Pharmaceutical companies regularly embellish the benefits and downplay the dangers of anti-depressants, and all medications for that matter—but this time, their profits could be inadvertently endangering and even killing unborn infants. Senior doctors know it and are finally raising their voices.
Tufts University School of Medicine’s Dr. Adam Urato decries the practice of prescribing SSRIs to pregnant women. “Study after study shows increased rates of newborn complications in those babies who were exposed to SSRIs in-utero,” he says. These complications include greater risk of autism, lung and bowel diseases, and more.
Doctors Failing to Properly Warn of Risks
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most common form of anti-depressants, many of which are prescribed to pregnant mothers by “general practitioners, not psychiatrists,” according to Dr. Alice Domar of Harvard Medical School. “You come in and you say I’m not feeling very well, I’m feeling lethargic so the physician writes a prescription.”
Urato says that although not proven, the outcomes of over 40 studies linking SSRIs to the endangerment of an unborn child are troubling enough to warrant further research. Family doctors must also properly caution pregnant women about the risks involved in taking SSRIs during pregnancy. (Many doctors prescribe them anyway because, if the SSRI works to improve the mother’s mood, it would lead to “a better pregnancy result.”)
Urato says “there really is not a shred of evidence” supporting the benefits of anti-depressants for pregnant women.
Big Pharma Just Wants to Get Paid
Urato unapologetically points to Big Pharma. “It is a fact that these antidepressants have been very lucrative for the pharmaceutical industry…. It stands to reason to me that the drug makers would rather that the risks of these agents in pregnancy not receive widespread attention as that would be a reason for many women to not take the drugs in the first place or to stop taking them—both of which are not good for sales of the product.”
Downplaying the risks of drugs is hardly a new game for Big Pharma. In the name of profit, GlaxoSmithKline paid celebrity doctors—like Dr. Drew—to push and make off-label claims of drugs. It’s also been found that 70 percent of advisors to the newest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) have financial ties to pharmaceutical companies.
Not even the government is immune to funding. Although the Food and Drug Administration admits that antidepressants can worsen depression and increase risk of suicide, the public and private sectors alike push ineffective and harmful antidepressants on patients. This will likely continue despite an increasing number of studies linking SSRIs to pulmonary hypertension and cardiovascular malformations in newborns.
Be wary of taking medication during pregnancy, especially anti-depressants. “If you add up all the potential risks,” Domar says, “a lot of people would say they are unacceptable.”