Prozac, the bestselling antidepressant taken by 40 million people worldwide, does not work and nor do similar drugs in the same class, according to a major review released today.Kirsch and company go on to emphasize that counseling should be the first choice, and medication a very last recourse. But the researchers also go on to emphasize that this raises broad questions about drug data reporting and drug licensing; in an article at BBC News, Dr. Tim Kendall argues that drug companies should be forced to publish all their data, regardless of conclusion - something that many people have been arguing for years, and has come up in this blog recently.
The study examined all available data on the drugs, including results from clinical trials that the manufacturers chose not to publish at the time. The trials compared the effect on patients taking the drugs with those given a placebo or sugar pill.
When all the data was pulled together, it appeared that patients had improved - but those on placebo improved just as much as those on the drugs.
The only exception is in the most severely depressed patients, according to the authors - Prof Irving Kirsch from the department of psychology at Hull University and colleagues in the US and Canada. But that is probably because the placebo stopped working so well, they say, rather than the drugs having worked better.
Part of the reason that this is a new, and believed to be groundbreaking study (at least by the researchers) is that Kirsch and colleagues requested the full set of trial data on four drugs (prozac, seroxat/paxil, effexor, and serzone) from the FDA via the freedom of information act; two newer drugs (celexa and zoloft) were excluded because the full information wasn't yet available via the FOA. They argue that this additional and unpublished research shows that there is simply no benefit to the drugs.
Now it should go without saying that this is a research study, and anyone taking these drugs shouldn't decide to stop taking them without first consulting your prescribing physician. That said, while I take an anti-depressant that's not on the list, under the theory that it will decrease the pain I experience by increasing the dopamine in my brain, I think I'll be printing out the PLoS Medicine report and taking it in for a discussion with my own doctor.
Perhaps most to the point, I do agree with the researchers and commentators who say that this, more than anything, emphasizes that all research collected on a medication should be reported - positive, negative, or neutral. It's becoming obvious that we can't trust the FDA to make decisions on the effectiveness of these drugs; that doctors and patients are going to have to become the experts, or at least have all the data at their fingertips in order to make their own informed decisions.
And with that, I ought to get back to midterms. See you all in another day; I've got a collection of things to bring up once I'm out from under this epistemological cloud.