What is Olanzapine?

Introduction

Olanzapine, sold under the trade name Zyprexa among others, is an atypical antipsychotic primarily used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

For schizophrenia, it can be used for both new-onset disease and long-term maintenance. It is taken by mouth or by injection into a muscle.

Common side effects include weight gain, movement disorders, dizziness, feeling tired, constipation, and dry mouth. Other side effects include low blood pressure with standing, allergic reactions, neuroleptic malignant syndrome, high blood sugar, seizures, gynecomastia, erectile dysfunction, and tardive dyskinesia. In older people with dementia, its use increases the risk of death. Use in the later part of pregnancy may result in a movement disorder in the baby for some time after birth. Although how it works is not entirely clear, it blocks dopamine and serotonin receptors.

Brief History

Olanzapine was patented in 1971 and approved for medical use in the United States in 1996. It is available as a generic medication. In 2017, it was the 239th-most commonly prescribed medication in the United States, with more than two million prescriptions. Lilly also markets olanzapine in a fixed-dose combination with fluoxetine as olanzapine/fluoxetine (Symbyax).

Chemical Synthesis

The preparation of olanzapine was first disclosed in a series of patents from Eli Lilly & Co. in the 1990s. In the final two steps, 5-methyl-2-[(2-nitrophenyl)amino]-3-thiophenecarbonitrile was reduced with stannous chloride in ethanol to give the substituted thienobenzodiazepine ring system, and this was treated with methylpiperazine in a mixture of dimethyl sulfoxide and toluene as solvent to produce the drug.

Medical Uses

Schizophrenia

The first-line psychiatric treatment for schizophrenia is antipsychotic medication, with olanzapine being one such medication. Olanzapine appears to be effective in reducing symptoms of schizophrenia, treating acute exacerbations, and treating early-onset schizophrenia. The usefulness of maintenance therapy, however, is difficult to determine, as more than half of people in trials quit before the 6-week completion date. Treatment with olanzapine (like clozapine) may result in increased weight gain and increased glucose and cholesterol levels when compared to most other second-generation antipsychotic drugs used to treat schizophrenia.

Comparison

The UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), the British Association for Psychopharmacology, and the World Federation of Societies for Biological Psychiatry suggest that little difference in effectiveness is seen between antipsychotics in prevention of relapse, and recommend that the specific choice of antipsychotic be chosen based on a person’s preference and the drug’s side-effect profile. The US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality concludes that olanzapine is not different from haloperidol in the treatment of positive symptoms and general psychopathology, or in overall assessment, but that it is superior for the treatment of negative and depressive symptoms. It has a lower risk of causing movement disorders than typical antipsychotics.

In a 2013 comparison of fifteen antipsychotic drugs in schizophrenia, olanzapine was ranked third in efficacy. It was 5% more effective than risperidone (fourth), 24-27% more effective than haloperidol, quetiapine, and aripiprazole, and 33% less effective than clozapine (first). A 2013 review of first-episode schizophrenia concluded that olanzapine is superior to haloperidol in providing a lower discontinuation rate, and in short-term symptom reduction, response rate, negative symptoms, depression, cognitive function, discontinuation due to poor efficacy, and long-term relapse, but not in positive symptoms or on the clinical global impressions (CGI) score. In contrast, pooled second-generation antipsychotics showed superiority to first-generation antipsychotics only against the discontinuation, negative symptoms (with a much larger effect seen among industry- compared to government-sponsored studies), and cognition scores. Olanzapine caused less extrapyramidal side effects and less akathisia, but caused significantly more weight gain, serum cholesterol increase, and triglyceride increase than haloperidol.

A 2012 review concluded that among ten atypical antipsychotics, only clozapine, olanzapine, and risperidone were better than first-generation antipsychotics. A 2011 review concluded that neither first- nor second-generation antipsychotics produce clinically meaningful changes in CGI scores, but found that olanzapine and amisulpride produce larger effects on the PANSS and BPRS batteries than five other second-generation antipsychotics or pooled first-generation antipsychotics. A 2010 Cochrane systematic review found that olanzapine may have a slight advantage in effectiveness when compared to aripiprazole, quetiapine, risperidone, and ziprasidone. No differences in effectiveness were detected when comparing olanzapine to amisulpride and clozapine. A 2014 meta-analysis of nine published trials having minimum duration six months and median duration 52 weeks concluded that olanzapine, quetiapine, and risperidone had better effects on cognitive function than amisulpride and haloperidol.

Bipolar Disorder

Olanzapine is recommended by NICE as a first-line therapy for the treatment of acute mania in bipolar disorder. Other recommended first-line treatments are haloperidol, quetiapine, and risperidone. It is recommended in combination with fluoxetine as a first-line therapy for acute bipolar depression, and as a second-line treatment by itself for the maintenance treatment of bipolar disorder.

The Network for Mood and Anxiety Treatments recommends olanzapine as a first-line maintenance treatment in bipolar disorder and the combination of olanzapine with fluoxetine as second-line treatment for bipolar depression.

A review on the efficacy of olanzapine as maintenance therapy in patients with bipolar disorder was published by Dando & Tohen in 2006. A 2014 meta-analysis concluded that olanzapine with fluoxetine was the most effective among nine treatments for bipolar depression included in the analysis.

Other Uses

Olanzapine may be useful in promoting weight gain in underweight adult outpatients with anorexia nervosa. However, no improvement of psychological symptoms was noted.

Olanzapine has been shown to be helpful in addressing a range of anxiety and depressive symptoms in individuals with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorders, and has since been used in the treatment of a range of mood and anxiety disorders. Olanzapine is no less effective than lithium or valproate and more effective than placebo in treating bipolar disorder. It has also been used for Tourette syndrome and stuttering.

Olanzapine has been studied for the treatment of hyperactivity, aggressive behaviour, and repetitive behaviours in autism.

Olanzapine is frequently prescribed off-label for the treatment of insomnia, including difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. The daytime sedation experienced with olanzapine is generally comparable to quetiapine and lurasidone, which is a frequent complaint in clinical trials. In some cases, the sedation due to olanzapine impaired the ability of people to wake up at a consistent time every day. Some evidence of efficacy for treating insomnia is seen, but long-term studies (especially for safety) are still needed.

Olanzapine has been recommended to be used in antiemetic regimens in people receiving chemotherapy that has a high risk for vomiting.

