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Last week the New England Journal of Medicine published an article claiming that the positive effect of antidepressants have been skewed way out of proportion by the lack of published reports that detail negative findings. After reviewing studies submitted to the FDA for 12 different antidepressants a report concluded that 88 per cent of studies that showed negative results were never published in medical journals. The lack of balanced reporting gives physicians and patients alike a false sense of the efficacy of antidepressants. The article claims that by reading medical literature doctors would get the impression that these drugs are almost 70 per cent more effective than they really are, according to Erick Turner, the lead author of the paper.

It is not that antidepressants don’t work, Dr. Turner says. His team’s analysis showed that they all work better than sugar pills, but that their effectiveness has been exaggerated. This might tip the scales against prescribing the drugs in borderline cases, he says.

This form of selective publication made headlines in 2004 when a lawsuit was filed against GlaxoSmithKline accusing them of hiding the results of clinical trials that linked the antidepressant Paxil to suicidal thoughts and behavior in children and adolescents.

Experts say that substantial progress has been made in this area since 2004 and it would be extremely more difficult for a drug company to hide the results from clinical trial. Since the lawsuit GlaxoSmithKline now makes all clinical trial results available on a website that can be accessed by the public; however, it is speculated that very few doctors use these sites to obtain information but rather use medical literature. If the medical literature is biased then so are the doctors’ opinions of drugs in turn. This could have dire consequences for the end consumer.

For more information on this subject, please refer to the section on Drugs, Medical Devices and Implants.

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