Wonder Drug Could Seriously Damage Your Health. ” Online. The Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology. Internet. 18 Apr. 1999. Available: http://www. breggin. com/bulletinprozac5. html “What is Serotonin Syndrome? ” Online. International Coalition for Drug Awareness. Internet. 3 May 1999. Available: http://www. drugawareness. org/ serosyndrome. html