Here's a story that was all over British press yesterday but has yet to appear, so far as I can, in the American Press: According to a story from the Guardian, another from the Independent, and still another from the BBC, researchers at the University of Hull have concluded that anti-depressants are no more effective than placebos in treating all but the most severely depressed individuals.
There are several things about this that I think are important. One is that this story is not being reported by the US press. I read the stories in the British Press yesterday but didn't write about it until today because I wanted to give the US Press time to get around to noticing it. This morning I checked the NY Times, the LA Times, The Washington Post, and USA Today, and couldn't find a mention of this story in any of them. OK, it's a study by a British university, but they're American drugs, taken by a hell of a lot of Americans. This story was important enough in the British press that it was the lead story for the Independent and the Guardian. I think it merits attention in the US Press.
Another is that the researchers didn't conduct new studies; as the Independent put it, they simply "conducted a meta-analysis of all 47 clinical trials, published and unpublished, submitted to the Food and Drug Administration in the US, made in support of licensing applications for six of the best known antidepressant drugs, including Prozac, Seroxat – which is made by GlaxoSmithKline – and Efexor made by Wyeth." Still, according to the Guardian,
The review breaks new ground because [study author] Kirsch and his colleagues have obtained for the first time what they believe is a full set of trial data for four antidepressants.
They requested the full data under freedom of information rules from the Food and Drug Administration, which licenses medicines in the US and requires all data when it makes a decision.
The pattern they saw from the trial results of fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Seroxat), venlafaxine (Effexor) and nefazodone (Serzone) was consistent. "Using complete data sets (including unpublished data) and a substantially larger data set of this type than has been previously reported, we find the overall effect of new-generation antidepressant medication is below recommended criteria for clinical significance," they write.
So, by the findings in all studies submitted to the FDA, the drugs were effective enough for some people, and their side effects not unpleasant or dangerous enough, that the FDA approved the drugs.
But in subsequent matters, such as reviews to determine whether or not Britain's National Health Service would cover the cost of prescribing the drug, not all the relevant data were released, because the drugs did not meet the standards required by the NHS. And only more favorable studies have been published.
This is deceit. Which is why the Independent has a story today announcing Drug giants warned: tell the truth on medicines and another discussing The drug industry's long and ignoble history of secrecy. Of course, the drug industry is denying pretty much everything, and dismissing the study from Hull "'just one study' which should not be allowed to undermine the wealth of research showing that the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants are effective."
And still another important thing in all this is my own history with anti-depressants, but I think I'll wait to discuss that tomorrow.