A Looming Anti-Depressants Crisis

The widespread prescription of drugs for troubled minds has always ended badly, right back to the days of opiates and cocaine, up through bromides, barbiturates, and tranquilizers: all proved to be highly addictive drugs, but only after years of denial did doctors admit that this was so. Now anti-depressants--global brands with household names--are the problem. The past decade has seen a three-fold increase in prescriptions. In England, prescriptions of anti-depressants now match Valium at its peak in 1979.

It is now clear that today's anti-depressants are not the wonder drugs they were touted as being. The sometimes intolerable withdrawal symptoms that can make it difficult and hazardous to stop taking anti-depressants also expose many users to severe and depressing side effects: substantial weight gain, loss of libido, and mood changes, to name just the most common complaints. Suspicions about such problems--especially about drug-induced suicidal behavior and sensitization to depression--have been rumbling for years, but searching scientific investigations have only just begun.

An important inquiry set up by the United Kingdom's drug regulators in mid-2003 will soon report its findings. They will no doubt be presented mainly as recommendations for small-print changes in the warnings on drug labels and in the instructions for the drug's use. This may help, it but won't address the real issue: how could regulators have allowed this problem to recur after so much bitter experience, and why should they now be allowed to investigate themselves?

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