Loose Screws Mental Health News

I could’ve been a statistic right here in this area.

suicides in PhiladelphiaPhiladelphia now boasts the sharpest increase in suicides in the country. Despite all the homicides in Philadelphia making the news, the 196 people who killed themselves in 2008 were quietly buried in the obit pages (if they made it there at all).

In light of this news, I’ve decided to place a suicide hotline web banner in the upper right-hand corner of my right sidebar. Susan of If You’re Going Through Hell Keep Going has one in her sidebar and I think it’s a wonderful idea. I’ve had a couple of people comment or send me emails about how they feel they’re on the brink of losing it so hopefully the banner — one of the first things to be seen on this page — will draw some attention and prompt someone to call for help. When I was a teen, I called 1.800.SUICIDE. I can’t remember what happened exactly but I called the hotline and someone talked me into why life was still worth living. People who are suicidal don’t really want to die; they want an escape from the pain they’re feeling and they feel the only way to alleviate that pain is through inflicting death upon themselves. I hope someone who is suicidal would be willing to pick up the phone and come to the same realization that I did at the time.


Speaking of suicide, researchers from the World Health Organization and the University of Verona, Italy have discovered that SSRIs (a class of antidepressants) may significantly reduce the risk for suicide in adults. SSRIs — which include such medications as Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft — are not be confused with SNRIs such as Effexor, Pristiq, and Cymbalta. PsychCentral notes:

SSRIPrevious studies, including a 2007 study by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), found the risk of suicide in adults was neutral, elevated in those under 25 and reduced in people older than 65. A subsequent black box warning was added to all antidepressants regarding increased risk of suicidal symptoms in people under 25 years of age.

Basically, this study just means antidepressants help those who are 25 years and older and hurt those 24 years and younger. I’m sure a new study will come out within the next year or so that contradicts this one. Especially since numerous previous studies on SSRIs found the risk of suicide to be neutral in ages 25-65.


Young adultAccording to the Boston Globe, a (really pathetic) new study shows that nearly half of young adults between the ages of 19 to 25 “meet the criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder.”

Whether in college or not, almost half of this country’s 19-to-25-year-olds meet standard criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder, although some of the disorders, such as phobias, are relatively mild, according to a government-funded survey of more than 5,000 young adults, published in December in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

The study, done at Columbia University and called the National Epidemiologic Study on Alcohol and Related Conditions, found more alcohol use disorders among college students, while their noncollege peers were more likely to have a drug use disorder.

But, beyond that, misery is largely an equal-opportunity affliction: Across the social spectrum, young people in America are depressed. They’re anxious. They regularly break one another’s hearts. And, all too often, they don’t get the help they need as they face life’s questions…

According to the 2005-2007 American Community Survey, the population for adults ages 18-24 is gauged to be around 30 million. Therefore if we’re going to take the study at its word, let’s chop the number by half (even though the number is just under half). That will put us at about 15 million young adults. The NIMH, however, estimates 57.7 million adults in the U.S. “suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder.” If this is the case, those 15 million young adults make up nearly 26 percent of the NIMH’s “diagnosable mental disorder” statistic. The inclusion of alcohol and drug addictions might explain why this figure might be a little high.

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Lexapro maintains status as first-line antidepressant therapy

Lexapro vs. Pristiq According to a Decision Resources (DR) press release, Lexapro (escitalopram), a SSRI, “retains leadership among first-line therapies in the treatment of major depression” despite the fact that physicians have increasingly moved toward the use of SNRIs, eg, Effexor (venlafaxine). However, the reason why SSRIs still retain their first-line status is due to

  • cost
  • efficacy
  • familiarity

SSRIs have been out on the market for much longer than SNRIs so it’s what physicians are more comfortable with. As far as I know, there currently aren’t any generic SNRIs in the U.S.

As a result, SNRIs are likely pricier.

DR’s survey of psychiatrists found that the majority believe SNRIs work better in treating clinical depression than SSRIs and about 44 percent believe they have fewer sexual side effects. PCPs were also included in this survey and it seems that the majority of them believed the opposite despite DR’s spin that a lot of PCPs are on board with psychiatrists. From personal experience, four SSRIs were prescribed to me before I was shifted to a SNRI.

