The temptation is to make a joke about timeliness, but too many of us know how crippling (sometimes fatal) a disease depression can be. Or perhaps that knowledge is why we make such jokes. From ABC News, “Controversial RU-486 Studied For Treatment of Psychotic Depression”:
… The drug, a synthetic steroid compound known as mifepristone, is known as RU-486 in Europe, and marketed as Mifeprex in the United States. In combination with misoprostol, the drug was used in 161,000 medical abortions in the United States last year, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
But in clinical trials over the last decade, researchers have been using the drug to treat psychotic depression, a terrifying form of depression that carries a high suicide risk, and for which there are few sure-fire cures. They say the drug acts on the brain’s receptors for cortisol, the so-called “stress hormone.”
The Food and Drug Administration will review an application for use as a treatment for psychotic depression at the end of the year.
“When people are stressed, we know that there is an increase in inflammation and cortisol,” said Kenneth Robbins, medical director of psychiatry at Stoughton Hospital and professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin. “I think this hypothesis is really interesting, and has to do with inflammation and cortisol metabolism, and treating inflammation somehow improves mood.”
As for the potential for RU-486, which is so highly regulated that the distributor — Danco Laboratories — has offices in a secret location so they are not hounded by anti-abortion protesters, Robbins said, “I think we have to keep an open mind.”
What interests Robbins is how steroids, which are used to decrease an inflammatory reaction, play a role in depression. And RU-486 is known to decrease the body’s steroid system.
The raw scientific information here is literally half the story. I’ve left out the personal saga that actually headlined the article: “Woman Buys Abortion Drug Illegally to Stop Psychotic Depression”. Mifepristone is a Schedule 1 drug here in the United States, put in the most tightly controlled class because of what in another drug would be treated as “an unfortunate side effect”. The American profiled in this piece is “uninsurable except in an expensive high-risk pool” ; she travels overseas to spend an estimated $15,000 – $20,000 every year to buy the drugs illicitly which enable her to function well enough to afford her medication. Just another statistic in our neverending War on Some Drugs. But at least we’re getting an FDA review!