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Antidepressants = Placebo

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Finally, Newsweek treats us to some real journalism. Entitled “Why Antidepressants are no better than Placebos”, this article won’t earn Newsweek any friends among the pharmaceutical industry. It brings to light a fact which has been known for some time, but which Big Pharma desperately wishes would just go away.

Antidepressants have become the drug of choice for more than 30 million Americans by 2009 – that is, one out of every ten men, women and children take these pills regularly. Pharma’s strategy – convincing America that it’s hopelessly depressed and that their pills are the only cure – took a big hit in 1998 when the first studies surfaced:

There is no question that the safety and efficacy of antidepressants rest on solid scientific evidence,” as psychiatry professor Richard Friedman of Weill Cornell Medical College recently wrote in The New York Times. But ever since a seminal study in 1998, whose findings were reinforced by landmark research in The Journal of the American Medical Association last month, that evidence has come with a big asterisk. Yes, the drugs are effective, in that they lift depression in most patients. But that benefit is hardly more than what patients get when they, unknowingly and as part of a study, take a dummy pill—a placebo. As more and more scientists who study depression and the drugs that treat it are concluding, that suggests that antidepressants are basically expensive Tic Tacs.

But still they trudge on, armed with thousands of loyal prescription-scribbling doctors, stubbornly defying a raft of studies which suggest that three quarters of the purported “effect” of antidepressants can be wholly attributed to the placebo effect. Nobody has any idea how antidepressants work (incidentally, we don’t have a good grasp of the placebo effect either), and their “effectiveness” is judged wholly by patient’s verbalization of his symptoms.

Needless to say, the pharmaceutical industry has expended quite some effort in keeping this information from doctors. As Newsweek notes:

But if experts know that antidepressants are hardly better than placebos, few patients or doctors do. Some doctors have changed their prescribing habits, says Kirsch, but more “reacted with anger and incredulity.”

Oh, but how could the FDA have approved the widespread use of drugs with such uncertain efficacy? Well, as Newsweek explains, the FDA only requires two clinical trials to show that a drug is more effective than a placebo. That’s it. Even if later on it turns out the drug isn’t more effective, it doesn’t matter. The FDA speaketh, and thine words be etched in stone. And the size of “more effective” can be as small as you like, so long as it’s “statistically significant”.

Some more great reporting:

Consider how research on drugs works. Patient volunteers are told they will receive either the drug or a placebo, and that neither they nor the scientists will know who is getting what. Most volunteers hope they get the drug, not the dummy pill. After taking the unknown meds for a while, some volunteers experience side effects. Bingo: a clue they’re on the real drug. About 80 percent guess right, and studies show that the worse side effects a patient experiences, the more effective the drug. Patients apparently think, this drug is so strong it’s making me vomit and hate sex, so it must be strong enough to lift my depression. In clinical-trial patients who figure out they’re receiving the drug and not the inert pill, expectations soar.

*sigh* So patients report a drug’s effectiveness based on its side effects, not based on whether or not it actually helps. If this is true, then even the minor advantage antidepressents have over placebos gets thrown into question. If patients who receive placebos know they’re getting placebos because of a lack of side effects, then that defeats the whole purpose behind a double-blind study.

So yeah, in conclusion, antidepressants are a worthless swindle. Given that pharmaceuticals turn over a $10,000,000,000 profit on these glorified tic-tacs alone, I think it’s safe to say they’re not going anywhere, despite direct evidence as to their uselessness. But hats off to Newsweek for bringing this to light (even though we’ve known about it since 2002.)

Written by pavanvan

February 4, 2010 at 10:52 am

2 Responses

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  1. Ditto on this one. This only supports why I have little to no faith in pharmaceuticals or western medicine.


    February 5, 2010 at 3:52 am

  2. […] Still it is hard to tell (as a lay person) if these arguments against this research are being raised by people as genuine scientific flaws or as an emotive reaction to a perceived attack on a type of medication that appears to be taken by/prescribed to a hell of a lot of people. […]

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