What the Drug Is This?

Some people who have been taking certain antidepressants might begin to ask that question after reading an article on The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) today. The story goes that these drugs might not be as effective as the companies would have you believe.

It seems that all of the studies conducted about the efficacy of these drugs accentuate their positive effects and tuck away their negative effects.

The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) published an article about its findings on 12 kinds of antidepressants, including Wyeth's (WYE) Effexor and Pfizer Inc.'s (PFE) Zoloft. The authors of the article went to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) searching for literature concerning the clinical trial results of these antidepressants. They found that of all the trials done on these drugs, the FDA analysis showed that only 51% of all the trial results were positive. But the way that the results were published, it appeared that 94% of the trial results were positive.

In other words, these antidepressant may not be as miraculous as they seem.

Have we been misled? By whom?

The NEJM points out several culprits. The drug companies could have withheld the negative results and accentuated the positive results to sell more drugs. The researchers these companies hired to do the trials might have chosen not to publish studies with negative results. The editors of medical journals might have declined to publish these findings because of editorial concerns.

Whatever it is, a loophole in the FDA policy allows pharmaceutical companies to mislead us, should they choose to. The WSJ article points out:

Pharmaceutical companies are under no obligation to publish the studies they sponsor and submit to the FDA, nor are the researchers they hire to do the work.

We all know that drugs have side effects, and that companies are allowed to hide these side effects from consumers. It's pretty amazing that the FDA does not demand complete transparency from manufacturers selling products that could potentially harm people. The best way to prevent further confusion is for the FDA to mandate the release of all study results.

Disclosure: I do not own shares of Wyeth or Pfizer and I don't take antidepressants.

Photo:xxrobot, Creative Commons, Flickr