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The FDA just approved a new drug, Zurzuvae (zuranolone), that promises relief from postpartum depression. Research shows that it is definitely effective and works very fast. Unfortunately, the price tag is truly astronomical. It costs $15,900 for just 14 days of medication.
What is postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression (PPD) is a mood disorder that occurs in 10-15% of women after childbirth. While many people experience mood swings, known as the “baby blues,” in the days or weeks following childbirth, postpartum depression is more severe and long-lasting. It has the same set of symptoms that major depression has, like crying spells, insomnia, depressed mood, fatigue, anxiety, and grief.
New drug for postpartum depression
Zurzuvae is the first pill for treating postpartum depression specifically. There have been other medications, most notably brexanolone. This medication proved to be unpopular because of several restrictions. It was only available as an IV-infusion that had to be given over 3 days and in a monitored medical setting. Additionally, it could not be given to women who are breastfeeding, which rules out a huge group in need.
Zurzuvae is meant to be taken for just 14 days. Studies reviewed by the FDA found that depression symptoms in women with postpartum depression were significantly lower after those 14 days for people taking this drug than those who took a placebo. This effect held true even a month after the 14 day course of medication. The people who had taken Zurzuvae were still better off and suffering from less intense and fewer symptoms of depression.
Another huge positive aspect of Zurzuvae is that it acts incredibly fast. In fact, many people in studies reported feeling benefits within 3 days of starting the medication. Compare that to two weeks, which is the usual minimum wait time for seeing effects from standard depression treatments like SSRIs. This speedy treatment is essential for new moms. PPD threatens to distance new mothers from their baby and can impair bonding.
The problem with cost
Despite the numerous benefits, the cost of treating postpartum depression with this new drug is astronomical. Almost $16,000 for 14 pills? How can anyone who doesn’t stand to benefit from that price possibly find it reasonable? Insurance companies will be reluctant to pay that number and will likely demand that potential patients try other traditional anti-depressants first. Unfortunately, this would force people to wait even longer for the relief they need quickly.
This high cost makes it harder to get for the people who need it most. This is especially important because suicide is one of the leading causes of death for mothers in the first year after giving birth. This includes people struggling financially, people without insurance, and people of color. Despite these drawbacks, having the drug available is at least better than no drug at all. Additionally, this drug is less than half the price of the only other drug for PPD in existence. Hopefully, as more drugs come in the future, they will become cheaper and more accessible.