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Anti-depressants not as effective as advertised

26 March 2015
UMCG Research

The effectiveness of anti-depressants in treating anxiety disorders has been overestimated. This is the conclusion drawn by Annelieke Roest of the UMCG, following an investigation of the scientific literature. Negative studies are often not published, making it unclear how well the drugs work in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Roest spent 3 years on the research and is publishing the results in JAMA Psychiatry of 26 March 2015.

A postdoc researcher at the UMCG’s Interdisciplinary Center for Psychopathology and Emotion Regulation (ICPE), Roest wondered how accurate the claims made for the effectiveness of medication on anxiety disorders are. In her research, she compared the independent reports of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with the scientific literature. The FDA is the US government agency where medicine trials must be registered. The design and results of the trials are sent to the FDA, which then puts together an independent report. This allowed Roest to investigate whether or not the claims in the scientific literature were correct.

She studied 57 FDA reports on antidepressants in the treatment of anxiety disorders and discovered that almost all the studies for which the FDA report concluded that the medicine was effective were published in the literature. However, a large number of studies for which the FDA concluded that the drug was not effective were not published. There were also some studies into non-effective medicines which were published, and while a small number of these were published with the same results as the FDA, the others were published as if the study had positive findings.

A couple of studies had come up with positive findings by using a different analysis method than had previously been communicated to the FDA, for example by using a different questionnaire. In some cases the article admitted that the medicine did not work, but the abstract claimed that it did. By manipulating their results in this way, scientists create an inaccurate picture of a medicine’s effectiveness. Although the medicines do have some effect on anxiety disorders, they do not work as well as is thought.

Roest believes that conclusions might have been manipulated or exaggerated because positive results receive more scientific attention and are published sooner. Positive publications also lead to higher sales of a drug.

Roest would like to see more openness about research results. As she explains, ‘Lots of research is funded eventually by the taxpayer, and that’s reason enough to say that scientists should publish all their results.’ Openness is also good for trust in scientific results, because everyone can check them.

Link to the publication:

Source: press release UMCG

Last modified:31 March 2015 1.08 p.m.
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