Meddling Medication

Pharmaceutical companies need to address side effects of antidepressants

Despite the supposed benefits of medication, antidepressants cause serious sexual side effects that have made them frustrating to use, and big pharma companies need to address this.

One of the more common—though not frequently talked about—side effects of medications is sexual dysfunction, whether it’s erectile dysfunction, inability to orgasm or disinterest in sex. Having to broach the subject of sexual side effects can be awkward for patients, so it remains unresolved. It’s a difficult choice that has impacted people’s relationships whether or not they continue to take the pills.

A lacking sex life can lead to a deteriorating partnership, yet neglecting mental health will do the same thing. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young adults, and going off of medication to avoid side effects is a reason people aren’t getting the help they need. This is especially frustrating since these are side effects that could be addressed.

Depression and anxiety are becoming more and more common among young adults, and the rate of psychotropic medication use is rising with them. According to the National Association of Mental Health, one in five young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have a diagnosable mental illness. A study done by the University of Michigan found 15.6 percent of undergraduates and 13 percent of graduate students had some form of depression or anxiety disorder.

Psychotropic drug prescriptions are going up as well. Psychotropic drugs encompass antidepressants, anti-anxiety and mood stabilizers, such as Prozac, Zoloft or Lamotrigine. Research conducted by the American Psychological Association indicates 24.5 percent of college students are taking some form of these.

Yet with the side effects, college students aren’t always willing to continue using medication or even start them to begin with. As a college student who is experiencing sexual freedom, a lack of sex drive would be incredibly frustrating.

The most common type of antidepressant prescribed is an SSRI,  a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. Half the patients who get SSRIs report a sex-related symptom, said Bradley N. Gaynes, MD, MPH, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina.

According to Mayo Clinic, these are the most likely to have sexual side effects due to the overload of serotonin. Antidepressants raise levels of serotonin in the body, which allows for feelings of calmness and lowered anxiety. However, that same sense of calmness and stability may lower your libido. It prevents the hormones that cause our bodies to respond to sex from transmitting their message to our brains. Essentially, antidepressants are dialing down our sex drive.

In addition, according to a Johns Hopkins Health Alert called “The Challenge of Antidepressant Medication and Intimacy,” up to 90 percent of people who experience antidepressant-related sexual dysfunction stop taking their medication prematurely.” For most college students, this can be a trade-off they aren’t sure they’re willing to make.

The issue is not that sexual dysfunction due to antidepressants is not discussed—there are numerous outlets that have conducted research on the details and reality of living with the side effect. The issue is there are no viable solutions. The only proposed solutions are changing medication, adjusting dosage or pairing the current intake with another medication.

Though all are plausible options, each of them would mean risking your mental stability for a certain period of time with only a hope that it would subdue the side effect.

In response to the vast amount of research and complaints surrounding the side effects of antidepressants as well as other medications, big pharmaceutical companies have only further strayed away from addressing them. In fact, beginning in 2017, the FDA reported they were considering the removal of pharmaceutical companies being required to disclose the side effects of their medication in general. Overturning the responsibility of these companies to inform customers how select prescriptions will affect them is grossly negligent.

Large pharmaceutical companies typically do not have the best interest for their customers. Their intent is to make the most money, and if that means to continue production of medications that have so many negative impacts which cause people to stop taking them, then so be it. Side effects will always exist because of the way medicine reacts with preexisting conditions and also the foreign chemical compounds entering our body, but that does not mean they have to exist at the rate they are now.