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Patients are hopeful about a new pill approved to treat postpartum depression

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

For the first time, the FDA has approved a pill to treat specifically postpartum depression. In the U.S., that condition affects an estimated 400,000 people each year. And for some, it can have very serious consequences. For more on how this new drug might help, I'm joined by Jamille Nagtalon-Ramos. She teaches nursing at Rutgers University. Good morning.

JAMILLE NAGTALON-RAMOS: Good morning. Thank you so much for having me here.

MCCAMMON: Well, first of all, what should we know about this new pill, zuranolone?

NAGTALON-RAMOS: Sure. Zuranolone is a pill taken daily for 14 days. In the studies that were done, benefits were seen as early as three days into treatment. So they've seen rapid response to the treatment for this pill, which is very different from the medications that are out there right now, such as serotonin - SSRIs, serotonin reuptake inhibitors - that may take one to two months to become effective.

MCCAMMON: Yeah, it's so different from long-term treatments you often think of for depression. I mean, how big of a deal might this be for patients that you work with?

NAGTALON-RAMOS: Absolutely. So I'm really hopeful for this drug, given the studies that have been shown. However, the only - one of the things that I'm concerned about is that the trial was completed in 45 days. So I want to know long-term effects of this drug, right? So postpartum is the first year after having a baby. And so I'm thinking about, after 45 days, what does that look like? Is there relapse or is there continued benefits after 45 days?

MCCAMMON: I think when we talk about postpartum depression, we think sometimes about medical treatments, but also about some of the social contexts that causes new moms to struggle. I mean, how do you think about sort of the balance between medical treatment versus other types of changes that might support women during this time?

NAGTALON-RAMOS: Absolutely. I'm a women's health nurse practitioner, and I approached this with a holistic perspective. So when I go into a patient's room, I actually tell them, listen; anywhere in the hospital, there's one patient. But in here, there's you and a baby. Everyone focuses on the baby. It's cute, it's lovely. But you also need help. You also need to recover. You may have had major abdominal surgery from a C-section. And you need to give yourself kindness and grace.

I really try to include the patient's partner, family members or friends that are in the room, and really asking them, how are you going to support this new postpartum patient? So I think there's a lot of factors that are involved with risk for postpartum depression. So I really try to look at the patient holistically and see what the risk factors are and try to address those.

MCCAMMON: What do we know about the cost of this new drug and whether insurance will cover it?

NAGTALON-RAMOS: I don't think we have that information just yet. And that is actually another one of my concerns. Hopefully, this would be - the cost will not be a barrier to accessing the drug for patients. We know that one of the risk factors for postpartum depression is having financial constraints. So we have a drug that was approved in 2019 that is available through intravenous therapy, but the cost is 20 to $30,000. So I'm really hoping that this one would be more affordable for our patients.

MCCAMMON: Quickly, how big of a barrier is coverage for women and new parents?

NAGTALON-RAMOS: Right. So that is definitely something that we are concerned about. Sometimes there's changes in insurance coverage in the postpartum period. So having something that is available to all patients financially would be great.

MCCAMMON: That's Jamille Nagtalon-Ramos, who teaches nursing at Rutgers University. Thank you.

NAGTALON-RAMOS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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