It is with great relief that we can report on the speed and efficiency of our drugs watchdogs, which act to protect us. In the UK this week, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHPRA) has pronounced that the antidepressant Seroxat (paroxetine) should not be prescribed to young adolescents. Extraordinarily, the drug has never been licensed for use by young people, so it should never have been an issue in the first place.
Has the MHPRA responded to the mounting pressures from concerned consumers? Well, not exactly. Or perhaps the manufacturer has had a rush of conscience? Sorry – is it April 1? No, they acted because of a TV programme that finally highlighted the dangers. Name and shame clearly works better for our watchdogs than listening to the stories of the thousands of patients who have been harmed, or even killed while on a drug, it seems.
We at WDDTY have been highlighting the dangers of Seroxat since the early 1990s, when it was being heralded in the national media as the great new thing to treat depression.
Seroxat is a selective serotonin uptake inhibitor – sometimes known as a 5-HT drug, a family that also includes Prozac – and was supposed to be far safer than the previous generation of antidepressants known as monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors.
Unfortunately, this early promise was never fulfilled. Even at the outset, we knew Seroxat caused nausea, tremor, asthenia (loss of strength) and sexual dysfunction.
And like Prozac, it can cause extremely aggressive feelings. In the USA, one patient shot his wife, daughter and grand-daughter while on Seroxat, so quite why doctors in the UK have been prescribing it to young teenagers is yet another wonder of modern medicine.
But perhaps the pivotal argument, put forward by the manufacturer, was that the drug was not addictive. It took a while, but the manufacturer finally had to admit, some 10 years later, that it could cause severe withdrawal symptoms. In fact, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association declared that the manufacturer was guilty of misleading the public over the drug’s addictive qualities.
We also discovered that the drug could cause hepatitis after six cases were reported to another sterling watchdog, the Committee on Safety of Medicines.
So, after 13 years of use, one drug regulator has finally made the first comment about Seroxat, and this only after a television programme brought it to their attention.