The FDA approved the first drug specifically designed to treat postpartum depression last week. Brexanolone was approved for Sage Therapeutics, to be sold under the brand name Zulresso.
Around 13 percent of new mothers in Delaware reported symptoms of postpartum depression between 2012 and 2015, according to the latest data from the Delaware Division of Public Health.
Dr. Nancy Fan, vice chair of the Delaware section of the College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (DCOG) and an OB-GYN at Wilmington’s St. Francis Healthcare, says postpartum depression can be a severe complication for new mothers.
“It is the number one postpartum complication,” said Fan. “Just because it doesn't result in maternal hemorrhage or high blood pressure— I think it’s much more common than people think.”
DCOG Chair and Christiana Care OB-GYN Dr. Gordon Ostrum says postpartum depression and related disorders are “significant contributors to our rising maternal morbidity and mortality rates.”
In Delaware, more low-income mothers report symptoms of postpartum depression than higher income mothers, according to the Division of Public Health.
Sage Therapeutics has said the drug will cost $34,000 without insurance per one-time treatment. The medication must be administered intravenously over two and a half days in a medical facility, according to the FDA. Despite these hurdles, Fan says the drug’s approval is good news.
“It’s what we call a labor-intensive medication,” said Fan “We’re excited that it’s shining a spotlight on what we think is a very important issue: mental health issues and postpartum depression specifically .”
Ostrum agrees that the addition of a new treatment option is “exciting,” but calls the expense and need for initiating brexanolone treatment on an inpatient basis “causes for tempering our enthusiasm.”
“It’s not going to be one medication fits all— everybody should get two days of IV antidepressant treatment,” said Fan. She sees the drug as appropriate for a specific patient population: mothers with severe postpartum depression who have unsuccessfully tried other treatment options. She says she has found a combination of behavioral health therapy and traditional antidepressants to be “very effective” for most of her patients.
“Part of it is that women don’t know how to talk about it,” she said. “Women don’t know how to recognize the signs and symptoms of it. And it’s very hard for women to say, I’m not being a bad mother just because I’m not really happy-happy, joy-joy during my postpartum time.”
According to Sage Therapeutics, Zulresso is expected to be available in late June.