PHARMAC and treatment of bipolar depression--the limits of utilitarianism.
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Bipolar disorder affects 1.6% of the population. The majority of the burden of illness for people with bipolar disorder is due to depression. Suicide rates for people with bipolar disorder are 15 times higher than in the general population, and the majority of these deaths occur during depressive episodes. More effective prevention of such depressive episodes is important. Lamotrigine is an anticonvulsant and a mood stabiliser that is more effective at preventing depressive relapses than most other mood stabilising drugs. Its use for this purpose has been recommended by English language treatment guidelines since 2002. Lamotrigine is approved for use in the prophylaxis of depression in bipolar disorder and for epilepsy. PHARMAC subsidises its use in treatment-resistant epilepsy (subject to a 'special authority' application) but not in bipolar disorder. The New Zealand Mental Health Strategy and the imminent New Zealand Suicide Strategy identify reducing suicide as a key goal. Among other initiatives, this requires effective treatment of bipolar depression, yet a treatment likely to support this is not currently subsidised.
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