FDA Approves First Drug for Postpartum Depression, but Could Cost Up to $34,000

The Food and Drug Administration approved brexanolone, an intravenous medication specifically designed to treat postpartum depression that is expected to be sold under the brand name Zulresso in June, for a hefty price tag of about $34,000.

The drug works quickly, with effects taking place within 48 hours. However, the medication itself is delivered by infusion for over 60 hours and women receiving treatment must remain in a certified medical center under supervision in case of dizziness or fainting. In addition to the treatment’s limitations in the administration of the drug itself, the expensive cost of the medication, that may not be covered by insurers, could limit accessibility of the drug to moms who may need it the most.

Current treatment of postpartum depression can take weeks for effects to take place and can sometimes fail to help women at all, unlike brexanolone which rapidly rebalances hormones that drastically spiked and dropped during and after pregnancy. The research included three clinical trials led by Dr. Meltzer-Brody and funded by Sage Therapeutics. The trials had 247 randomly selected participants who suffered from severe or moderate postpartum depression and received either the drug or a placebo. Women who received the drug showed significant improvement in their Hamilton Depression Scale score, a standard evaluation scale, in comparison to women who received the placebo.

Researchers are also testing out a pill version of the new drug that would be more accessible and easier for patients in clinical trials. Other drugs, such as mifepristone, have scientific research that indicates potential treatment for postpartum depression.

Postpartum depression (PPD) is an intense and long-lasting depression that happens after having a baby. PPD can be life-threatening when severe and can prevent mothers from caring for their baby.  Postpartum depression, as the most common childbirth complication, affects about 1 in 9 women, with estimates as high as 1 in 5 women.

Less than 15 percent of women with PPD seek treatment. Without treatment, women can suffer from postpartum depression for months or years. Stigma and shame surrounding women who suffer from postpartum depression inhibits several women from seeking treatment.


Media Resources: New York Times 3/19/19; Vox 3/20/19; Center for Disease Control and Prevention 12/13/17; Feminist Newswire 9/28/15

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