The category of drugs Paxil belongs to (SSRIs) have received over 28,000 complaints to the FDA; yet doctors continue to prescribe; commercials continue to appear on TV and patients continue to feel duped into becoming addicted.
Bob Lanou feels duped by his doctor and pharmaceutical companies into believing Paxil was the best treatment for his depression. Lanou, like thousands of other SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) users was told that the pill would help in overcoming the tragic loss of his daughter, job and girlfriend all within a single week. Lanou says, "At the time I was willing to try anything...I just wish I would have not been so naive and done a little more research." Lanou was not a sufferer of chronic depression or major depression disorder (MDD), instead he had reached a point in life that became extremely difficult and almost unbearable. To seek help in dealing with the trauma of his life situation he made an appointment with his General Practitioner who offered him enough free samples of Paxil to last him for months. Lanou found temporary relief. However, later Lanou would find his relief would come with a price. (More on Lanou later in our story).
SSRIs are used for treatment for nearly every possible psychological disorder SSRIs, and the various subclasses of the drugs, are used to treat everything from mild depression, premature ejaculation, anxiety to eating disorders.
A History of Prozac and SSRIs
Prozac was the first of these pills on the market in the late eighties, and it didn’t take long for SSRIs to become the forth most prescribed class of drugs on the market. Before Prozac, the link to depression and a chemical imbalance in the brain was rare. Instead people visited doctors to treat symptoms of nervousness or anxiety whereby they were often prescribed the popular tranquilizer valium. Today, SSRIs are indeed a cash cow for pharmaceutical companies. The Paxil pill alone has generated over $5 billion dollars of revenue for its maker: Glaxo Smith Klein.
Soon after FDA trials, Prozac was touted as the closest thing to a miracle cure for depression. Previous antidepressants had been very toxic side-effects. Prozac patients felt better with minimal side-effects they were promoted to be a cure for the chemical imbalance in the brain caused by depression. Prozac and other SSRIs were became a nice clean answer to a problem that since its inception has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. Brooke Shields put it well in her classic statement: "Its comforting to discover my depression was directly tied to a biochemical shift."
Celebrities helped to in promoting the pill as the help they really needed which made Prozac something like a nineties pop-icon in its own right. Actors such as Winona Ryder, Johnny Depp as well as many comedians openly admit and talk about their depression and the help they have found from Prozac and others. “Prozac Nation” a film, starring Christina Ricci, also contributed to glamorizing the miracle cure Prozac and other SSRIs.
However, what most consumers of these pills were not informed of is the huge degree of uncertainty about the causes of depression and the long-term side effects of SSRIs.
How SSRIs Work
SSRIs operate in the body at a cellular level. Unlike vitamins, these drugs are fat-soluble, psychotropic drugs, able to permeate through the walls of brain cells--as well as through most water filters, causing many SSRIs to be a contaminant in our water supply. Prozac or Fluoxetine was discovered when scientists began testing compounds to see which had an affect on brain functioning in rats. Many toxins such as Lithium have been used for years as anti-depressants, however the toxic side-effects of salts and metals is kidney damage after long-term usage.
SSRIs work by selectively inhibiting the reuptake process we feel when we are happy. Serotonin is the chemical released in the brain with happiness. Once this natural body chemical is released in the brain, there the reuptake process cleans up house and returns us to a normal state of being.
SSRIs inhibit the reuptake of the neurotransmitter serotonin, however, the side-effect which often presents itself after long term usage is increased serotonin levels will flood presynapic autoreceptors. The body then adapts to this increase by lowering the sensitivity of the autoreceptors. The result is patients like Bob Lanou describe "feeling like a robot" unable to feel extremely happy or sad. The body doesn't react as strongly to serotonin and thus a strong feeling of happiness or euphoria becomes impossible. Besides this most common side effect, there are many other side-effects: (this list was complied from Wikipedia)
drowsiness or somnolence
clenching of teeth
extremely vivid and strange dreams
changes in appetite
weight loss/gain (measured by a change in bodyweight of 7 pounds)
may result in a double risk of bone fractures and injuries
changes in sexual behavior
increased feelings of depression and anxiety (which may sometimes provoke panic attacks)
autonomic dysfunction including orthostatic hypotension, increased or reduced sweating
liver or renal impairment
suicidal ideation (thoughts of suicide)
Photosensitivity (increased risk of sunburn)
These side effects have put the drug companies into action to develop additional pills that counteract the side effects. The following pills have been developed to mitigate some of the side-effects:
bupropion (norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitor)
buspirone (serotonin receptor agonist)
mirtazapine (noradrenergic and specific serotonergic antidepressant (NaSSA))
pramipexole (dopamine agonist)
ropinirole (dopamine agonist)
Besides the side effects while taking the drug, more problems typically arise when patients attempt to stop taking the drug. This has lead to a whole other can of worms commonly described as "discontinuation syndrome". Bob Lanou describes these symptoms in detail in our video interview. These symptoms include suicidality and aggression as well as akathisia, which is severe inner restlessness.
Its these symptoms, which were never present before using Paxil, that has resulted in a class action law suite filed against Glaxo Smith Klein and several FDA updates to the drug.
While the notion of taking drugs to alliviate the symptoms of other durgs could lead to potentially unlimited profits for big Pharm, more psychatrists and psychologists are believing there must be a better way.
SSRIs are useful in some cases and have helped thousands of people who suffer from chronic depression, however, Dr. Lili Wagner says that patients suffering from depression should first seek counseling and lifestyle change. Wagner believes that SSRIs should be seen as a last resort. It is her hope that patients and doctors will both better understand that depression is not caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, but moreover our lifestyle choices that patients can change if they make different choices in how they live, work and eat.
Paxil addict, Bob Lanou says in closing that he just wants to tell people, to think before using mind altering psychotropic drugs. Mr. Lanou's anger towards his previous Doctors and the pharmaceutical companies is palpable in the repeated times he has attempted to wean himself off the drug which always results in his inability to sleep due to akathisia and anxiety.
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