Specific Populations

Pregnancy and Lactation

Olanzapine is associated with the highest placental exposure of any atypical antipsychotic. Despite this, the available evidence suggests it is safe during pregnancy, although the evidence is insufficiently strong to say anything with a high degree of confidence. Olanzapine is associated with weight gain, which according to recent studies, may put olanzapine-treated patients’ offspring at a heightened risk for neural tube defects (e.g. spina bifida). Breastfeeding in women taking olanzapine is advised against because olanzapine is secreted in breast milk, with one study finding that the exposure to the infant is about 1.8% that of the mother.

Elderly

Citing an increased risk of stroke, in 2004, the Committee on the Safety of Medicines in the UK issued a warning that olanzapine and risperidone, both atypical antipsychotic medications, should not be given to elderly patients with dementia. In the US, olanzapine comes with a black box warning for increased risk of death in elderly patients. It is not approved for use in patients with dementia-related psychosis. A BBC investigation in June 2008 found that this advice was being widely ignored by British doctors. Evidence suggested that the elderly are more likely to experience weight gain on olanzapine compared to aripiprazole and risperidone.

Adverse Effects

Refer to Adverse Effects of Olanzapine.

The principal side effect of olanzapine is weight gain, which may be profound in some cases and/or associated with derangement in blood-lipid and blood-sugar profiles (see section metabolic effects). A 2013 meta-analysis of the efficacy and tolerance of 15 antipsychotic drugs (APDs) found that it had the highest propensity for causing weight gain out of the 15 APDs compared with an SMD of 0.74. Extrapyramidal side effects, although potentially serious, are infrequent to rare from olanzapine, but may include tremors and muscle rigidity.

It is not recommended to be used by IM injection in acute myocardial infarction, bradycardia, recent heart surgery, severe hypotension, sick sinus syndrome, and unstable angina.

Several patient groups are at a heightened risk of side effects from olanzapine and antipsychotics in general. Olanzapine may produce nontrivial high blood sugar in people with diabetes mellitus. Likewise, the elderly are at a greater risk of falls and accidental injury. Young males appear to be at heightened risk of dystonic reactions, although these are relatively rare with olanzapine. Most antipsychotics, including olanzapine, may disrupt the body’s natural thermoregulatory systems, thus permitting excursions to dangerous levels when situations (exposure to heat, strenuous exercise) occur.

Other side effects include galactorrhoea, amenorrhea, gynecomastia, and erectile dysfunction (impotence).

Paradoxical Effects

Olanzapine is used therapeutically to treat serious mental illness. Occasionally, it can have the opposite effect and provoke serious paradoxical reactions in a small subgroup of people, causing unusual changes in personality, thoughts, or behaviour; hallucinations and excessive thoughts about suicide have also been linked to olanzapine use.

Drug-Induced OCD

Many different types of medication can create or induce pure obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in patients who have never had symptoms before. A new chapter about OCD in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (2013) now specifically includes drug-induced OCD.

Atypical antipsychotics (second-generation antipsychotics), such as olanzapine (Zyprexa), have been proven to induce de novo OCD in patients.

Metabolic Effects

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires all atypical antipsychotics to include a warning about the risk of developing hyperglycaemia and diabetes, both of which are factors in the metabolic syndrome. These effects may be related to the drugs’ ability to induce weight gain, although some reports have been made of metabolic changes in the absence of weight gain. Studies have indicated that olanzapine carries a greater risk of causing and exacerbating diabetes than another commonly prescribed atypical antipsychotic, risperidone. Of all the atypical antipsychotics, olanzapine is one of the most likely to induce weight gain based on various measures. The effect is dose dependent in humans and animal models of olanzapine-induced metabolic side effects. There are some case reports of olanzapine-induced diabetic ketoacidosis. Olanzapine may decrease insulin sensitivity, though one 3-week study seems to refute this. It may also increase triglyceride levels.

Despite weight gain, a large multicentre, randomised National Institute of Mental Health study found that olanzapine was better at controlling symptoms because patients were more likely to remain on olanzapine than the other drugs. One small, open-label, nonrandomised study suggests that taking olanzapine by orally dissolving tablets may induce less weight gain, but this has not been substantiated in a blinded experimental setting.

Post-Injection Delirium/Sedation Syndrome

Postinjection delirium/sedation syndrome (PDSS) is a rare syndrome that is specific to the long-acting injectable formulation of olanzapine, olanzapine pamoate. The incidence of PDSS with olanzapine pamoate is estimated to be 0.07% of administrations, and is unique among other second-generation, long-acting antipsychotics (e.g. paliperidone palmitate), which do not appear to carry the same risk.[70] PDSS is characterised by symptoms of delirium (e.g. confusion, difficulty speaking, and uncoordinated movements) and sedation. Most people with PDSS exhibit both delirium and sedation (83%). Although less specific to PDSS, a majority of cases (67%) involved a feeling of general discomfort. PDSS may occur due to accidental injection and absorption of olanzapine pamoate into the bloodstream, where it can act more rapidly, as opposed to slowly distributing out from muscle tissue. Using the proper, intramuscular-injection technique for olanzapine pamoate helps to decrease the risk of PDSS, though it does not eliminate it entirely. This is why the FDA advises that people who are injected with olanzapine pamoate be watched for 3 hours after administration, in the event that PDSS occurs.

Animal Toxicology

Olanzapine has demonstrated carcinogenic effects in multiple studies when exposed chronically to female mice and rats, but not male mice and rats. The tumours found were in either the liver or mammary glands of the animals.

Discontinuation

The British National Formulary recommends a gradual withdrawal when discontinuing antipsychotics to avoid acute withdrawal syndrome or rapid relapse. Symptoms of withdrawal commonly include nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. Other symptoms may include restlessness, increased sweating, and trouble sleeping. Less commonly, vertigo, numbness, or muscle pains may occur. Symptoms generally resolve after a short time.

Tentative evidence indicates that discontinuation of antipsychotics can result in psychosis. It may also result in reoccurrence of the condition that is being treated. Rarely, tardive dyskinesia can occur when the medication is stopped.

Overdose

Symptoms of an overdose include tachycardia, agitation, dysarthria, decreased consciousness, and coma. Death has been reported after an acute overdose of 450 mg, but also survival after an acute overdose of 2000 mg. Fatalities generally have occurred with olanzapine plasma concentrations greater than 1000 ng/mL post mortem, with concentrations up to 5200 ng/mL recorded (though this might represent confounding by dead tissue, which may release olanzapine into the blood upon death). No specific antidote for olanzapine overdose is known, and even physicians are recommended to call a certified poison control centre for information on the treatment of such a case. Olanzapine is considered moderately toxic in overdose, more toxic than quetiapine, aripiprazole, and the SSRIs, and less toxic than the monoamine oxidase inhibitors and tricyclic antidepressants.

