The Rottenstein Law Group has learned that several prominent scientists are espousing the view that—based on their review of both published and unpublished studies—antidepressants are no better than placebo for the vast majority of people with depression.
One of the scientists who maintains this view is Irving Kirsch, associate director of the Placebo Studies Program at Harvard Medical School. Kirsh’s antidepressant/placebo research was featured on a 60 Minutes episode titled “Treating Depression,” which aired on Feb. 19, 2012.
During the episode, Kirsch and other scientists explained that, to approve any drug, the FDA merely requires a company to show that its pill is more effective than a placebo in two clinical trials—even if many other drug trials fail to demonstrate the product’s efficacy. As a result, there can be many trials showing that a drug is no more successful than placebo—even if that drug is FDA approved.
When Kirsch examined the published studies that have served as the basis for the FDA’s approvals of antidepressants along with the clinical trials that have been submitted to the FDA but not published—they were available to Kirsch thanks to the Freedom of Information Act—Kirsch found that, in patients with mild to moderate depression, “you don’t see any real difference [between those treated with an antidepressant and those treated with a placebo] at all,” he said. “The only place where you get a clinically meaningful difference is at these very extreme levels of depression.”
Dr. Walter Brown, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Brown University Medical School, was also featured on the 60 Minutes episode. He has co-authored two studies that largely corroborate Kirsch’s findings, and questions the widely held theory that depression is caused by a deficiency in the brain chemical called serotonin, which many antidepressants—including Zoloft—target.
“The experts in the field now believe that that theory is a gross oversimplification and probably is not correct,” Brown said.