New drugs, same inequality

Anthony Maisano, BIPP Intern

A new drug that aims to treat women suffering from postpartum depression has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The drug, technically known as brexanolone but commercially referred to as Zulresso, works in only 48 hours and has a significantly greater impact on postpartum depression relief than the current treatments. However, the drug does come with a catch. Zulresso is delivered by a 60-hour long infusion and is expected to cost over $34,000 before factoring in the cost of a required hospital stay while receiving the infusion. It is unclear yet whether insurance will cover these costs. With the rising costs of healthcare and pharmaceuticals, Zulresso will inhibit lower-income mothers from receiving necessary treatment due to high costs and time commitment. Without proper access to adequate postpartum depression treatment, a mother-child relationship can be seriously strained.


In a 2010 study, it was found that women who come from a lower socioeconomic status were 11 times more likely to have clinically elevated depression scores at three months postpartum. The study concluded that limited access to resources for their child and their mental state led lower-income women to have greater rates of postpartum depression (35 percent versus 17 percent).


It seems as though the cost of this drug and time commitment required ignores a target market: struggling lower income women. These women not only lack the robust insurance needed to cover a treatment like this, but they also lack the time and resources needed to spend over two days in a hospital receiving the infusion. While the benefits of this drug appear to be promising, Zulresso may just pave the way for more mental health inequality for recent mothers.


It is not just the mothers who suffer from scarce access to postpartum depression treatment: the children suffer as well. Children, especially babies, require constant attention and affection; mothers cannot provide that if they are persistently suffering from postpartum depression. A new study found that children who were raised by a mother suffering from postpartum depression are at higher risk of delayed cognitive and language development, disorganized or insecure attachment, higher rates of behavioral problems, and lower grades. By not making postpartum depression treatments accessible to lower-income women, we are negatively influencing the lives of the next generation which will only force this epidemic in a continual, uncontrollable spiral.


While the pursuit of innovation continues to unfold, we must be cognizant of how developments affect all types of people and not blind ourselves by the proposed benefits. Zulresso appears to have the ability to influence the lives of many women and children in such a great way, but our society needs to provide these opportunities, fairly, to everyone. We cannot allow for postpartum depression treatment to merely be accessible to the rich; if it is, we are only grooming the next generation to follow in their parents’ footsteps while not giving every child the fair chance to succeed.

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