Interactions

Drugs or agents that increase the activity of the enzyme CYP1A2, notably tobacco smoke, may significantly increase hepatic first-pass clearance of olanzapine; conversely, drugs that inhibit CYP1A2 activity (examples: ciprofloxacin, fluvoxamine) may reduce olanzapine clearance. Carbamazepine, a known enzyme inducer, has decreased the concentration/dose ration of olanzapine by 33% compared to olanzapine alone. Another enzyme inducer, ritonavir, has also been shown to decrease the body’s exposure to olanzapine, due to its induction of the enzymes CYP1A2 and uridine 5′-diphospho-glucuronosyltransferase (UGT). Probenecid increases the total exposure (area under the curve) and maximum plasma concentration of olanzapine. Although olanzapine’s metabolism includes the minor metabolic pathway of CYP2D6, the presence of the CYP2D6 inhibitor fluoxetine does not have a clinically significant effect on olanzapine’s clearance.

Pharmacology

Pharmacodynamics

Olanzapine has a higher affinity for 5-HT2A serotonin receptors than D2 dopamine receptors, which is a common property of most atypical antipsychotics, aside from the benzamide antipsychotics such as amisulpride along with the nonbenzamides aripiprazole, brexpiprazole, blonanserin, cariprazine, melperone, and perospirone.

Olanzapine had the highest affinity of any second-generation antipsychotic towards the P-glycoprotein in one in vitro study. P-glycoprotein transports a myriad of drugs across a number of different biological membranes (found in numerous body systems) including the blood-brain barrier (a semipermeable membrane that filters the contents of blood prior to it reaching the brain); P-GP inhibition could mean that less brain exposure to olanzapine results from this interaction with the P-glycoprotein. A relatively large quantity of commonly encountered foods and medications inhibit P-GP, and pharmaceuticals fairly commonly are either substrates of P-GP, or inhibit its action; both substrates and inhibitors of P-GP effectively increase the permeability of the blood-brain barrier to P-GP substrates and subsequently increase the central activity of the substrate, while reducing the local effects on the GI tract. The mediation of olanzapine in the central nervous system by P-GP means that any other substance or drug that interacts with P-GP increases the risk for toxic accumulations of both olanzapine and the other drug.

Olanzapine is a potent antagonist of the muscarinic M3 receptor, which may underlie its diabetogenic side effects. Additionally, it also exhibits a relatively low affinity for serotonin 5-HT1, GABAA, beta-adrenergic receptors, and benzodiazepine binding sites.

The mode of action of olanzapine’s antipsychotic activity is unknown. It may involve antagonism of dopamine and serotonin receptors. Antagonism of dopamine receptors is associated with extrapyramidal effects such as tardive dyskinesia (TD), and with therapeutic effects. Antagonism of muscarinic acetylcholine receptors is associated with anticholinergic side effects such as dry mouth and constipation; in addition, it may suppress or reduce the emergence of extrapyramidal effects for the duration of treatment, but it offers no protection against the development of TD. In common with other second-generation (atypical) antipsychotics, olanzapine poses a relatively low risk of extrapyramidal side effects including TD, due to its higher affinity for the 5HT2A receptor over the D2 receptor.

Antagonizing H1 histamine receptors causes sedation and may cause weight gain, although antagonistic actions at serotonin 5-HT2C and dopamine D2 receptors have also been associated with weight gain and appetite stimulation.

Pharmacokinetics

Metabolism

Olanzapine is metabolized by the cytochrome P450 (CYP) system; principally by isozyme 1A2 (CYP1A2) and to a lesser extent by CYP2D6. By these mechanisms, more than 40% of the oral dose, on average, is removed by the hepatic first-pass effect. Clearance of olanzapine appears to vary by sex; women have roughly 25% lower clearance than men. Clearance of olanzapine also varies by race; in self-identified African Americans or Blacks, olanzapine’s clearance was 26% higher. A difference in the clearance does not apparent between individuals identifying as Caucasian, Chinese, or Japanese. Routine, pharmacokinetic monitoring of olanzapine plasma levels is generally unwarranted, though unusual circumstances (e.g. the presence of drug-drug interactions) or a desire to determine if patients are taking their medicine may prompt its use.

Chemistry

Olanzapine is unusual in having four well-characterised crystalline polymorphs and many hydrated forms.

Society and Culture

Regulatory Status

Olanzapine is approved by the US FDA for:

  • Treatment – in combination with fluoxetine – of depressive episodes associated with bipolar disorder (December 2003).
  • Long-term treatment of bipolar I disorder (January 2004).
  • Long-term treatment – in combination with fluoxetine – of resistant depression (March 2009).
  • Oral formulation: acute and maintenance treatment of schizophrenia in adults, acute treatment of manic or mixed episodes associated with bipolar I disorder (monotherapy and in combination with lithium or sodium valproate).
  • Intramuscular formulation: acute agitation associated with schizophrenia and bipolar I mania in adults.
  • Oral formulation combined with fluoxetine: treatment of acute depressive episodes associated with bipolar I disorder in adults, or treatment of acute, resistant depression in adults.
  • Treatment of the manifestations of psychotic disorders (September 1996 to March 2000).
  • Short-term treatment of acute manic episodes associated with bipolar I disorder (March 2000).
  • Short-term treatment of schizophrenia instead of the management of the manifestations of psychotic disorders (March 2000).
  • Maintaining treatment response in schizophrenic patients who had been stable for about eight weeks and were then followed for a period of up to eight months (November 2000).

The drug became generic in 2011.

Sales of Zyprexa in 2008 were $2.2 billion in the US and $4.7 billion worldwide.

Controversy and Litigation

Eli Lilly has faced many lawsuits from people who claimed they developed diabetes or other diseases after taking Zyprexa, as well as by various governmental entities, insurance companies, and others. Lilly produced a large number of documents as part of the discovery phase of this litigation, which started in 2004; the documents were ruled to be confidential by a judge and placed under seal, and later themselves became the subject of litigation.

In 2006, Lilly paid $700 million to settle around 8,000 of these lawsuits, and in early 2007, Lilly settled around 18,000 suits for $500 million, which brought the total Lilly had paid to settle suits related to the drug to $1.2 billion.

