Be Your Own Sleuth: Reports Exaggerate Antidepressant Study Results
I saw the story's headline this morning on Reuters.com: "Limits to antidepressants' effectiveness," but as I read beyond the headline, I learned that the effects of only two antidepressant medications (the generic versions of Paxil and Tofranil) were studied in the research purportedly demonstrating that all or most antidepressants have little effect on mild to moderately depressed persons.
A subsequent Google search found 35 online news stories (not including blogs) covering the same recently published University of Pennsylvania's study on antidepressants. Thirty-three stories had equally misleading headlines and some copy made sweeping statements about the amount of money spent (wasted?) on antidepressants every year for persons with mild and moderate depression. (I smelled another sweeping government report coming!)
A little more digging found the source of the distortion: the University's own press release jumped to far-reaching conclusions, even leaving out the fact that only two medications were tested as well as a few other pertinent factors.
Only one of the 35 reports covering the story followed up by contacting the lead author of the study directly: Kathleen Doheny from WebMD. She also contacted physicians familiar with the effects of various anti-depressant drugs, one suggesting the study findings were obvious, as in "any other disease process, the more severe the disease or symptoms, the more improvement with treatments."
A professor of psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and director of the anxiety and depression clinic at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, Gregory Asnis, MD, told WebMD that "The data is unfortunately skewed to two medications, only one of which [Paxil] is still commonly used."
Additionally, Dr. Asnis noted that in the University of Pennsylvania study the effects of the drugs were measured after a short period of time - 6 to 11 weeks - when the effects of the medications could have kicked in later.
This is just one day, one medical study that few press reports questioned. I have no horse in this race. I'm only suggesting that when you read headlines that seem a bit far-reaching, even in medicine, you may have to be your own sleuth to get closer to the truth.
To read more about the University of Pennsylvania's antidepressant findings, I definitely recommend the story on WebMD.