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The new zealand herald
4:00AM Saturday May 30, 2009
By Martin Johnston
Jade Pinkerton says a ‘mental fog’ descended after she began taking paroxetine.
Jude Pinkerton had an extreme personality change and tried to take her own life after taking a widely used antidepressant drug.
This week, the 22-year-old spoke to the Weekend Herald to warn others off paroxetine hydrochloride, which she believes is highly dangerous.
Medical opinion is still divided about paroxetine and similar drugs. Some psychiatrists have condemned them but others maintain they are safe for use in adults.
Mrs Pinkerton said she was put on Prozac in January last year for depression, which she attributes to a stressful job as a social worker. It was the first time the Wellington woman had had any psychological problems and she had never harmed herself nor thought about committing suicide.
The depression lifted, but she had an allergy to an ingredient of Prozac and a GP in October put her on an alternative antidepressant, Loxamine, a generic version of paroxetine.
“Within 24 hours of taking it I started acting impulsively,” she said.
Things deteriorated from there.
A mental “fog” descended, visual disturbances began and she got into debt. She became highly emotional and irrational, wild mood swings took hold and, eventually, she started to think about harming herself.
On March 30, she was referred to mental health workers. The next day, she attempted suicide, taking an overdose of medicines, and was admitted to Wellington Hospital. Underlying mental disorders were ruled out and a psychiatrist recommended stopping paroxetine.
But on April 3, Mrs Pinkerton was re-admitted after a second attempt.
She immediately went off the drug but believes that although she is now slowly improving, she is still suffering its ill effects.
“In New Zealand there’s a lot of naivete around the use of paroxetine … It’s almost a cover-up.”
In fact, a lot has been written about the dangers of antidepressants, although much of it resides in technical documents and the public discussion has centred on the greater risks in children and adolescents.
Government drugs regulator Medsafe says all drugs in the Prozac/Loxamine class – selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) – are linked with increased suicidal thoughts and attempts in children and adolescents treated for major depression, although this “suicidality” had not been proven to lead to suicide.
In trials, only fluoxetine (the chemical in Prozac and its generic versions such as Fluox) has been found more effective than dummy pills in children and adolescents.
Pooled studies of antidepressants have found the increased risk of suicidal ideas and attempts among users of the drugs extends to young adults.
The Loxamine data sheet says: “Young adults, especially those with major depressive disorder, may be at increased risk for suicidal behaviour during treatment with paroxetine.”
But drug makers also say the risk of suicide bids is inherent in depression.
Outspoken Australian psychiatrist Dr Jon Jureidini, who chairs the group Healthy Scepticism, said he never prescribed antidepressants to those under 25. If their condition was bad enough, he admitted them to hospital. The drugs’ risks were too high.
$15 million is spent by taxpayers on antidepressant drugs each year.
300,000 people are prescribed them.
43,600 last year took paroxetine hydrochloride – the drug that made Jude Pinkerton feel