A December 2006 New York Times article based on leaked company documents concluded that the company had engaged in a deliberate effort to downplay olanzapine’s side effects. The company denied these allegations and stated that the article had been based on cherry-picked documents. The documents were provided to the Times by Jim Gottstein, a lawyer who represented mentally ill patients, who obtained them from a doctor, David Egilman, who was serving as an expert consultant on the case. After the documents were leaked to online peer-to-peer, file-sharing networks by Will Hall and others in the psychiatric survivors movement, who obtained copies, in 2007 Lilly filed a protection order to stop the dissemination of some of the documents, which Judge Jack B. Weinstein of the Brooklyn Federal District Court granted. Judge Weinstein also criticized the New York Times reporter, Gottstein, and Egilman in the ruling. The Times of London also received the documents and reported that as early as 1998, Lilly considered the risk of drug-induced obesity to be a “top threat” to Zyprexa sales. On 09 October 2000, senior Lilly research physician Robert Baker noted that an academic advisory board to which he belonged was “quite impressed by the magnitude of weight gain on olanzapine and implications for glucose.”

Lilly had threatened Egilman with criminal contempt charges regarding the documents he took and provided to reporters; in September 2007, he agreed to pay Lilly $100,000 in return for the company’s agreement to drop the threat of charges.

In September 2008, Judge Weinstein issued an order to make public Lilly’s internal documents about the drug in a different suit brought by insurance companies, pension funds, and other payors.

In March 2008, Lilly settled a suit with the state of Alaska, and in October 2008, Lilly agreed to pay $62 million to 32 states and the District of Columbia to settle suits brought under state consumer protection laws.

In 2009, Eli Lilly pleaded guilty to a US federal criminal misdemeanour charge of illegally marketing Zyprexa for off-label use and agreed to pay $1.4 billion. The settlement announcement stated “Eli Lilly admits that between September 1999 and 31 March 2001, the company promoted Zyprexa in elderly populations as treatment for dementia, including Alzheimer’s dementia. Eli Lilly has agreed to pay a $515 million criminal fine and to forfeit an additional $100 million in assets.”

Trade Names

Olanzapine is generic and available under many trade names worldwide.

Dosage Forms

Olanzapine is marketed in a number of countries, with tablets ranging from 2.5 to 20 mg. Zyprexa (and generic olanzapine) is available as an orally disintegrating “wafer”, which rapidly dissolves in saliva. It is also available in 10-mg vials for intramuscular injection.

Research

Olanzapine has been studied as an antiemetic, particularly for the control of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV).

In general, olanzapine appears to be about as effective as aprepitant for the prevention of CINV, though some concerns remain for its use in this population. For example, concomitant use of metoclopramide or haloperidol increases the risk for extrapyramidal symptoms. Otherwise, olanzapine appears to be fairly well tolerated for this indication, with somnolence being the most common side effect.

Olanzapine has been considered as part of an early psychosis approach for schizophrenia. The Prevention through Risk Identification, Management, and Education study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and Eli Lilly, tested the hypothesis that olanzapine might prevent the onset of psychosis in people at very high risk for schizophrenia. The study examined 60 patients with prodromal schizophrenia, who were at an estimated risk of 36-54% of developing schizophrenia within a year, and treated half with olanzapine and half with placebo. In this study, patients receiving olanzapine did not have a significantly lower risk of progressing to psychosis. Olanzapine was effective for treating the prodromal symptoms, but was associated with significant weight gain.

What is Antidepressant Discontinuation Syndrome?

Introduction

Antidepressant discontinuation syndrome (also known antidepressant withdrawal syndrome or SSRI discontinuation syndrome), is a condition that can occur following the interruption, reduction, or discontinuation of antidepressant medication following its continuous use of at least a month.

The symptoms may include flu-like symptoms, trouble sleeping, nausea, poor balance, sensory changes, anxiety, and depression. The problem usually begins within three days and may last for several months. Rarely psychosis may occur.

A discontinuation syndrome can occur after stopping any antidepressant including selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin–norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs). The risk is greater among those who have taken the medication for longer and when the medication in question has a short half-life. The underlying reason for its occurrence is unclear. The diagnosis is based on the symptoms.

Methods of prevention include gradually decreasing the dose among those who wish to stop, though it is possible for symptoms to occur with tapering. Treatment may include restarting the medication and slowly decreasing the dose. People may also be switched to the long acting antidepressant fluoxetine which can then be gradually decreased.

Approximately 20-50% of people who suddenly stop an antidepressant develop an antidepressant discontinuation syndrome. The condition is generally not serious, though about half of people with symptoms describe them as severe. Some restart antidepressants due to the severity of the symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms

People with antidepressant discontinuation syndrome have been on an antidepressant for at least four weeks and have recently stopped taking the medication, whether abruptly, after a fast taper, or each time the medication is reduced on a slow taper. Commonly reported symptoms include flu-like symptoms (nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, headaches, sweating) and sleep disturbances (insomnia, nightmares, constant sleepiness). Sensory and movement disturbances have also been reported, including imbalance, tremors, vertigo, dizziness, and electric-shock-like experiences in the brain, often described by people who have them as “brain zaps”. These “brain zaps” have been described as an electric shock felt in the skull, potentially triggered by lateral eye movement, and at times accompanied by vertigo, pain, or dissociative symptoms. Some individuals consider it as a pleasant experience akin to an orgasm, however it is more often reported as an unpleasant experience that interferes with daily function. Mood disturbances such as dysphoria, anxiety, or agitation are also reported, as are cognitive disturbances such as confusion and hyperarousal.

In cases associated with sudden discontinuation of MAO inhibitors, acute psychosis has been observed. Over fifty symptoms have been reported.

A 2009 Advisory Committee to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that online anecdotal reports of discontinuation syndrome related to duloxetine included severe symptoms and exceeded prevalence of both paroxetine and venlafaxine reports by over 250% (although acknowledged this may have been influenced by duloxetine being a much newer drug). It also found that the safety information provided by the manufacturer not only neglected important information about managing discontinuation syndrome, but also explicitly advised against opening capsules, a practice required to gradually taper dosage.

Duration

Most cases of discontinuation syndrome may last between one and four weeks and resolve on their own. Occasionally symptoms can last up to one year. They typically resolve within a day of restoring the medication. Paroxetine and venlafaxine seem to be particularly difficult to discontinue, and prolonged withdrawal syndrome (post-acute-withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS) lasting over 18 months has been reported with paroxetine.

Mechanism

The underlying reason for its occurrence is unclear, though the syndrome appears similar to withdrawal from other psychotropic drugs such as benzodiazepines.

Prevention and Treatment

In some cases, withdrawal symptoms may be prevented by taking medication as directed, and when discontinuing, doing so gradually, although symptoms may appear while tapering. When discontinuing an antidepressant with a short half-life, switching to a drug with a longer half-life (e.g. fluoxetine or citalopram) and then tapering, and eventually discontinuing, from that drug can decrease the severity of symptoms in some cases.

