The Hidden Harms of Antidepressants

Posted on May 24, 2016

More than one in 10 Americans older than 12 takes antidepressants, according to a 2011 report by the National Center for Health Statistics. A significant but unknown number of children younger than 12 take them, too. Although most such drugs are not approved for young children, doctors have prescribed them off-label for years because they have been thought to have relatively mild side effects. Yet recent reports have revealed that important data about the safety of these drugs—especially their risks for children and adolescents—have been withheld from the medical community and the public.

Researchers at the Nordic Cochrane Center in Copenhagen showed that pharmaceutical companies have not been revealing the full extent of serious harm in clinical study reports. The researchers examined reports from 70 double-blind, placebo-controlled trials of two common categories of antidepressants and found that the occurrence of suicidal thoughts and aggressive behavior doubled in children and adolescents who used these drugs.

The investigators discovered that some of the most revealing information was buried in appendices where individual patient outcomes are listed. For example, they found clear instances of suicidal thinking that had been passed off as “emotional lability” or “worsening depression” in the report itself. Tarang Sharma, a Ph.D. student at Cochrane and lead author of the study says, "We found that a lot of the appendices were often only available on request to the authorities, and the authorities had never requested them." This study “confirms that the full degree of harm of antidepressants is not reported,” says Joanna Moncrieff, a psychiatrist and researcher at University College London who was not involved in the study.

The researchers struggled for many years to get access to the clinical trial reports, which are often withheld under the guise of commercial confidentiality. “All this secrecy actually costs human lives,” says Peter Gøtzsche, a clinician researcher at Cochrane and a co-author of the recent study.

Taken together with other research—including studies that suggest antidepressants are only marginally better than placebos—some experts say it is time to reevaluate the widespread use of these drugs.

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Category(s):Depression

Source material from Scientific American


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