In the up-and-coming SNRI department, DR forecasts a bright future for Pristiq (desvenlafaxine).

Physicians are expected to move patients from Effexor to Pristiq-a newly approved SNRI- over the next two years. … Pristiq will begin to replace Wyeth’s Effexor XR and Lilly’s Cymbalta, especially in
psychiatrists’ practices.

This is an interesting analysis from DR considering that psychiatrists, health insurers, and even some investors seem less than impressed with the slight advantages the “me-too” drug has over Effexor.

(logos from Forest Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and Wyeth)

BJ Harroun left this comment for me on one of my posts Pristiq's FDA Chances: Depression – Yea; Menopause – Nay:

I have just completed my first two weeks on Pristiq. I have suffered from MDD for 35 years. I cannot take Effexor because it increases my appetite. Pristiq has really helped me. I have taken everything and I think I have finally found something that works for me. Don't dismiss this drug because it is an Effexor metabolite.

I didn't expect to see much of a difference between Pristiq and Effexor in terms of side effects since I figure since they're from the same class (SNRI). But I'm glad that Pristiq seems to be helping BJ. It would behoove me to take a look at the PIs for Effexor and Pristiq and check out the clinical trial data and see how they shaped out differently. But there's only so much time for me during the day.

Wyeth Pushing Pristiq Hard

PristiqThe Wall Street Journal reports that Wyeth, desperate to make money off of its Effexor XR-knockoff, Pristiq, says it will slash the antidepressant at a 20% discount compared to Effexor’s price. The price slash, CNN money reports, is a result of less-than-impressive clinical trial data on Pristiq’s “safety and effectiveness.”

Wyeth SVP Joe Mahady told analysts that Pristiq will sell for a flat $3.41 per tablet for both mid- and high-dose, Dow Jones Newswires’ Peter Loftus reports.

Wyeth, apparently, has done this in the past. Back when it was known as American Home Products, the company slashed its price on Protonix, its heartburn drug, to compete with AstraZeneca’s Prilosec. The drug generated $1.9 billion in profits for Wyeth last year. CNN Money reports that Teva Pharmaceuticals and Sun Pharmaceuticals began selling the generic version of the drug and handily cut into Wyeth’s profits: the company reported a 4.6% decline in profit and a 66% drop in sales for the drug for the first-quarter. What will happen with Pristiq remains to be seen. I’m not sure that doctors in 2010 will want to dole out prescriptions for Pristiq when they can save patients—and insurance companies—money by prescribing what will then be known as venlafaxine. WSJ also notes:

A month’s supply of sertraline (Pfizer’s old hit Zoloft) or fluoxetine (Lilly’s Prozac) goes for 50 cents a day at drugstore.com.

$3.41 or $0.50 per tablet. It wouldn’t surprise me if some insurance companies choose to exclude Pristiq from its list of covered drugs. Regardless, Wyeth expects sales of the drug to exceed $1 billion in its first year.

The drug will hit the shelves in May.

Pristiq receives approval from FDA

PristiqMore than a year ago, I promised to keep tabs on Wyeth’s new (renamed, rather) drug Pristiq. So I’m living up to it.

On February 29, 2008, the FDA granted Wyeth approval to move forward with putting the drug out on the market.

Wyeth said the company planned a big sales effort to introduce the product to psychiatrists and primary care doctors.

There’s a problem with that sentence. I’ll give you a second to figure out what’s wrong with it. Haven’t got it yet?

Primary care doctors. PCP should not be in the business of prescribing or providing psych meds. I’ve gone on and on about it at length before, but I’ll mention it again. PCPs are trained to treat overall conditions that have no need of referral to specialists. Think about it this way: If your psychiatrist prescribed anti-inflammatory medication because you mentioned that you’ve been having problems with your foot, you’d be taken aback, right? If a dermatologist prescribed heartburn medication after a patient mentioned he’d been having heartburn trouble, that would seem almost illogical, wouldn’t it?

