Prescription Drugs

There have been concerns around antidepressants known as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, for over a decade. Paxil, a commonly-used SSRI antidepressant, has been linked to suicide, particularly among young people. It has also been linked to birth defects in babies whose mothers took the drug while pregnant.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration mandated a "Black Box" warning on SSRIs in 2004 regarding the potential suicide risk. The following year, the FDA further warned that Paxil in particular "increases the risk for birth defects, particularly heart defects, when women take it during the first three months of pregnancy." Subsequent studies have reinforced this link.

Why It's Essential to Know the Vested Interests of Those Behind the Studies

Over the years, some doctors and researchers have disputed these findings. One study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which was later determined to have been done by researchers with ties to the pharmaceutical industry, said that pregnant women who stopped taking antidepressants suffered relapses in their depression.

Now another study is disputing the link between SSRIs, taken during pregnancy, and birth defects. The researchers claim that pregnant women who don't take SSRIs for their depression are more likely to have a "preterm and very preterm delivery" than those who don't treat their depression pharmaceutically.

The study, besides trying to alleviate fears of using anti-depressants, actually calls for screening of pregnant women to determine whether they have "maternal depression." While screening may sound like a wise idea, another such screening aimed at young people (TeenScreen) was found to have "ties to the pharmaceutical industry."

How Do Patients Know What's Best for Them?

The use of SSRI antidepressants, while still one of the most popular types of drugs in this country, has been declining since 2008. Sales have dropped four percent each year since then. Therefore, drug manufacturers are understandably concerned about their bottom line.

With conflicting studies, it's difficult for patients to know which ones to believe. It's essential to discuss your concerns with a trusted physician to help weigh the benefits and potential risks for your particular situation.

Patients and surviving family members of those harmed by Paxil have taken legal action. While it may seem like it's impossible to link a birth defect or a suicide to the drug, attorneys who have worked on these lawsuits can help build a case to hold drug manufacturers, physicians and others legally responsible.