Is that Prozac in your pocket or do you just THINK you’re happy to see me?

image ‘Has the Prozac bubble finally burst?’ asks this week’s New Scientist mag.

The article reports findings that antidepressants seem to offer no more than a placebo effect, except in the most severely depressed people.

And those severely depressed people respond less to placebos, not more to the drugs.

Reports of subjects’ happiness have been greatly exaggerated

The study involved UK and US researchers and looked at all clinical trials submitted to the FDA for the licensing of the 4 SSRIs with complete datasets:

  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Venlafaxine
  • Nefazodone
  • Paroxetine (Seroxat or Paxil)

The conclusion?

‘Compared with placebo, the new-generation antidepressants do not produce clinically significant improvements in depression in patients who initially have moderate or even very severe depression.’

SSRI specialist David Healy of Cardiff University said in an earlier New Scientist article that this latest research confirms suspicions that the effectiveness of these drugs has been exaggerated.

‘Most importantly this new study shows that the people who did respond to the drugs would have responded to placebo, anyway.’

The file drawer problem

The change in mood toward these drugs also reflects the file drawer problem – the results not found in studies that don’t get published.

When Erick Turner of Oregon Health and Science University in Portland and his colleagues hunted through the literature they uncovered 23 unpublished studies, of which 22 found negative or questionable effects of antidepressants.

Because such studies don’t find clinically significant results they get relegated to the file drawer and fail to inform the broader picture of effectiveness.

Placebo placabo

There seems little dispute that antidepressants offer a placebo benefit. And to paraphrase The Bard, doesn’t a placebo by any other pharmaceutical name make you feel just as sweet?

David Nutt of Bristol Uni says yes – even a placebo benefit shouldn’t be discounted.

I guess that’s true.
And maybe the pharmaceutical companies could be paid with Monopoly money.

Don’t try this at home

I repeat New Scientist’s warning – if you’re on anti-depressants be sure to consult your doc before taking yourself off them.

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Image: xianstudio

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