New Cure for Depression: Fear

  • by: |
  • 09/06/2007
According to a new study, the rates of diagnosis and treatment of depression among adults have declined significantly since the FDA's warning about the possible risk of suicide among teens when they're treated with SSRIs.

"While some degree of decline in antidepressant prescribing was not unexpected after the black box warning was issued, few if any had predicted diagnosing to decline, or that other modes of treatment (psychotherapy or other medications) would remain relatively unchanged," Dr. Robert J. Valuck told Reuters Health. "It was thought that the latter two may increase to compensate for fewer antidepressant prescriptions being written."

That's worth repeating -- the black box warning has resulted in a decline not only in prescribing (no surprise there) but in diagnosis.

Does this meant that we can rid our nation of depression via fear of pharmaceuticals? That's a pretty frightening proposition.

Valuck, from the University of Colorado at Denver, and colleagues examined data relating to depression among 400,000 adult patients enrolled in managed care plans.

Hmm -- "in managed care plans." Is cost once again trumping care? Or is depression really one of those "made-up" diseaese we're reading about so much these days?

In the five years before the SSRI warning about teen suicide, the rate of diagnosed episodes of depression increased steadily from 6 to 11 per 1000 enrollees, the investigators report in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

The percentage of patients who had at least one psychotherapy session, and the percentage of depressive episodes for which possible alternatives to antidepressants were prescribed, did not change significantly after the advisory, the researchers found.

"We believe that there are likely to be many factors involved in the changes that we observed, and that they are very deserving of further study," Valuck said. "Physicians and policy makers should be aware of the power of these regulatory tools, both for the intended and unintended consequences that they may cause."

Did somebody say "unintended consequences?"

Indeed, let's not forget that in the June issue of the journal PLos Medicine a study reported that rather than boosting suicide rates, SSRIs have actually saved thousands of lives by preventing suicides since they were introduced in 1988.

For this study, the authors analyzed federal data on suicide rates since 1960, along with sales of fluoxetine (Prozac) since it became available in 1988. Analysis was continued through 2002. Prozac was used as a benchmark for the broader class of drugs.

Between the early 1960s and 1988, suicide rates held relatively steady, fluctuating between 12.2 per 100,000 and 13.7 per 100,000.

Since 1988, however, suicide rates have been on a gradual decline, with the lowest point being 10.4 per 100,000 in 2000. During the same time frame, Prozac prescriptions rose, from 2,469,000 in 1988 to 33,320,000 in 2002.

Using mathematical modeling, the investigators estimated the rates of suicide if the pre-1988 trends had continued, estimating that there would have been an additional 33,600 suicides if the pre-1988 trends had been maintained.

With that in mind, moves to restrict the use of SSRI antidepressants could have a harmful effect, the authors stated.

“I don’t think these claims that antidepressants increase suicide have a solid base,” said Dr. Julio Licinio, lead author of the study and Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Miami.

“If you have a drug that’s supposed to be causing something, the more of the drug that’s used, the more of the bad outcome you would have. What we show is the converse.”

But, hey, if we just stop diagnosing the disease, then the problem will go away all by itself, right? Wrong!

This should serve as another wake-up call to those who applaud the wholesale expansion of FDA black box warnings.

Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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