(Pristiq logo from Pristiq.com)

Read the rest of this entry »

The "Black Dog," Part III

By the end of March, we decided to get engaged and work out our differences. (I’d move to Kentucky and he’d be open to not having biological kids.) In early July, I quit Lexapro cold turkey. (This, folks, is a NO-NO.) Two weeks later, I had a relapse and attempted to commit suicide. Bob freaked out and called the cops and I nearly lost my job at a prestigious magazine. It wasn’t Bob’s fault; it was mine for quitting a med cold turkey and it was Dr. X’s for not warning me about the potential for suicide attempts on the drug. Perhaps she didn’t know. After all, she kept doling out Lexapro samples to me via the drug rep. When I told her in August that Lexapro wasn’t working, she became skeptical, assumed that I was still being noncompliant and wrote out a prescription for Zoloft. By that point, I was tired of meds. I’d gained 40-50 lbs between Paxil and Lexapro (after being skinny all my life) and still had a difficult time functioning normally. I never filled my prescription.

I moved to Kentucky in September and started a new job in October. After things became a little hectic and overwhelming at work in December, I became suicidal once again. I never saw Bob during the day (I worked second shift into third shift sometimes) so he was able to be depressed during the night and hide it apart from me since I rarely saw him. Bob, fearful of a failing marriage and I’d make good on my promise to kill myself, made the decision for us to move back to his hometown in Pennsylvania in April 2006.

As of January 2006, I knew I needed to be hospitalized and talked about it frequently. However, I felt like I couldn’t: "My job needs me," I said. "We’re understaffed. My job needs me." Even the anxiety of handing in my resignation at a job I hadn’t been employed at for a year gripped me.

We began our job search in the metro Philly area in April and both landed jobs in May. He in the suburbs; I in Philadelphia. My suicidal attempts and thoughts remained with me, but began to increase in August. My sick days became frequent. After a honeymoon at the end of August, I came back in September to a hostile co-worker and a micromanaging, picky boss. Those factors – in addition to whatever I was already dealing with – contributed to taking a disability leave from my job and admitting myself to a psych hospital. I’d been unwilling to do it because I was so busy, but if not, my husband would have been forced to do it for me.

I stayed in the hospital for 7-8 days. The doctor who initially admitted me asked me what meds I’d been on. I said Lexapro and Paxil. I mentioned I didn’t like them. He suggested that I try Celexa in the meantime and that it wasn’t the same as those two. Before I began this blog, I had no idea that Lexapro (escitalopram) and Celexa (citalopram) are virtually the same thing. I passed on Celexa at med times, knowing that my case doctor would be switching me to something different. My case doctor, Dr. S, recommended Effexor XR after I told him that I’d had trouble with Lexapro and Paxil. He said, "Well, it’s an SNRI and functions differently than an SSRI. Let’s try you on that. We’ll start you off at 37.5 mg and get you up to 150 mg by the time you leave."

On the first day of Effexor, I developed severe somnolence that lasted an hour. Later that day and the next three days, I developed severe dry mouth. I’d never known what dry mouth was until then. So I chugged several Snapple Iced Teas a day since water wasn’t available through their vending machines. (Weird, I know.) When I began at my intensive outpatient treatment afterward, a nurse told me that drinking too much sugar can cause the liver to overproduce sugar – if I remember correctly – which can lead to diabetes. *sigh*

Because of a (somewhat) sexual assault incident at the hospital, my release was hastened and I left at 75 mg of Effexor. My psychiatrist at the outpatient clinic titrated me up to 150 mg, which according to him, "is standard. Some patients do better at 300 mg." (!) By the time my outpatient treatment was over, I was steady at 150 mg of Effexor.

In the meantime, my husband was overtaken by all the events that had been occuring since August. (You’d be freaked out too if you woke up to see your spouse trying to hang him/herself.)

In November, he finally admitted to me that he struggle with depression. He began crying all the time over nearly everything. As a computer programmer for seven years, he felt inadequate and insecure at his new job. He cried over my depression. He cried about worsening my depression with his depression. He became anxious over everything. He couldn’t sleep in the event that he’d wake up to see another suicide attempt. He became wracked with anxiety. After much provoking and nagging, he finally agreed to seek treatment in the evening at the outpatient clinic I’d been to. He found it somewhat helpful but admitted that it was difficult to act on what he’d learned.