Treatment is dependent on the severity of the discontinuation reaction and whether or not further antidepressant treatment is warranted. In cases where further antidepressant treatment is prescribed, then the only option suggested may be restarting the antidepressant. If antidepressants are no longer required, treatment depends on symptom severity. If symptoms of discontinuation are severe, or do not respond to symptom management, the antidepressant can be reinstated and then withdrawn more cautiously, or by switching to a drug with a longer half life, (such as Prozac), and then tapering and discontinuing that drug. In severe cases, hospitalisation may be required.

Pregnancy and Newborns

Antidepressants, including SSRIs, can cross the placenta and have the potential to affect the foetus and newborn, including an increased chance of miscarriage, presenting a dilemma for pregnant women to decide whether to continue to take antidepressants at all, or if they do, considering if tapering and discontinuing during pregnancy could have a protective effect for the newborn.

Postnatal adaptation syndrome (PNAS) (originally called “neonatal behavioural syndrome”, “poor neonatal adaptation syndrome”, or “neonatal withdrawal syndrome”) was first noticed in 1973 in newborns of mothers taking antidepressants; symptoms in the infant include irritability, rapid breathing, hypothermia, and blood sugar problems. The symptoms usually develop from birth to days after delivery and usually resolve within days or weeks of delivery.

Culture and History

Antidepressant discontinuation symptoms were first reported with imipramine, the first tricyclic antidepressant (TCA), in the late 1950s, and each new class of antidepressants has brought reports of similar conditions, including monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), SSRIs, and SNRIs. As of 2001, at least 21 different antidepressants, covering all the major classes, were known to cause discontinuation syndromes. The problem has been poorly studied, and most of the literature has been case reports or small clinical studies; incidence is hard to determine and controversial.

With the explosion of use and interest in SSRIs in the late 1980s and early 1990s, focused especially on Prozac, interest grew as well in discontinuation syndromes. Some of the symptoms emerged from discussion boards where people with depression discussed their experiences with the disease and their medications; “brain zaps” or “brain shivers” was one symptom that emerged via these websites.

Heightened media attention and continuing public concerns led to the formation of an expert group on the safety of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors in England, to evaluate all the research available prior to 2004. The group determined that the incidence of discontinuation symptoms are between 5% and 49%, depending on the particular SSRI, the length of time on the medicine and abrupt versus gradual cessation.

With the lack of a definition based on consensus criteria for the syndrome, a panel met in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1997 to form a draft definition, which other groups continued to refine.

In the late 1990s, some investigators thought that the fact that symptoms emerged when antidepressants were discontinued might mean that antidepressants were causing addiction, and some used the term “withdrawal syndrome” to describe the symptoms. While people taking antidepressants do not commonly exhibit drug-seeking behaviour, stopping antidepressants leads to similar symptoms as found in drug withdrawal from benzodiazapines, and other psychotropic drugs. As such, some researchers advocate the term withdrawal over discontinuation, to communicate the similar physiological dependence and negative outcomes. Due to pressure from pharmaceutical companies who make anti-depressants, the term “withdrawal syndrome” is no longer used by drug makers, and thus, most doctors, due to concerns that they may be compared to other drugs more commonly associated with withdrawal.

2013 Class Action Lawsuit

In 2013, a proposed class action lawsuit, Jennifer L Saavedra v. Eli Lilly and Company, was brought against Eli Lilly claiming that the Cymbalta label omitted important information about “brain zaps” and other symptoms upon cessation. Eli Lilly moved for dismissal per the “learned intermediary doctrine” as the doctors prescribing the drug were warned of the potential problems and are an intermediary medical judgement between Lilly and patients; in December 2013 Lilly’s motion to dismiss was denied.

Research

The mechanisms of antidepressant withdrawal syndrome have not yet been conclusively identified. The leading hypothesis is that after the antidepressant is discontinued, there is a temporary, but in some cases, long-lasting, deficiency in the brain of one or more essential neurotransmitters that regulate mood, such as serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid, and since neurotransmitters are an interrelated system, dysregulation of one affects the others.

What is Fluoxetine?

Introduction

Fluoxetine, sold under the brand names Prozac and Sarafem among others, is an antidepressant of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) class. It is used for the treatment of major depressive disorder, obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), bulimia nervosa, panic disorder, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder. It is also approved for treatment of major depressive disorder in adolescents and children 8 years of age and over. It has also been used to treat premature ejaculation. Fluoxetine is taken by mouth.

Common side effects include indigestion, trouble sleeping, sexual dysfunction, loss of appetite, dry mouth, and rash. Serious side effects include serotonin syndrome, mania, seizures, an increased risk of suicidal behaviour in people under 25 years old, and an increased risk of bleeding. Discontinuation syndrome is less likely to occur with fluoxetine than with other antidepressants, but it still happens in many cases. Fluoxetine taken during pregnancy is associated with significant increase in congenital heart defects in the newborns. It has been suggested that fluoxetine therapy may be continued during breastfeeding if it was used during pregnancy or if other antidepressants were ineffective. Its mechanism of action is unknown, but some hypothesize that it is related to serotonin activity in the brain.

Fluoxetine was discovered by Eli Lilly and Company in 1972, and entered medical use in 1986. It is on the World Health Organisation’s List of Essential Medicines. It is available as a generic medication. In 2018, it was the 23rd most commonly prescribed medication in the United States, with more than 25 million prescriptions. Lilly also markets fluoxetine in a fixed-dose combination with olanzapine as olanzapine/fluoxetine (Symbyax).

Brief History

The work which eventually led to the discovery of fluoxetine began at Eli Lilly and Company in 1970 as a collaboration between Bryan Molloy and Robert Rathbun. It was known at that time that the antihistamine diphenhydramine shows some antidepressant-like properties. 3-Phenoxy-3-phenylpropylamine, a compound structurally similar to diphenhydramine, was taken as a starting point, and Molloy synthesized a series of dozens of its derivatives. Hoping to find a derivative inhibiting only serotonin reuptake, an Eli Lilly scientist, David T. Wong, proposed to retest the series for the in vitro reuptake of serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. This test, carried out by Jong-Sir Horng in May 1972, showed the compound later named fluoxetine to be the most potent and selective inhibitor of serotonin reuptake of the series. Wong published the first article about fluoxetine in 1974. A year later, it was given the official chemical name fluoxetine and the Eli Lilly and Company gave it the trade name Prozac. In February 1977, Dista Products Company, a division of Eli Lilly & Company, filed an Investigational New Drug application to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for fluoxetine.

