The Nation Should Kick This Expensive Drug Habit

The Independent (London, England), February 27, 2008 | Go to article overview
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The Nation Should Kick This Expensive Drug Habit


LEADING ARTICLE

ANTIDEPRESSANTS

The title of a recent paper submitted to the Public Library of Science Medicine journal - "Initial severity and antidepressant benefits: a meta-analysis of data submitted to the FDA" - does not sound like the sort of document likely to inspire a revolution. But a revolution is precisely what this paper by researchers from the University of Hull promises to effect in the world of clinical depression.

Since they emerged two decades ago as a new, safe, chemical remedy for depression and anxiety, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) have been a staggering commercial success story. These drugs are now taken by some 40 million depression sufferers worldwide. Their names - Prozac and Seroxat - have become emblems of 21st century popular culture.

But the so-called "Prozac Nation" is now under unprecedented threat. The Hull study, which analyses 47 separate clinical trials, concludes that SSRIs provide little clinical benefit for most people with mild and moderate depression and actively help only a small group of the most severely depressed.

The manufacturers of Prozac and Seroxat are questioning the study's conclusions. But the drug companies have a strong commercial incentive in protecting a market that generates considerable revenue. And their history of keeping secret the results of their own drug trials into the effectiveness of SSRIs does not support their position. The Hull researchers had to use the US freedom of information laws to gain access to this unpublished data.

The implications of this study should be clear to policymakers here in Britain, where some 30m prescriptions for antidepressants are being written every year: we need to prescribe vastly fewer of these drugs. Thankfully, the NHS has already been moving in this direction in recent years.

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The Nation Should Kick This Expensive Drug Habit
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