An article in Sunday’s Telegraph ‘could antidepressants be ruining your sex life?’ concerned the use of widely-prescribed SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) and the associated loss of libido. The article rightly refers to statistics that estimate between 30-70 per cent of SSRI consumers will be affected with some form of sexual dysfunction – despite their much-argued efficacy. According to Peter Gøtzsche, Cochrane scientist, “There isn’t much happiness in the pills. Their most pronounced effect is to cause sexual disturbances…The drugs should therefore have been marketed as a formidable disrupter of your sex life, but that wouldn’t have sold many pills.”
However, the Telegraph article also conveyed common misconceptions into the psychopharmacological workings of antidepressants. In a nutshell – by increasing the levels of happy neurotransmitter serotonin, this effectively lifts overall mood but as a result of this increased serotonin level, your libido will decrease along with the ability to orgasm. It seems, despite there being no way of quantifying serotonin (at least not when alive), belief in ‘the chemical imbalance myth’ still prevails.
Nevertheless, leaving aside the legend of the chemical imbalance, the article also discusses another ‘libido-friendly’ alternative to SSRIs, GlaxoSmithKline’s Bupropion/Wellbrutin. The author seemingly expounds the virtues of this drug, marketed in the U.S. as Wellbutrin (an antidepressant) and Zyban (an anti-smoking drug) in the U.S. and Europe. Excerpt:
“It seems that instead of dampening desire, Wellbutrin can increase libido and suppress appetite, earning it the nickname of the ‘happy, sexy, skinny pill’.
Sounds like the perfect pill, if it actually worked. In case anyone was contemplating doing a bit of self-diagnosing and self-medicating via the internet (as the article reports many U.K. women are doing), there are other factors that just might put you off. In fact, some crucial Wellbutrin-related adverse effects were omitted from the article, f0r example, some very serious psychological effects: unusual thoughts and behaviors, increased risk of suicidal behaviour, aggression, delusions, seizures, hallucinations, paranoia, confusion and manic episodes.
In reality, this so-called ‘happy, sexy, skinny pill’ has been plagued with problems. Following significant incidences of seizures, Wellbutrin was taken off the market shortly after its initial approval – but re-introduced a few years later at a lower dose. In 2009, following numerous suicides, the FDA (US Medicine’s Regulator) was so concerned about the psychological effects of Wellbrutin/Zyban in smokers, that they ordered a further black-box warning to be attached. The following year (2010), a study by Moore et al ‘Prescription Drugs Associated with Reports of Violence Towards Others’ found Wellbutrin to be one of the 31 drugs disproportunately associated with violence.
Furthermore, as for being nickednamed the ‘happy, sexy, skinny pill’ there is one main reason for this – money. In fact, GSK actively promoted Wellbutrin as ‘the happy, horny, skinny pill’ and paid handsomely for promoting the drug for unapproved uses. In an action taken by the U.S. justice department, allegations included a myriad of wrongdoings, including that GSK hired PR firms to promote off-label use, paid doctors, organised sham advisory boards, sham ‘independent’ medical education events and provided samples to pediatric psychiatrists for unapproved use in children (despite knowing it increased the risk of suicide in this age group).
On one particular radio show, well-known tv-doc, Drew Pinsky, said it was possible that Wellbrutin could have caused a female caller’s ’60 orgasms a night’ (Sure, you’d be worn out – and I’m not entirely sure why this wouldn’t be conceived as a downright affliction). Anyway, dear Dr Drew never clarified this or mentioned that he was paid, very, very handsomely, for his services to GSK. In the months before the radio show, GSK indirectly paid him $275,000 – a fact not disclosed to the listeners. Thus, an internal GSK report determined that the media campaigns pushing Welbutrin’s ‘happy, horny, skinny’ effects, reached a total audience of 387 million. It would be surprising if anyone hasn’t heard of it, even on ths side of the Atlantic.
In case you need further convincing, in 2012, GSK was fined 3 billion dollars for these illegal and dubious practices, including for the off-label and harmful promotion of Wellbutrin in children and adults. Nevertheless, as the sales for Wellbutrin during that same period, were reportedly $5.9 billion, GSK made a tidy profit. The collateral damage of harmed kids and unsuspecting consumers went seemingly unnoticed.
So, I would be very careful of that so-called miracle cure – you just might get more than you bargained for. ‘Sickness’ is a very lucrative business and all pharmaceuticals companies are corporate entities, ones that are totally reliant on sickness, not health. GSK just so happens to be bigger than most and one that has shown itself time and again to use greater bullying tactics.
Telegraph Article – Could Antidepressants be Killing your Sex Life?
New York Times – Suicide Warnings for 2 Anti-Smoking Drugs.
Prescription Drugs Associated with Reports of Violence Towards Others, Study.
Justice Department Complaint, courtesy of KHN, here.
New York Times – Glaxo Agrees to pay $3 Billion in Fraud Settlement.