Fluoxetine appeared on the Belgian market in 1986. In the US, the FDA gave its final approval in December 1987, and a month later Eli Lilly began marketing Prozac; annual sales in the US reached $350 million within a year. Worldwide sales eventually reached a peak of $2.6 billion a year.

Lilly tried several product line extension strategies, including extended release formulations and paying for clinical trials to test the efficacy and safety of fluoxetine in premenstrual dysphoric disorder and rebranding fluoxetine for that indication as “Sarafem” after it was approved by the FDA in 2000, following the recommendation of an advisory committee in 1999. The invention of using fluoxetine to treat PMDD was made by Richard Wurtman at MIT; the patent was licensed to his startup, Interneuron, which in turn sold it to Lilly.

To defend its Prozac revenue from generic competition, Lilly also fought a five-year, multimillion-dollar battle in court with the generic company Barr Pharmaceuticals to protect its patents on fluoxetine, and lost the cases for its line-extension patents, other than those for Sarafem, opening fluoxetine to generic manufacturers starting in 2001. When Lilly’s patent expired in August 2001, generic drug competition decreased Lilly’s sales of fluoxetine by 70% within two months.

In 2000 an investment bank had projected that annual sales of Sarafem could reach $250M/year. Sales of Sarafem reached about $85M/year in 2002, and in that year Lilly sold its assets connected with the drug for $295M to Galen Holdings, a small Irish pharmaceutical company specializing in dermatology and women’s health that had a sales force tasked to gynaecologists’ offices; analysts found the deal sensible since the annual sales of Sarafem made a material financial difference to Galen, but not to Lilly.

Bringing Sarafem to market harmed Lilly’s reputation in some quarters. The diagnostic category of PMDD was controversial since it was first proposed in 1987, and Lilly’s role in retaining it in the appendix of the DSM-IV-TR, the discussions for which got under way in 1998, has been criticised. Lilly was criticised for inventing a disease in order to make money, and for not innovating but rather just seeking ways to continue making money from existing drugs. It was also criticised by the FDA and groups concerned with women’s health for marketing Sarafem too aggressively when it was first launched; the campaign included a television commercial featuring a harried woman at the grocery store who asks herself if she has PMDD.

Medical Uses

Fluoxetine is frequently used to treat major depressive disorder, OCD, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bulimia nervosa, panic disorder, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and trichotillomania. It has also been used for cataplexy, obesity, and alcohol dependence, as well as binge eating disorder. Fluoxetine seems to be ineffective for social anxiety disorder. Studies do not support a benefit in children with autism, though there is but tentative evidence for its benefit in adult autism.

Depression

Efficacy of fluoxetine for acute and maintenance treatment of major depressive disorder in adults as well as children and adolescents (8 to 18 years) was established in multiple clinical trials. In addition to being effective for depression in 6-week long double-blind controlled trials, fluoxetine was better than placebo for the prevention of depression recurrence, when the patients, who originally responded to fluoxetine, were treated for a further 38 weeks. Efficacy of fluoxetine for geriatric as well as paediatric depression was also demonstrated in placebo-controlled trials.

Fluoxetine is as effective as tricyclic antidepressants but is better tolerated. It is less effective than sertraline, mirtazapine, and venlafaxine. According to a network analysis of clinical trials, fluoxetine may belong to the group of less effective antidepressants; however, its acceptability is higher than any other antidepressant, except agomelatine.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

The efficacy of fluoxetine in the treatment of OCD was demonstrated in two randomised multicentre phase III clinical trials. The pooled results of these trials demonstrated that 47% of completers treated with the highest dose were “much improved” or “very much improved” after 13 weeks of treatment, compared to 11% in the placebo arm of the trial. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry state that SSRIs, including fluoxetine, should be used as first-line therapy in children, along with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), for the treatment of moderate to severe OCD.

Panic Disorder

The efficacy of fluoxetine in the treatment of panic disorder was demonstrated in two 12-week randomised multicentre phase III clinical trials that enrolled patients diagnosed with panic disorder, with or without agoraphobia. In the first trial, 42% of subjects in the fluoxetine-treated arm were free of panic attacks at the end of the study, vs. 28% in the placebo arm. In the second trial, 62% of fluoxetine treated patients were free of panic attacks at the end of the study, vs. 44% in the placebo arm.

Bulimia Nervosa

A 2011 systematic review discussed seven trials which compared fluoxetine to a placebo in the treatment of bulimia nervosa, six of which found a statistically significant reduction in symptoms such as vomiting and binge eating. However, no difference was observed between treatment arms when fluoxetine and psychotherapy were compared to psychotherapy alone.

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder

Fluoxetine is used to treat premenstrual dysphoric disorder, a condition where individuals have affective and somatic symptoms monthly during the luteal phase of menstruation. Taking fluoxetine 20 mg/d can be effective in treating PMDD, though doses of 10mg/d have also been prescribed effectively.

Impulsive Aggression

Fluoxetine is considered a first-line medication for the treatment of impulsive aggression of low intensity. Fluoxetine reduced low intensity aggressive behaviour in patients in intermittent aggressive disorder and borderline personality disorder. Fluoxetine also reduced acts of domestic violence in alcoholics with a history of such behaviour.

Special Populations

In children and adolescents, fluoxetine is the antidepressant of choice due to tentative evidence favouring its efficacy and tolerability. In pregnancy, fluoxetine is considered a category C drug by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Evidence supporting an increased risk of major foetal malformations resulting from fluoxetine exposure is limited, although the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) of the UK has warned prescribers and patients of the potential for fluoxetine exposure in the first trimester (during organogenesis, formation of the foetal organs) to cause a slight increase in the risk of congenital cardiac malformations in the newborn. Furthermore, an association between fluoxetine use during the first trimester and an increased risk of minor foetal malformations was observed in one study.

However, a systematic review and meta-analysis of 21 studies – published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada – concluded:

“the apparent increased risk of fetal cardiac malformations associated with maternal use of fluoxetine has recently been shown also in depressed women who deferred SSRI therapy in pregnancy, and therefore most probably reflects an ascertainment bias. Overall, women who are treated with fluoxetine during the first trimester of pregnancy do not appear to have an increased risk of major fetal malformations.”

Per the FDA, infants exposed to SSRIs in late pregnancy may have an increased risk for persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn. Limited data support this risk, but the FDA recommends physicians consider tapering SSRIs such as fluoxetine during the third trimester. A 2009 review recommended against fluoxetine as a first-line SSRI during lactation, stating, “Fluoxetine should be viewed as a less-preferred SSRI for breastfeeding mothers, particularly with newborn infants, and in those mothers who consumed fluoxetine during gestation.” Sertraline is often the preferred SSRI during pregnancy due to the relatively minimal foetal exposure observed and its safety profile while breastfeeding.

