The 400,000 mothers who suffer from the debilitating symptoms of postpartum depression are finally given hope now that the FDA has approved a new drug designed to treat it. Unfortunately, there are limitations that might keep this drug from being accessible to every woman.
This week, the Food and Drug Administration approved brexanolone (marketed under the name Zulresso) — a new intravenous drug meant to treat postpartum depression in adult women.
“Postpartum depression is a serious condition that, when severe, can be life-threatening,” said Tiffany Farchione, M.D., acting director of the Division of Psychiatry Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, in a statement. “Women may experience thoughts about harming themselves or harming their child. Postpartum depression can also interfere with the maternal-infant bond. This approval marks the first time a drug has been specifically approved to treat postpartum depression, providing an important new treatment option.”
While Zulresso is reportedly more effective at treating postpartum depression than regular antidepressants (according to clinical trials, patients’ said their mood improved within 48 hours), there are serious side effects and financial limitations to consider.
For one, Zulresso can cost up to $34,000, according to Sage Therapeutics. Even if you’re somehow able to pay for treatment, or get your insurance to cover it, the drug has to be given to you at health centers that are certified to administer the drug. Zulresso patients must also stay at the clinic for two or more days during the IV infusion so they can be closely monitored.
“Because of the risk of serious harm due to the sudden loss of consciousness, patients must be monitored for excessive sedation and sudden loss of consciousness,” the FDA warned.
This new development in postpartum research is a step in the right direction, but is it enough?
According to a 2016 study by Keefe, Brownstein-Evans, & Rouland Polmateer, one in seven mothers will experience postpartum depression. For women of color, the odds are steeper. Black and Latino women have rates of postpartum depression hovering at 38%, compared to the 13 – 19% postpartum rate for all new moms. That only touches the surface of issues Black women experience while giving birth.