Antipsychotic Warning, Saffron for Depression, Polypharmacy – 3 New Things

It’s a bit of a short week what with the holiday and all, but still, there is time for three new things about mental health. Today’s three new things are:

  • A safety warning on the atypical antipsychotic drug asenapine maleate (Saphris)
  • Saffron and depression
  • Multi-drug (polypharmacy) treatment of mental illness

Serious Allergic Reactions Reported with Asenapine Maleate (Saphris)

Asenapine maleate (Saphris) is an atypical antipsychotic drug recently approved for use in the treatment of bipolar type 1 mania and mixed episodes (as well as schizophrenia).

In slightly less than two years of approval, about 87,000 people have been prescribed asenapine maleate. The FDA’s Adverse Event Reporting System (AERS) has had a significant number of serious allergic (hypersensitivity) reactions reported. These serious allergic reactions were reported in 52 cases and are considered Type 1 hypersensitivity. From the FDA:

“Signs and symptoms of Type I hypersensitivity reactions may include anaphylaxis (a life-threatening allergic reaction), angioedema (swelling of the deeper layers of the skin), low blood pressure, rapid heart rate, swollen tongue, difficulty breathing, wheezing, or rash . . . Several cases reported multiple hypersensitivity reactions occurring at the same time, with some of these reactions occurring after the first dose of Saphris.”

Any such reactions require immediate medical attention.

You can report serious allergic reactions to the FDA’s MedWatch program here.

FYI, asenapine maleate’s label has been changed and updated with this new information.

Saffron used to treat depressionCan Saffron Help with Depression?

Saffron (crocus sativus) is the most expensive spice by weight and is integral in French bouillabaisse. And someone asked me this week, “Can saffron help with depression?” Initially, I did a search on the Alternative Medicine Index at the University of Maryland Medical Center and turned up nothing. This alternative index lists most everything so my immediate answer to “can saffron help with depression,” was no.

However, I may have spoken slightly too soon.

Upon closer inspection I did find one study that asserts, in treating mild-to-moderate depression:

“Saffron petal was significantly more effective than placebo and was found to be equally efficacious compared to fluoxetine and saffron stigma.”

Now, hold on a minute. This is not a good, particularly scientific, study. This is just a review of studies, some of which are very questionable in nature. The above statement is premature at best. All that can really be said (in my opinion) is that saffron deserves further study and that some formulation of it might work.

Prescribing More Than One Drug for Mental IllnessWhy Are People Treated With Many Drugs At Once?

Good question. This is called polypharmacy and most doctors agree it’s a bad thing. The reason polypharmacy is bad is because it greatly increases the chance, and severity, of side effects. (There are other reasons too.) People who have been through rounds of polypharmacy will tell you this is true.

However, doctors continue to prescribe many drugs simultaneously for a condition. This article explores why polypharmacy is so common.

The article may make you take a look at your drug regimen and talk to your doctor about reducing some of your medication. This isn’t always possible, but a good idea if you can get away with it.

Note on Polypharmacy

It’s worth noting some conditions do warrant polypharmacy.

According to the Psychiatric Times article, the best indications for polypharmacy are few and well established:

  1. Bipolar depression
  2. Psychotic or agitated depression
  3. Co-morbid conditions that require independent medications (e.g., ADD and major depression)
  4. When partial response to the first medication requires adding another adjunctively
  5. When there is a combination of psychiatric and pain problems

OK all. Until next week when I will learn more and try to do better.

Saffron pictures provided by Wikipedia.

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