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The asthma medication Singulair (generic: montelukast) has been quietly damaging patients’ mental health for years, but you’d never know it. Since the late 1990’s, drug makers have taken steps to minimize the link between Singulair and depression and other mental health symptoms.
This is worrying because the drug is extremely popular, especially among children. Over 12 million Americans use Singulair (montelukast) each year, including 1.6 million children. Needless to say, if Singulair (montelukast) is a risk to children’s mental health, we need to know about it.
What is Singulair (montelukast)?
Singulair (montelukast) is a medication that treats asthma and hay fever. It works by blocking the action of chemical messengers in the body that cause inflammation and tightening of the airways. Singulair helps relieve asthma and allergy symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath, and nasal congestion.
When Singulair originally hit the market in 1998, it was an instant hit. It was one of the first medications for asthma that people could take daily to help prevent asthma attacks. Merck, the drug maker, marketed Singulair hard for years. They used celebrity influencers and played a big role in advertising to doctors, trying to affect their prescribing habits.
What’s the worry?
In the past 25 years that the drug has been on the market, many people taking it have noticed a number of mental health side effects. Unwanted side effects of Singulair included aggression, depressive symptoms, nightmares, hallucinations, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Many case reports note that symptoms start soon after beginning Singulair and appear in people with no previous mental health issues.
Over the years, worries about Singulair leading to depression and other mental health issues kept creeping to the surface. The company settled a lawsuit out of court that accused them of unethical marketing practices and ignoring warnings about their drug. There was even evidence they under-reported events of unwanted side effects. Additionally, hundreds of stories of people attempting suicide had potential links to the drug.
Linking Singulair and depression
After all this, the FDA finally put a black box warning on Singulair in early 2020. This required pharmacists to add a pamphlet explaining the risks for every patient filling a prescription. In the years following this warning, many more studies have been done focusing on this link. They have revealed what many patients have suspected for years. The link between Singulair and mental health issues including depression was real and was certainly strong in kids. However, this doesn’t mean we need to ban the drug. It’s very effective at treating asthma, but families deserve to know the risks.