The state Department of Children and Families will no longer give children in its care the anti-depressant drug Effexor because of a possible link to increased suicide rates.
DCF has also discontinued the use of Paxil, another anti-depressant, because of warnings by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about a similar link to suicides.
The bans have limited the options for doctors treating children with depression or anxiety disorders, Dr. Patricia Leebens, chairwoman of DCF’s psychotropic medication advisory committee, told The Hartford Courant.
Leebens said she is worried that too little is known about the drugs’ ultimate effects on young patients.
“There is a concern that we will end up pulling all the medications that are helpful to children off the market. But until we have more information, we don’t feel there is a choice,” Leebens said. The bans are for six months, at which time the decision will be reviewed.
Clinical trials done by the drugs’ manufacturers at the request of the FDA suggest that neither Paxil nor Effexor is particularly effective in treating teenage depression and that both drugs might lead to increased hostility and thoughts of suicide.
But because the trial results are inconclusive, doctors treating DCF patients can still get approval to use the drugs on a case by case basis.
Other antidepressants such as Prozac, Wellbutrin and Zoloft are still available to doctors treating children in DCF’s care.
DCF officials will not say how many of their clients are being treated with Effexor or Paxil, but Leebens said both are favored by child psychiatrists because they have fewer side effects, such as nausea and dizziness, than other similar drugs.
After the FDA warning about Paxil in June, New Jersey-based Wyeth Pharmaceuticals told doctors that its own studies showed similar risks with Effexor.
Wyeth spokesman Doug Petkus said Effexor was never specifically approved, or marketed, for use in patients under the age of 18.
In July, DCF was the first public child-protection agency to ban Paxil after the FDA recommended that it not be given to anyone under 18.
Executives from GlaxoSmithKline, the makers of Paxil, came to Connecticut last month to meet with the DCF committee but did not convince the state officials to put Paxil back on the list of approved drugs.
“The FDA is calling for all the data and this is only the beginning of this issue. The committee wants to be cautious and wait for as much information as possible,” Leebens said.