Apparently Fake Drugs Work Just As Well, Unless You're REALLY Depressed


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new studies; as the Independent put it, they simply "conducted a meta-analysis of all 47 clinical trials, published and unpublished, submitted to the Food and Drug Administration in the US, made in support of licensing applications for six of the best known antidepressant drugs, including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 "Using complete data sets (including unpublished data) and a substantially larger data set of this type than has been previously reported, we find the overall effect of new-generation antidepressant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.


When I read your post, which was very good by the way, the first thought that came to mind was the number of people who are prescribed anti depressants who didn't really need them to begin with. Too many doctors hand out mental med prescriptions like it is candy

You raise a really good point Holly, having heard this news story in the Canadian media, I hadn't realized that it missed the U.S. papers. I guess the argument of the drug manufacturers is that we don't know which are the "really depressed" persons until their doctor prescribes something and observes to see if there is any difference in their behaviour / clinical situation. The onus here is on the medical profession to not over prescribe or not to prescibe in the first place if they don't think it is appropriate. The problem with all this is the amount of "self-diagnosis" that goes on because of the drug manufacturers advertising Prozac etc. as if they were Coca-Cola or Doritos. "Hey, I feel just like that person in the commercial; maybe I'm depressed... I should go get my doctor to prescribe Prozac." This does not sound logical to me and I have always had a problem with direct advertising of prescription drugs. The people who should be informed of the availability and effects of these pharmaceuticals are the health professionals whose job it is to diagnose symptoms and prescribe treatment. 'untreatable' raises a good point when writing "too many doctors hand out mental med prescriptions like it is candy" and again, I think this holds true for other prescriptions and for society's general indulgence in over the counter medications. There's a guy who uses an infomercial to sell his book which is about 'all the healing properties of foods and herbs that medical community doesn't want you to know about' (or something like that). I'm not a huge fan but he once raised a good point that was a part of my own attitude toward medications even before I had heard him say it; which is that "when you have a headache, it is not [usually] because your body is suffering from a deficiency of acetylsalicylic acid, acetaminophen, ibuprofen or anything else contained in pain medication which people take to treat a headache." His point being, find the cause and treat the cause, not just kill the symptom. An exception to this (and the reason I added the 'usually' above) which my Doctor related to me when I was prescribed headache meds is that is that if you have recurring headaches and over use a prescribed pain killer like tylenol, your body can actually develop a slight addiction or dependence so that when you don't take it, your body actually craves it. It's the reason why it upsets me when I see people taking Tylenol like candy. I prefer to think, "Okay, I have a headache - I'm either overtired, over hungry, or under-nourished" and then treat the probably cause first and see if the headache subsides before rushing to the medicine cabinet.

Sorry if this got "rant-y" but I haven't commented in so long and this one touched on something about which I actually had something to say. [I actually caught up yesterday on the other posts I had missed over the last couple weeks so I might post other applicable comments there if I think of something to say. ;) ]

Until then, here's wishing you good health!! :D

Hi Untreatable--I absolutely agree with you. I think doctors like it because it lets them FEEL like they're doing something to help, when they don't have anything else to offer.

Hi RK. Like you, I HATE those commercials for prescription medications--and frankly, I don't see how they work. I saw one the other day that went on and on about all the possible side effects you might experience, and they weren't pretty. I thought, why would anyone take this stuff? But apparently people do.

Like you, rather than take medication, I prefer to look for an underlying cause and treat it if at all possible. I'm not saying I never take medication--to be honest, I take plenty of ibuprofen for menstrual cramps because nothing works better--but I have learned the hard way that sometimes medication creates conditions worse than the one it's intended to treat.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on February 27, 2008 10:31 AM.

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