November threw another curveball at us when my outpatient psychiatrist diagnosed me with bipolar disorder. That finally explained my hostile, irritable, and angry episodes (which normally occurred at night) in addition to my depression. Now, Bob became anxious over the next manic episode that might occur.

Just as he had involved my mother of my situation, I sat down with his parents and spoke with them about Bob’s. His parents seemed taken aback. The quiet, shy kid had all these problems that they’d never known about? His parents and I thought that Bob was freaking out over me and the recent events. Little did we all know that it was simply a trigger. Since I was around Bob all the time now, he wasn’t able to hide it from me any longer.

Despite weekly counseling that we began in August, he still suffers from extreme anxiety. He still suffers from depression with passing suicidal thoughts. He still cries and gets angry over, well, insignificant things. But he’s been brave to admit that he struggles with depression. He’s taken a leap of faith to talk to his parents, his brother, and me about what he deals with and some of what he’s been thinking. Bob has a long way to go, but he’s finally taken the steps forward to recovery.

Pristiq posing as pristine

The Trouble With Spikol has linked to an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune (via Reuters) that covers Wyeth's new Effexor XR knock-off, Pristiq (desvenlafaxine succinate). Why are they launching Pristiq? Their patent on Effexor will expire in July 2010 when making generic versions of the drug will be up for grabs.

"Wyeth said in July, however, that it will not introduce Pristiq until it completes tests of a low 50-milligram dose of the drug, following trials of higher dosages in which about half the patients experienced nausea."

Too bad clinical trials don't test for withdrawal symptoms. Will Pristiq avoid the withdrawal hell issues that Effexor XR has?

“'We will wait for the results of the low-dose trials, which we've said we expect in early 2007, before making a decision' on when to launch Pristiq, company spokeswoman Gwen Fisher told Reuters on Friday.

She said nausea seen in the earlier trials was mild to moderate and generally went away within a week after treatment began.”

How long were these clinical trials and if the nausea was seen in the "earlier trials," what about the most recent trials?

Pending FDA approval, Wyeth would also like to use Pristiq for vasomotor symptoms in menopausal women.  Wyeth's unannounced strategy will be to introduce Pristiq long before Effexor's patent expires so they don't lose any of their $1 billion market share to an Effexor generic.

A Wyeth PR that went under my radar:

“Pristiq, a serotonin/norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) now is being studied with a specific focus on women. It initially was developed for two indications that currently are pending approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – the treatment of major depressive disorder (MDD) and vasomotor symptoms (VMS) associated with menopause. 

In the area of depression, Pristiq is expected to improve the balance of serotonin and norepinephrine as compared with serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) because of its pharmacologic profile as a dual reuptake inhibitor.”

Isn’t that what SNRIs are supposed to do?

“Clinical studies confirm that Pristiq is effective in both men and women. However, women over age 40 represent about 50 percent of the depression market and could benefit from an antidepressant that addresses their symptoms and physiology.”

No kidding – 50 percent of the depression market and the implication of all women over 40 years old? Sure, I believe that. Looks like Wall Street doesn't have much hope for the new drug either.

“Pristiq also may be a treatment option for patients who are on multiple medications. The compound has a low risk of drug-drug interactions. This is important when considering that depression often is a co-morbid condition in medically ill patients and that these patients frequently are taking multiple medications. The Company expects FDA action for the MDD indication in January 2007.”

The multiple medications thing. Um, I’m not a fan of that unless it’s absolutely necessary. It isn’t necessary in a lot of cases.

“FDA action for the second application for Pristiq for vasomotor symptoms associated with menopause is anticipated in April 2007. Pristiq is expected to provide significant relief of hot flushes (decrease in number and severity) associated with menopause.

If approved, Pristiq will be the first non-hormonal treatment indicated for relief of VMS.

The Company also plans to pursue indications for Pristiq that would include fibromyalgia syndrome and diabetic neuropathic pain.”

Wyeth certainly is attempting to milk this new drug for all it’s worth. I hope Furious Seasons or CLPsych take up on investigating this one since I simply don’t have the time, resources, or ability.