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Antidepressants in Crosshairs As Mother’s Class Action Moves Forward

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Vancouver, BCA Canadian class-action case filed against pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) on behalf of women whose babies were born with SSRI birth defects is set to begin against a rising tide of concern about the use of antidepressants by pregnant women.

The lead plaintiff in the class is a Faith Gibson of Surrey, British Columbia, whose daughter Meah Bartram, now 7 years old, was born with a hole in her heart. The baby’s heart problems were resolved. However, Meah is a child constantly at risk for infection and requires increased medical vigilance.

Gibson is among the growing number of women who claim Paxil, one of a group of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors known as SSRIs, caused complications for their babies. SSRIs are sold under a number of product names including Paxil, Prozac, Zoloft and Lexapro.

According to the research, these drugs are mainly prescribed to women to treat depression. Since approximately 50 percent of all pregnancies are unplanned, many women are already using the drug, as was Faith Gibson’s case, when they become pregnant.

Gibson’s doctor had prescribed Paxil, otherwise known as paroxetine, for anxiety. She continued taking the drug during her pregnancy because she was told it would have no negative consequences on her baby.

GSK has filed an almost routine notice appealing the certification of the case in British Columbia; however, Gibson’s lawyer, David Rosenberg, from Rosenberg and Rosenberg in Vancouver, fully expects the case to go forward.

Rosenberg acknowledges the impact the case could have on the future of SSRIs for pregnant women in Canada and elsewhere. “Yes, the first issue is whether Paxil is appropriate for its intended purpose and there are questions about whether the true risk was reported.

“The allegations that we are making is that they (GSK) had animal studies in the early 70’s that showed the exact kind of birth defect that we are concerned about was showing up in rats,” says Rosenberg, “yet the early warnings and the monographs that they published said that there was no indication that there was any concern.”

A data brief published by the US Department of Health and Human Services, and cited in a Journal of Human Reproduction article in the fall of 2012, reports that there has been a 400 percent increase in the use of antidepressants in the US. An estimated 11 percent of all women take an antidepressant. In 2008, a Scientific American article reported that 13.4 percent of all pregnant women in the US take an antidepressant during pregnancy.

“The majority of women are prescribed SSRIs for mild to moderate depression,” says University of British Columbia researcher and pharmacologist, Dr. Barbara Mintzes, who is concerned about the rising number of prescriptions written for drugs like Paxil for women during pregnancy.

“Especially in Canada, doctors are told untreated depression is more harmful than any risk associated with SSRIs, and if there are any harmful effects, the benefits of the drug exceed the risk,” says Mintzes. “We went looking for the benefits of SSRIs for pregnant women, but all we could find was evidence of harm.”

Mintzes is referring to an evolving body of scientific evidence that shows SSRIs are connected to congenital heart defects, life-threatening pulmonary hypertension in newborns, miscarriages, autism and other birth defects.

“Motherisk, an internationally known organization associated with the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children and a proponent of the benefits of SSRIs for pregnant women, declined to comment to LawyersandSettlements.

Although the Canadian health care system covers many medical costs, Rosenberg says Faith Gibson and her family had many additional costs that were not covered. He will be seeking to recover those costs and seek punitive damages for the family.

A notice plan, or an outline of how and when other potential class members will be notified of the upcoming class action, is currently pending in British Columbia.


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