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Antidepressants 'no better than placebo'

By Lilian Anekwe

GPs are prescribing millions of antidepressants unnecessarily, according to new UK research that has questioned their clinical merit for patients with depression.

The number of prescriptions for antidepressants hit a record high of more than 31 million in England in 2006, but a new meta-analysis of 47 clinical trials has found that the four most commonly prescribed antidepressants are no more effective than placebo.

Researchers studied both published and, crucially, unpublished data gained from the US Food and Drug Administration under the Freedom of Information Act.

Patients prescribed all four drugs – fluoxetine, venlaflaxine, nefadozone and paroxetine –showed a marked improvement in depression severity score, but the improvement was not significantly different from patients given a placebo.

But Professor Irving Kirsch, professor of psychology at the University of Hull, told the BBC's Today Programme that NICE had been unable to access unpublished data on the efficacy of antidepressants.

‘There's no doubt that people get better when they take the drugs, but the also get better when they take placebo. But the difference is not significant according to the criteria given by NICE.

‘NICE did want to get all of the data but they were not able to determine which was published and which was unpublished. They should have had access to the information from the pharmaceutical companies.'

A spokesperson for NICE said: ‘We would generally ask for all the available data but we are not able to enforce that request. Our preference, when drafting clinical guidelines, is that the data we use is either published or in the public domain, in order to allow us to make our decision making process as transparent as possible.'

Woman taking antidepressants

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