Mental health care has gained more recognition and dedication of resources to help those who suffer from mental illness over the last few decades. Antidepressants can be used to treat symptoms of depression and can help the body to produce hormones that promote positive mood-levels and emotions and can even reduce pain. However, as with many drugs, this kind of medication can have potentially dangerous side effects such as “akathisia”.
Although the drug carries warnings of potentially increasing the risk of depression and suicidal thoughts in people under the age of 25, recent developments suggest that it could also impact those over 25 as well…
Links to akathisia
In one example, a woman lost her husband to suicide shortly after he switched to taking Paroxetine. He reportedly made the switch five days before his death, and during that time, his wife noticed that he was feeling very anxious and couldn’t sit still. His therapist also noticed that he shifted nervously and couldn’t calm down.
After his death, his suicide was identified to have been caused when the paroxetine triggered his akathisia; the state of extreme physical and psychological agitation.
Akathisia has been described as the feeling of “jumping out of their skin” by some sufferers and the distress of it is believed to spike risks of suicide. Drug company scientist Roger Lane published an article on the Journal of Psychopharmacology, raising his concern over the requirement of more evaluation to be done concerning the safety of the drug and its side effects. Lane wrote that, in some cases, patients may feel “death is a welcome result.”
GlaxoSmithKline, the original manufacturer of the drug, were sued for compensation over the aforementioned death. The bereaved-wife claimed the company failed to provide sufficient warnings of the associated risks in using the antidepressant, especially because of the threat to life.
She was subsequently awarded around £2.25 million in compensation.
At the time the victim was taking the drug, antidepressants were commonly recognised as being linked to suicidal thoughts in young adults and children up to the age of 25. For those over 25, statistics provided by studies appeared to show that antidepressants didn’t have the same adverse effect: “The scientific evidence does not establish that paroxetine causes suicide, suicide attempts, self-harm or suicidal thinking in adult populations”, read one email by a GlaxoSmithKline spokeswoman, Frances DeFranco.
The lawsuit, however, contested this and found that early clinical trials provided a different set of results than those presented to the public. Several participants reportedly committed suicide or made suicide attempts whilst taking a placebo, and the company apparently included this in their data analysis erroneously, thus making the antidepressant look safer in comparison. Regulators reached the same conclusion and eventually pressured GlaxoSmithKline to reanalyse the data and provide stronger warnings over the use of their antidepressants, this time alerting users of all ages that, “the frequency of suicidal behaviour was higher in patients treated with paroxetine compared with placebo” – 6.7 times higher.
A worrying problem
There as incredible risk to health and life when the treatment drug is the very thing causing harm.
In some cases, doctors who don’t recognise that the antidepressant is causing symptoms associated with depression or anxiety, may increase the dosage and worsen the situation.
It’s therefore vital that in-depth studies in to drugs produced is carried out to establish all the associated risks and allow doctors and patients to be fully warned of the side-effects and what action should be taken before it is too late.
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