- NEW YORK - For war-torn
refugees in Kosovo, Prozac may be just what the doctor ordered to counter
the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.
- The debilitating condition " which affects veterans,
sexual assault victims, survivors of natural disasters and others who have
suffered large-scale trauma " can leave sufferers with memories "impossible
to forget yet sometimes also impossible to recall," according to the
Veterans Administration's National Center for PTSD.
- Now, a new study in the July British Journal of Psychiatry
found the antidepressant Prozac is as effective in civilians with PTSD
as it is for veterans, a group long treated for the disorder through the
U.S. Veterans Administration.
- Symptoms of PTSD include nightmares, intrusive waking
memories, emotional numbness and frequent bouts of panic and anxiety.
The disorder can also lead to a compromised immune system, an increased
risk of heart disease and a predisposition to drug and alcohol abuse.
- PTSD can be especially difficult for refugees from countries
with traditional, conservative cultures, said Dr. Matthew Friedman, executive
director of the VA center.
- "Trauma doesn't happen in a vacuum," he said,
noting that societal and cultural pressures can make it even harder to
come to grips with horrific memories.
- Therapies in the Works
- But even before the release of the latest research, Prozac
and other drugs such as Zoloft " known as selective serotonin re-uptake
inhibitors " were already on their way to becoming indispensable by
enabling other therapies, experts say.
- If PTSD symptoms are reduced or eliminated through pharmaceuticals,
patients "can participate more in psychotherapy and in dealing with
enormous social issues," said Dr. Jim Jaranson, medical director of
the Center for Victims of Torture in Minnesota.
- Although not specifically approved for that use by the
U.S. Food and Drug Administration, physicians are allowed to prescribe
the drug to patients they think might benefit " especially since many
PTSD sufferers are dual-diagnosed with clinical depression.
- "We aggressively try to treat the symptoms of our
patients and we've found that SSRIs, especially in combination with other
therapies, can be effective," said Dr. Allen Keller, director of the
Bellevue/New York University Program for Survivors of Torture.
- More research needs to be done on this disorder, which
is still relatively new in the medical world. But even as researchers develop
a more nuanced knowledge of PTSD it seems clear that Prozac and other antidepressants
will play a key role in providing those who have lived through horrible
circumstances with the opportunity to move on.
- "SSRIs are the first line of treatment at this point
" anywhere," Jaranson said.