Adverse Effects

Side effects observed in fluoxetine-treated persons in clinical trials with an incidence >5% and at least twice as common in fluoxetine-treated persons compared to those who received a placebo pill include abnormal dreams, abnormal ejaculation, anorexia, anxiety, asthenia, diarrhoea, dry mouth, dyspepsia, flu syndrome, impotence, insomnia, decreased libido, nausea, nervousness, pharyngitis, rash, sinusitis, somnolence, sweating, tremor, vasodilation, and yawning. Fluoxetine is considered the most stimulating of the SSRIs (that is, it is most prone to causing insomnia and agitation). It also appears to be the most prone of the SSRIs for producing dermatologic reactions (e.g. urticaria (hives), rash, itchiness, etc.).

Sexual Dysfunction

Sexual dysfunction, including loss of libido, anorgasmia, lack of vaginal lubrication, and erectile dysfunction, are some of the most commonly encountered adverse effects of treatment with fluoxetine and other SSRIs. While early clinical trials suggested a relatively low rate of sexual dysfunction, more recent studies in which the investigator actively inquires about sexual problems suggest that the incidence is >70%. On the 11th of June 2019 the Pharmacovigilance Risk Assessment Committee of the European Medicines Agency concluded that there is a possible causal association between SSRI use and long-lasting sexual dysfunction that persists despite discontinuation of SSRI, including fluoxetine, and that the labels of these drugs should be updated to include a warning.

Discontinuation Syndrome

Fluoxetine’s longer half-life makes it less common to develop discontinuation syndrome following cessation of therapy, especially when compared to antidepressants with shorter half-lives such as paroxetine. Although gradual dose reductions are recommended with antidepressants with shorter half-lives, tapering may not be necessary with fluoxetine.

Pregnancy

Antidepressant exposure (including fluoxetine) is associated with shorter average duration of pregnancy (by three days), increased risk of preterm delivery (by 55%), lower birth weight (by 75 g), and lower Apgar scores (by <0.4 points). There is 30-36% increase in congenital heart defects among children whose mothers were prescribed fluoxetine during pregnancy, with fluoxetine use in the first trimester associated with 38-65% increase in septal heart defects.

Suicide

In 2007 the FDA required all antidepressants to carry a black box warning stating that antidepressants increase the risk of suicide in people younger than 25. This warning is based on statistical analyses conducted by two independent groups of FDA experts that found a 2-fold increase of the suicidal ideation and behaviour in children and adolescents, and 1.5-fold increase of suicidality in the 18-24 age group. The suicidality was slightly decreased for those older than 24, and statistically significantly lower in the 65 and older group. This analysis was criticized by Donald Klein, who noted that suicidality, that is suicidal ideation and behaviour, is not necessarily a good surrogate marker for completed suicide, and it is still possible, while unproven, that antidepressants may prevent actual suicide while increasing suicidality.

There is less data on fluoxetine than on antidepressants as a whole. For the above analysis on the antidepressant level, the FDA had to combine the results of 295 trials of 11 antidepressants for psychiatric indications to obtain statistically significant results. Considered separately, fluoxetine use in children increased the odds of suicidality by 50%, and in adults decreased the odds of suicidality by approximately 30%. Similarly, the analysis conducted by the UK MHRA found a 50% increase of odds of suicide-related events, not reaching statistical significance, in the children and adolescents on fluoxetine as compared to the ones on placebo. According to the MHRA data, for adults fluoxetine did not change the rate of self-harm and statistically significantly decreased suicidal ideation by 50%.

QT Prolongation

Fluoxetine can affect the electrical currents that heart muscle cells use to coordinate their contraction, specifically the potassium currents Ito and IKs that repolarise the cardiac action potential. Under certain circumstances, this can lead to prolongation of the QT interval, a measurement made on an electrocardiogram reflecting how long it takes for the heart to electrically recharge after each heartbeat. When fluoxetine is taken alongside other drugs that prolong the QT interval, or by those with a susceptibility to long QT syndrome, there is a small risk of potentially lethal abnormal heart rhythms such as Torsades de Pointes. As of 2019, the drug reference site CredibleMeds lists Fluoxetine as leading to a conditional risk of arrhythmias.

Overdose

In overdose, most frequent adverse effects include:

  • Nervous system effects:
    • Anxiety.
    • Nervousness.
    • Insomnia.
    • Drowsiness.
    • Fatigue or asthenia.
    • Tremor.
    • Dizziness or lightheadedness.
  • Gastrointestinal effects:
    • Anorexia (symptom).
    • Nausea.
    • Diarrhoea.
    • Vasodilation.
    • Dry mouth.
    • Abnormal vision.
  • Other effects:
    • Abnormal ejaculation.
    • Rash.
    • Sweating.
    • Decreased libido.

Interactions

Contraindications include prior treatment (within the past 5-6 weeks, depending on the dose) with MAOIs such as phenelzine and tranylcypromine, due to the potential for serotonin syndrome. Its use should also be avoided in those with known hypersensitivities to fluoxetine or any of the other ingredients in the formulation used. Its use in those concurrently receiving pimozide or thioridazine is also advised against.

In some cases, use of dextromethorphan-containing cold and cough medications with fluoxetine is advised against, due to fluoxetine increasing serotonin levels, as well as the fact that fluoxetine is a cytochrome P450 2D6 inhibitor, which causes dextromethorphan to not be metabolized at a normal rate, thus increasing the risk of serotonin syndrome and other potential side effects of dextromethorphan.

Patients who are taking anticoagulants or NSAIDS must be careful when taking fluoxetine or other SSRIs, as they can sometimes increase the blood-thinning effects of these medications.

Fluoxetine and norfluoxetine inhibit many isozymes of the cytochrome P450 system that are involved in drug metabolism. Both are potent inhibitors of CYP2D6 (which is also the chief enzyme responsible for their metabolism) and CYP2C19, and mild to moderate inhibitors of CYP2B6 and CYP2C9. In vivo, fluoxetine and norfluoxetine do not significantly affect the activity of CYP1A2 and CYP3A4. They also inhibit the activity of P-glycoprotein, a type of membrane transport protein that plays an important role in drug transport and metabolism and hence P-glycoprotein substrates such as loperamide may have their central effects potentiated. This extensive effect on the body’s pathways for drug metabolism creates the potential for interactions with many commonly used drugs.

