First Approved Drug for Postpartum Depression Offers Suffering New Moms 'Almost Immediate' Relief


Sad mom with baby

Are you sitting down? Because this. is. big: The Food and Drug Administration has just approved the first-ever medication specifically designed to treat postpartum depression, in news that is literally music to millions of women's ears. According to a press release issued Tuesday, the medication won't come in pill form -- the FDA approved brexanolone injections, sold under the brand name Zulresso, for intravenous use. Health officials say its effects are almost immediate.

  • The drug will be available only through a restricted program, which patients must enroll in first to receive treatment.

    It's being called the Zulresso REMS Program, which requires the IV injections to be administered by a health care provider in a certified health care facility over a 60-hour period (or 2 1/2 days). 

    "Because of the risk of serious harm due to the sudden loss of consciousness," the FDA says, "patients must be monitored for excessive sedation and sudden loss of consciousness and have continuous pulse oximetry monitoring (monitors oxygen levels in the blood)."

    In addition to being closely watched for any possible side effects, patients will also be accompanied during any and all interactions with their children while receiving the intravenous drug.

  • Advertisement
  • Incredibly, the drug is said to work so quickly, patients see significant improvement within 48 hours.

    Considering most antidepressant medications can take up to four weeks before any marked changes show, Zulresso's promise of quick relief is pretty huge. Especially for mothers whose postpartum depression is hindering their ability to care for their children -- and themselves.

    "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 the FDA's press release. "Women may experience thoughts about harming themselves or harming their child."

  • In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, 1 in 7 women experience the mood disorder during their lifetime.

    And no, I'm not just talking about the "baby blues," which tend to pass in a relatively short period of time. Postpartum depression can appear within days or even months of delivering a baby, the APA says, and it can often last for months (or longer) if left untreated. It can have devastating consequences, too, causing some moms to have thoughts of self-harm or harming their baby, which is why seeking professional help right away is so crucial.

    PPD doesn't discriminate, either -- it can occur in mothers of any age, race, or ethnicity; first-time moms or moms with multiple children; and even new moms who had, by all accounts, "easy" pregnancies.

  • Already, news of the drug is sweeping the Internet, and women aren't holding back on their praise -- or their criticism.

    "What wonderful news for women and their families!" wrote one Facebook user, while another added, "What a difference this would have made in '74."

    Others, however, balked at the astonishing cost of the treatment -- which, according to its manufacturer, Sage Pharmaceuticals, comes to a whopping $34,000 per patient, before discounts. (Yes, that's three zeros on the end.)

    Add on the costs of a two-day medical stay, and oof, that'll sure burn a hole in your pocket.

    "After horrendous PPD and PPA this is amazing," wrote another Facebook user. "But I couldn’t afford this. It makes me sad how hard and how expensive health care is."

    "No one in their right mind can afford this!" wrote another. "This is like dangling a carrot in front of a horse. I know your [sic] hungry, I hear you but haha ya can’t reach it."

  • One bit of good news? Health officials said they expect insurers will cover the treatment, though time will tell if that actually happens.

    Health insurance companies are still evaluating the drug, as well as the parameters of the treatment, to determine whether it will be covered. 

    In the meantime, Sage Pharmaceuticals is hopeful that another PPD treatment currently in clinical trials will become a much more affordable (and easily accessible) option for future patients. That one comes in pill form (yay!), but the The New York Times reports that it could take another couple of years before it's ready to be submitted to the FDA for approval.

    All that said, make no mistake -- the news today is still huge. For the millions of women who have suffered, or continue to suffer, in silence with PPD, just knowing that the medical community is making strides toward a treatment is incredible.

    Let's just hope the next news we hear is that it comes at a price we can all afford.