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In our opinion: $34,000 postpartum drug is the wrong solution to the right problem

Deseret News - 3/29/2019

The Food and Drug Administration recently approved the first drug on the market to specifically treat postpartum depression — an insidious, often invisible condition plaguing American women who struggle in silence. Too many mothers do not have access to adequate physical support, let alone the mental health care that could carry them through such a life-changing event.

A new drug is at least one hopeful development signifying the country is ready to tackle the stigma of postpartum depression. It highlights clear needs for not only expanded treatment plans for more women, but it also should ignite more research to reduce the associated costs and raise awareness of the problem.

Of concern, however, is a potential rush to overmedicate a problem that can partially — sometimes fully — be addressed through social solutions. Therapy from a licensed medical counselor and support groups that enable all women to feel a sense of community go a long way in helping a mother process anxieties. These efforts are sometimes coupled with antidepressant medications.

Post-pregnancy, a woman’s body is put through a hormonal wringer. Chemicals fluctuate wildly as the body attempts to regain stability. As a result, an estimated 1 in 7 women experience depression after giving birth. Separate from the so-called “baby blues,” which often go away on their own, according to the American Psychological Association, postpartum depression is far more serious and demands special attention. Left untreated, it may pose a severe risk for the mother and child.

Effective treatments exist, and early warning signs can be helpful to mitigate postpartum effects. Half of women who receive a postpartum diagnosis may have experienced symptoms earlier in pregnancy. But catching and treating those symptoms requires available access to quality health care.

Awareness for this problem has risen only recently, beginning in the 1980s. Now, for the first time in the 40 years since, a new drug seeks to treat the problem. Celebration for Zulresso, however, should be approached cautiously. Its sample size was small, it’s shown to have severe side effects and the possibility of the results being affected by the placebo effect are high.

Additionally, for those who do have the chance to take it, the cost will be exorbitant, requiring a 60-hour hospital stay, IV drip and $34,000. That’s unattainable for lower-income mothers or those without robust health insurance.

The positive result of the drug trials, however, is that society is seemingly more open to addressing the severity of the problem. We hope that continues to spark discussions and help mothers find the resources they need; resources that are accessible, affordable and safe.

Too many women are slipping through the cracks. A $34,000 drug will not save them, but a concerted, holistic effort to erase stigmas and embrace others in compassion will be a tremendous first step.

CREDIT: Deseret News editorial board, Deseret News