- The Facts: Multiple studies outlined in this article indicate a serious issue with the efficacy of antidepressant drugs, and the lengths that pharmaceutical companies go to hide potential dangers.
- Reflect On: How much science is there really behind the efficacy of antidepressant drugs?
A study published in the British Medical Journal by researchers at the Nordic Cochrane Center in Copenhagen showed that pharmaceutical companies were not disclosing all information regarding the results of their drug trials. Researchers looked at documents from 70 different double-blind, placebo-controlled trials of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI) and found that the full extent of serious harm in clinical study reports went unreported. These are the reports sent to major health authorities like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Tarang Sharma, a PhD student at Cochrane and lead author of the study, said:
We found that a lot of the appendices were often only available upon request to the authorities, and the authorities had never requested them. I’m actually kind of scared about how bad the actual situation would be if we had the complete data. (source)
Due to problems with selective reporting, even within CSRs, raw data from clinical drug trials should be preferred when conducting systematic reviews, with CSRs being the next-best option. As SSRIs and SNRIs can have very serious detrimental effects on children and adolescents, far more than previously noted, their use in young people should be reconsidered. In fact, even when considering all ages, placebo seems to be a better pill than an antidepressant drug because the patients weigh the benefits against the harms when they decide whether to stay in a trial or to drop out. (source)
Joanna Moncrieff, a psychiatrist and researcher at University College London, elaborates:
This study confirms that the full degree of harm of antidepressants is not reported. They are not reported in the published literature, we know that – and it appears that they are not properly reported in clinical study reports that go to the regulators and from the basis of decisions about licensing. (source)
Peter Gotzsche, a clinician researcher at Cochrane and the co-author of the study, actually tried to gain access to clinical trial reports almost a decade ago for anti-obesity pills. Unfortunately, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) denied them the reports:
They talked about commercial confidentiality although there was absolutely nothing in these reports that was commercially confidential. We explained that all this secrecy actually cost human lives, but they weren’t interested in that at all. (source)
It took years of requests and complaints for this to happen and, while Gotzsche is pleased they were able to achieve this breakthrough, he reminds us that similar progress has yet to made in the United States. He went on to state that researchers need better access to data from clinical trials to conduct assessments unimpeded by industry influence:
It’s deeply unethical when patients volunteer to benefit science and then we let drug companies decide that we cannot get access to the raw data. The testing of drugs should be a public enterprise. (source)
Moncrieff (quoted above) then goes on to express further concerns:
We really don’t have good enough evidence that antidepressants are effective and we have increasing evidence that they can be harmful. So we need to go into reverse and stop this increasing trend of prescribing [them]. (source)
One of the latest studies published on the subjects titled “Should antidepressants be used for major depressive disorder” published in the British Medical Journal states,
The benefits of antidepressants seem to be minimal and possibly without any importance to the average patient with major depressive disorder. Antidepressants should not be used for adults with major depressive disorder before valid evidence has shown that the potential beneficial effects outweigh the harmful effects.
Related Study: Suicidality and aggression during antidepressant treatment:systematic review and meta-analyses based on clinical study reports
Many Antidepressant Studies Found Tainted by Pharma Company Influence
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology revealed that a third of meta-analyses of antidepressant studies were written by pharma employees and that these were 22 times less likely than other meta-studies to include negative statements about the drug. That same month another research group reported that after reanalyzing the data from Study 329, a 2001 clinical trial of Paxil funded by GlaxoSmithKline, they uncovered exaggerated efficacy and undisclosed harm to adolescents.
Almost 80 percent of meta-analyses in the review had some sort of industry tie, either through sponsorship, which the authors defined as direct industry funding of the study, or conflicts of interest, defined as any situation in which one or more authors were either industry employees or independent researchers receiving any type of industry support (including speaking fees and research grants). Especially troubling, the study showed about 7 percent of researchers had undisclosed conflicts of interest. “There’s a certain pecking order of papers,” says Erick Turner, a professor of psychiatry at Oregon Health & Science University who was not associated with the research. “Meta-analyses are at the top of the evidence pyramid.” Turner was “very concerned” by the results but did not find them surprising. “Industry influence is just massive. What’s really new is the level of attention people are now paying to it.” (source)
This corporate domination is exactly why, in 2014, the current Editor-in-Chief of The Lancet stated that “the case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue.” (source) It’s why Arnold Symour Relman emphasized that the “medical profession is being bought by the pharmaceutical industry, not only in terms of the practice of medicine, but also in terms of teaching and research.” He thought it was “disgraceful” that the academic institutions of this country are allowing themselves to be the paid agents of the pharmaceutical industry.” (source)
This isn’t a secret, but it’s quite odd how substances like opioids get approved by our federal health regulatory agencies, which have clearly been compromised as well.
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