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MagazineAugust 2003 (Vol. 14 Issue 5)Seroxat

Virtually no drug is licensed for use by the young, so a warning from a UK drugs watchdog about the antidepressant Seroxat (paroxetine) is perplexing

Virtually no drug is licensed for use by the young, so a warning from a UK drugs watchdog about the antidepressant Seroxat (paroxetine) is perplexing. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHPRA) recently pronounced that the drug should not be prescribed to adolescents - but then, it should never have been in the first place.

Has the MHPRA responded to the mounting pressures from concerned consumers? Well, not exactly. Or perhaps the manufacturer has had a rush of conscience? Sorry. Is it April 1? No, they acted because of a documentary shown on the TV series Panorama that finally highlighted the dangers of this drug.

Seroxat is a 5-HT drug, part of a family of drugs called the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (like Prozac) and supposed to be safer than the previous generation of antidepressants known as the monoamine-oxidase (MAO) inhibitors.

Unfortunately, this early promise was never fulfilled. Even at the outset, Seroxat was known to cause nausea, tremor, asthenia (loss of strength) and sexual dysfunction. And, like Prozac, it can cause extremely aggressive feelings. In the USA, one patient shot his wife, daughter and granddaughter while on Seroxat.

But perhaps the pivotal argument revolved around the addictive qualities of the drug. The manufacturer insisted the drug was not addictive but, finally, it had to admit, some 10 years later, that it could cause severe withdrawal symptoms. In fact, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association declared that GlaxoSmithKline was guilty of misleading the public over the drug's addictive qualities.

We also discovered that the drug could cause hepatitis, after six cases were reported to another sterling watchdog, the Committee on the Safety of Medicines.

So, after 13 years of use, one drugs regulator has finally made the first comment about Seroxat, and this only after a television programme brought it to their attention.

When the solution makes the problem worse

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