How to Quit the Cure–Antidepressant Withdrawal – NewsWeek
Wed Aug 3, 2005
The current issue of NEWSWEEK lets readers in on the dirty little secret about the prescribed antidepressants of the SSRI variety.
Although psychiatrists shudder at calling a spade a spade, these prescribed drugs are physically addictive–as is evident when people try to stop taking an SSRI.
Children and adults who try to stop taking an SSRI suffer much like drug junkies who find that kicking their habit can be excruciating.
BBC’s Panorama series (first broadcast, October 2002) was a catalyst for regulators in the UK to take action. In September 2003 all SSRIs (except Prozac) were banned for children.
Although it remains a mystery why the FDA approved Prozac for treating depression in children, Eli Lilly sent a Dear Doctor letter advising physicians in the UK–but NOT in the US–that Prozac is NOT RECOMMENDED for use in children for any condition. See: http://www.ahrp.org/risks/ProzacKids1203.php
The FDA had to be dragged to issue Black Box warnings–even though the evidence is documented in company controlled clinical trials. The FDA resisted warning clinicians about the risk even after its own medical officers and a team of reviewers convened by Columbia University all agreed that SSRIs pose a twofold increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior in children compared to those taking a placebo.
The best source for gaining a perspective about the severity and rate of those affected by severe withdrawal symptoms–and for links to support groups in the UK and the US, see: Social Audit at: http://paxilsupport.homestead.com/Index.html
Contact: Vera Hassner Sharav
Aug. 8, 2005 issue
Health: How to Quit the Cure
By Raina Kelley
Two years ago, Kimberly Koehlinger of Ft. Wayne, Ind., quit the Prozac she’d been taking for 15 years to treat anxiety and depression. She hated side effects like night sweats and insomnia. So when her doctor told her she could stop, she weaned herself off over two to three weeks. But the withdrawal symptoms, according to Koehlinger, were brutal. “You’re full of rage, you’re delirious, you’re dizzy,” she says.
Millions of Americans (as many as one in 10 adults by some estimates) take antidepressants for reasons that range from social anxiety to severe depression. The vast majority of these antidepressants are SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, including Prozac, Paxil, Lexapro and Zoloft. But many people who are prescribed these drugs won’t need them forever. Some will navigate a difficult situation in their lives and feel better. Others will seek alternate treatment because of the common side effects of SSRIs, such as sexual dysfunction and weight gain.
But getting off this class of antidepressants can be tricky. Withdrawal symptoms can range from the bewildering (vivid dreaming) to the debilitating (dizziness, diarrhea) to the life-threatening (suicidal thoughts). And while most people will not suffer as badly as Koehlinger did, as many as 50 percent of the people who stop using antidepressants will have some withdrawal symptoms. Manufacturers of the major drug brands acknowledge that the drugs can have withdrawal symptoms, but say in most cases they are mild.
They’re widespread enough, however, that an active online community has sprung up offering advice to people who want to quit SSRIs. Paxilprogress.org, a Web site offering advice on how to manage withdrawal from all major SSRIs, gets about 2 million hits a month, according to founder Darcy Baston.
If you are trying to stop, here are some tips for minimizing your discomfort: Talk to your doctor. No one should adjust his meds on his own. Just because you feel better doesn’t mean your depression is gone for good. Remission from depression isn’t just a reduction of symptoms, it means a wholehearted return to your normal activities.
Don’t quit cold turkey. Drugmakers recommend tapering off SSRIs (and always under a doctor’s care). The rules for tapering vary depending on the dose and drug you’re taking. (If you’re taking Prozac, you can find information about tapering at Prozac.com.) But your doctor will probably suggest cutting your dose by 25 to 50 percent at first. If you tolerate this reduction for two or four weeks, ask your doctor if you can reduce further. If you begin to experience unbearable withdrawal symptoms, talk to your physician about temporarily upping your dose a bit, says Nada Stotland, vice president of the American Psychiatric Association.
Look out for relapse.
Withdrawal symptoms appear shortly after antidepressants are stopped; depression develops slowly, over months. Keep a list in your mind of what your depression felt like and make a resolution to go to your doctor if you feel it’s returning.
Dr. Matthew Rudorfer, from the National Institute of Mental Health (www.nimh.nih.gov), has successfully helped many of his patients to stop taking SSRIs. And though they often experience withdrawal symptoms, he uses small, incremental changes in dosage to ease the transition. And he’s quick to add that the risk of not treating depression is far greater than the risk of potential adverse effects. These pills can help you break out of the depression trap, but you don’t have to feel trapped by them, either.
With Karen Springen
C 2005 Newsweek, Inc.
C 2005 MSNBC.com
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