ROMANCING THE STONED
Seems every other TV ad is for either an antidepressant or sexual-enhancement drug. Likewise, magazines and newspapers are filled with prompts for consumers to get more out of life by taking pharmaceuticals. The "sadness, sleeplessness, irritability and worry" they promise will go away after popping tiny pills are no longer simply conditions of life at some point for all human beings. Now the less-than-pleasant emotions we all experience in varying degrees are feelings that, they insist, are symptoms of "untreated depression".
What they don't say in those ads is that antidepressant drugs, now taken by ever-increasing numbers of people - young and old, male and female- can cause, actually CAUSE depression. They also fail to mention that rage, violence, suicidal thoughts and actually following through with those thoughts are all potential side effects.
Recently the FDA asked makers of 10 drugs to add suicide warnings to their labels. The pharmaceutical companies haven't yet agreed to comply.
The use of antidepressants by children has risen by about 10% a year for the last five years. The percentage of girls age 5 and under on antidepressants doubled from 1998 to 2002. Use among pre-school boys increased by 64%. Use was the highest among girls ages 15-18 at almost 7%. Overall, according to Express Scripts, a pharmacy benefit management company, there has been an increase in antidepressant use among the 18 and under set by almost 50%. The ads appear to be working.
Across the pond in Britain, they've barred the use of these types of drugs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, or S.S.R.I.s ) like Paxil for children because of the increase of suicide and self-harm among young people who take them.
Maybe that explains the high suicide and homicide rates as well as the disturbing behavior among teens called "cutting". Children and young adults are slicing their wrists, burning their thighs , using paper clips, razors and knives to achieve grisly self-mutilation. There are no national statistics on the number of teens who self-injure but school personnel and health professionals are reporting more of the abuse all the time. There are now support groups and treatment programs for those who are driven to harm themselves. Some "cutters" move on to deeper wounding, breaking their own bones or deliberately infecting their wounds with feces or HIV. Psychiatrists, school personnel and parents haven't made the connection. Neither has the FDA. Drug companies making billions from sales of antidepressants are being asked to voluntarily "label" their products. Maybe they're dragging their collective feet on this issue because, after all, just how would a suicide label be worded? Here's one suggestion:
"WARNING! You might be terribly depressed right now, but not suicidal. Taking this drug might push you over the edge. Is it worth taking the chance?"
The FDA, the federal arbiter of all that is prescribed, has been derelict in it's duty, and I feel, complicit in the drug companies' assault on ill-informed consumers. And while this august body ignores the devastating effects of drugs they've approved, they spend their time instead warning consumers about herbs and dietary supplements.
This week I am sharing a massive hotel in Times Square with drug pushers. The American Psychiatric Association happens to be holding it's annual convention where I am staying during a business trip. It's been all I can do to keep from confronting the hundreds of conference attendees I've run into in the lobby and on the elevators.
Billboards here show the conference schedule is top-heavy with speakers from pharmaceutical companies.
GlaxoSmithKline, Foster, Wyeth…
One talk given by anthropologist Dr. Helen Fisher had to do with the "chemistry" of love and attraction. I wish I was in that session. Reportedly Dr. Fisher was decrying the romance-numbing effects of antidepressants and what that must be doing to people's ability to fall in love and stay in love. Up to 70% of people on antidepressants report sexual side effects. Since last year doctors in the United States wrote 213 million prescriptions for antidepressants. That would mean a lot of people are experiencing numbed or blunted sexual response. (Maybe that's one reason drugs like Viagra and Levitra have become so widely-used as well.)
In addition to physical sexual side effects, there is the neurological basis for romance that can be distorted by drugs. Case studies show some people on antidepressants gradually see their attraction to their spouses diminish in addition to losing their sex drive. 
If antidepressants are the answer, what then, is the question? Life cannot be medicated away. More often than not, the drugs people take only complicate their conditions. The trials and fears and situations which vex us and often lead us to despair cannot be "fixed" with drugs that will only make us sick, self-loathing and numb.
The ever-increasing void in our hearts cannot be filled with drugs, whether prescribed by doctors or scored on some street corner. Scholar C.S. Lewis wrote:
"God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn... That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about (Him). God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself… There is no such thing."
NOTE: Discontinuing antidepressant medication suddenly may cause very serious side effects. Consult health professionals who are knowledgeable about antidepressant withdrawal.
Psychiatric Services Journal/ May '04
© 2004 Mary Starrett - All Rights Reserved
Mary Starrett was on television for 21 years as a news anchor, morning talk show host and medical reporter. For the last 5 years she hosted a radio program. Mary is a frequent guest on radio talk shows. E-Mail M123STAR@aol.com
"Adding insult to injury, after you, the American taxpayer, have paid the roughly six grand per-year to educate each of the more than 50,000 "undocumented students" you would then be asked to subsidize their college tuition."