Sky-High Cost of Postpartum Depression Drug Raises Concerns

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Nov. 8, 2023 – The price of a breakthrough postpartum treatment will be $15,900, pharmaceutical company Sage Therapeutics told investors Tuesday. 

Jointly developed by Sage Therapeutics and Biogen, the medicine is called Zurzuvae and was approved by the FDA in August.  Zurzuvae works more quickly to treat depression symptoms than traditional antidepressants. But the  high price tag has some experts concerned that everyone who needs the treatment won't be able to get it.

As many as 1 in 8 mothers have postpartum depression symptoms, the CDC says. Postpartum depression may cause people to think about hurting their babies or themselves. Other symptoms include:

  • Crying more than usual
  • Anxiety and worry
  • Withdrawing from loved ones
  • Feeling distant from your baby
  • Doubting your ability to care for your baby

The devastating condition can can begin before childbirth and has been linked to long-term health problems for the babies of affected mothers. A 2018 study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that children whose mothers had severe postpartum depression were more likely to have behavioral problems by the time they were 3½ years old. They also had lower math grades and a higher risk of depression during adolescence, compared to children of mothers who did not have long-term severe postpartum depression.

One expert told CNN there is concern that Zurzuvae’s approval has received so much attention that it may be prescribed instead of other necessary care, like therapy, which is often enough to treat the condition.

“The gold standard of mental health care is a combination of psychotherapy and medication when medication is needed,” said Catherine Monk, PhD, chief of the Division of Women’s Mental Health in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Zurzuvae, which is also known by its generic name of zuranolone, is the first oral treatment for postpartum depression. It is taken for 14 days and was shown in trial results to significantly reduce depression symptoms for at least 4  weeks. People who take zuranolone should not drive for 12 hours after taking it due to the potential for drowsiness and impairment. Before the oral option, patients had to get  zuranolone through an IV at a  health care facility.