Its use should also be avoided in those receiving other serotonergic drugs such as monoamine oxidase inhibitors, tricyclic antidepressants, methamphetamine, amphetamine, MDMA, triptans, buspirone, serotonin–norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors and other SSRIs due to the potential for serotonin syndrome to develop as a result.

There is also the potential for interaction with highly protein-bound drugs due to the potential for fluoxetine to displace said drugs from the plasma or vice versa hence increasing serum concentrations of either fluoxetine or the offending agent.

Pharmacology

Pharmacodynamics

Fluoxetine is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) and does not appreciably inhibit norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake at therapeutic doses. It does, however, delay the reuptake of serotonin, resulting in serotonin persisting longer when it is released. Large doses in rats have been shown to induce a significant increase in synaptic norepinephrine and dopamine. Thus, dopamine and norepinephrine may contribute to the antidepressant action of fluoxetine in humans at supratherapeutic doses (60-80 mg). This effect may be mediated by 5HT2C receptors, which are inhibited by higher concentrations of fluoxetine.

Fluoxetine increases the concentration of circulating allopregnanolone, a potent GABAA receptor positive allosteric modulator, in the brain. Norfluoxetine, a primary active metabolite of fluoxetine, produces a similar effect on allopregnanolone levels in the brains of mice. Additionally, both fluoxetine and norfluoxetine are such modulators themselves, actions which may be clinically-relevant.

In addition, fluoxetine has been found to act as an agonist of the σ1-receptor, with a potency greater than that of citalopram but less than that of fluvoxamine. However, the significance of this property is not fully clear. Fluoxetine also functions as a channel blocker of anoctamin 1, a calcium-activated chloride channel. A number of other ion channels, including nicotinic acetylcholine receptors and 5-HT3 receptors, are also known to be inhibited at similar concentrations.

Fluoxetine has been shown to inhibit acid sphingomyelinase, a key regulator of ceramide levels which derives ceramide from sphingomyelin.

Mechanism of Action

Fluoxetine elicits antidepressant effect by inhibiting serotonin re-uptake in the synapse by binding to the re-uptake pump on the neuronal membrane to increase serotonin availability and enhance neurotransmission. Norfluoxetine and desmethylfluoxetine are metabolites of fluoxetine and also act as serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, increasing the duration of action of the drug.

Pharmacokinetics

The bioavailability of fluoxetine is relatively high (72%), and peak plasma concentrations are reached in 6-8 hours. It is highly bound to plasma proteins, mostly albumin and α1-glycoprotein. Fluoxetine is metabolised in the liver by isoenzymes of the cytochrome P450 system, including CYP2D6. The role of CYP2D6 in the metabolism of fluoxetine may be clinically important, as there is great genetic variability in the function of this enzyme among people. CYP2D6 is responsible for converting fluoxetine to its only active metabolite, norfluoxetine. Both drugs are also potent inhibitors of CYP2D6.

The extremely slow elimination of fluoxetine and its active metabolite norfluoxetine from the body distinguishes it from other antidepressants. With time, fluoxetine and norfluoxetine inhibit their own metabolism, so fluoxetine elimination half-life increases from 1 to 3 days, after a single dose, to 4 to 6 days, after long-term use. Similarly, the half-life of norfluoxetine is longer (16 days) after long-term use. Therefore, the concentration of the drug and its active metabolite in the blood continues to grow through the first few weeks of treatment, and their steady concentration in the blood is achieved only after four weeks. Moreover, the brain concentration of fluoxetine and its metabolites keeps increasing through at least the first five weeks of treatment. The full benefit of the current dose a patient receives is not realised for at least a month following ingestion. For example, in one 6-week study, the median time to achieving consistent response was 29 days. Likewise, complete excretion of the drug may take several weeks. During the first week after treatment discontinuation, the brain concentration of fluoxetine decreases by only 50%, The blood level of norfluoxetine four weeks after treatment discontinuation is about 80% of the level registered by the end of the first treatment week, and, seven weeks after discontinuation, norfluoxetine is still detectable in the blood.

Measurement in Body Fluids

Fluoxetine and norfluoxetine may be quantitated in blood, plasma or serum to monitor therapy, confirm a diagnosis of poisoning in a hospitalised person or assist in a medicolegal death investigation. Blood or plasma fluoxetine concentrations are usually in a range of 50-500 μg/L in persons taking the drug for its antidepressant effects, 900-3000 μg/L in survivors of acute overdosage and 1000-7000 μg/L in victims of fatal overdosage. Norfluoxetine concentrations are approximately equal to those of the parent drug during chronic therapy, but may be substantially less following acute overdosage, since it requires at least 1-2 weeks for the metabolite to achieve equilibrium.

Usage

In 2010, over 24.4 million prescriptions for generic fluoxetine were filled in the United States, making it the third-most prescribed antidepressant after sertraline and citalopram. In 2011, 6 million prescriptions for fluoxetine were filled in the United Kingdom.

Society and Culture

American Airline Pilots

Beginning 05 April 2010, fluoxetine became one of four antidepressant drugs that the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) permitted for pilots with authorisation from an aviation medical examiner. The other permitted antidepressants are sertraline (Zoloft), citalopram (Celexa), and escitalopram (Lexapro). These four remain the only antidepressants permitted by FAA as of 02 December 2016.

Sertraline, citalopram and escitalopram are the only antidepressants permitted for EASA medical certification, as of January 2019.

Environmental Effects

Fluoxetine has been detected in aquatic ecosystems, especially in North America. There is a growing body of research addressing the effects of fluoxetine (among other SSRIs) exposure on non-target aquatic species.

In 2003, one of the first studies addressed in detail the potential effects of fluoxetine on aquatic wildlife; this research concluded that exposure at environmental concentrations was of little risk to aquatic systems if a hazard quotient approach was applied to risk assessment. However, they also stated the need for further research addressing sub-lethal consequences of fluoxetine, specifically focusing on study species’ sensitivity, behavioural responses, and endpoints modulated by the serotonin system.

Since 2003, a number of studies have reported fluoxetine-induced impacts on a number of behavioural and physiological endpoints, inducing antipredator behaviour, reproduction, and foraging at or below field-detected concentrations. However, a 2014 review on the ecotoxicology of fluoxetine concluded that, at that time, a consensus on the ability of environmentally realistic dosages to affect the behaviour of wildlife could not be reached.

Politics

During the 1990 campaign for Governor of Florida, it was disclosed that one of the candidates, Lawton Chiles, had depression and had resumed taking fluoxetine, leading his political opponents to question his fitness to serve as Governor.