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New postpartum depression drug brings hope, concerns

Posted at 4:58 PM, Mar 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-25 22:27:57-04

A new drug designed specifically for postpartum depression has sparked hope and questions among women and doctors in Wisconsin.

"For me, postpartum depression was absolute agony," Sarah Bloomquist of Cedarburg said. "My symptoms include a lot of anxiety as well as the depression. So I had panic attacks. I had physical reactions to my anxiety. I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep. Every time I woke up I'd have a panic attack."

Bloomquist said she got the help and treatment she needed, but after having her daughter what worked before didn't the second time around.

News about Zulresso, a drug targeting postpartum depression specifically and recently approved by the Federal Drug Administration, made her reflect.

"If I could've done a treatment like this and been able to get back with my family I think I would've jumped at it," she said.

Zulresso is the first drug of its kind. It is an infusion administered over 60 hours, or 2-and-a-half days, in a certified health care facility. The drugmaker reported a drop in depressive symptoms within 24 hours of administering the treatment.

Dr. Christina Wichman said the news is exciting as postpartum depression can affect up to 1 in 7 women. However, Wichman has concerns.

"This is a very expensive treatment at this point with estimates between $25-35,000 per treatment," Wichman said. "The biggest concern I have is the women that have one of the highest risks of getting postpartum depression also tended to be those who have the lowest socioeconomic status and may not have access to the amount of money and insurance status that you may need in order to get this covered."

While Zulresso won't be readily available for months, at this point insurance companies do not cover the treatment.

Wichman also expressed concern over the hospitalization component and the patient's need to be away from family for at least three days to get the treatment. Wichman, who said she has been following the development of Zulresso for about 3 years, questioned how long the drug will be effective since since studies have not exceeded a month. Plus, there is the potential for patients to experience the placebo effect.

"We know that if we take women who are in a very high-stress environment and may not have a lot of support at home and we put them in a hospital where they're going to get good sleep, they're going to be supported and cared for, somebody's helping take care of their babies regardless if we give them a medication or not that's going to be helpful to that woman too," she said. "So there's a fairly high concern of high placebo rate for this medication given the structure and the environment we have to give the medication in."

Since her personal battles, Bloomquist started Moms Mental Health Initiative, advocating for mothers across the Milwaukee area.

She too thinks there are kinks that need to be worked out, such as making sure moms have the support at home and work to get Zulresso. However, she believes the new drug is starting to help moms in need.

"It’s bringing awareness to this disease, and it’s also providing hope for some people who really need another option, another tool in the basket to get better, and be the mom that they deserve to be and the mom that they want to be," Bloomquist said.

Sage Therapeutics said at this time they could not share what Wisconsin providers would offer Zulresso.

Zulresso is expected to be available by this summer.

Correction: Dr. Wichman was mistakenly identified in our TV news story. She is an associate professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin.