To Your Health
October, 2007 (Vol. 01, Issue 10)
Share |

Depressing News About Antidepressants

What Parents Need to Know

By Peter W. Crownfield

Antidepressants are the most commonly prescribed drug on the market. That's a lot of (apparently) depressed people - and a lot of people taking medication with potentially deadly side effects. Even more disturbing, according to a 2004 study in the journal Psychiatric Services, children age 5 and younger represent the fastest growing group of antidepressant users in the United States!

Should children that young be taking antidepressant medication? Should children of any age be taking antidepressants, for that matter? Let's hear what some of the experts have to say.

Another 2004 study, this one published in the British Medical Journal, found that the entire class of antidepressant medications -more than 30 different drugs - is not as effective as advertised and can be unsafe, particularly when given to children. In the study, researchers analyzed six published clinical trials on antidepressant use in children. Here's what they discovered:

First, drug trials routinely "exaggerated the benefits" of the drugs they were investigating, while downplaying the negative side effects. Not surprisingly (albeit shocking), pharmaceutical companies paid for four of the six studies and paid or otherwise compensated the authors of at least three of the larger studies. Second, when comparing children given antidepressants with those given only a placebo (e.g., a sugar pill the children thought was medication), some children taking only the placebo pill improved nearly as much as children taking the actual antidepressant medication. Finally, the researchers concluded that the risk of a child suffering a serious adverse event while taking antidepressant medication "raises serious concerns about their potential for harm," adding, "The magnitude of benefit is unlikely to be sufficient to justify risking those harms, so confidently recommending these drugs as a treatment option, let alone as first-line treatment, would be inappropriate."

A depressed preteen sitting with his back to a wall. - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Clear Warnings

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which approves and regulates all drugs, seems to understand the potential dangers of antidepressant medication, particularly when administered to children. In late 2004, the FDA issued a public health advisory directing pharmaceutical companies to include a "black box" warning on the label of all antidepressant drugs. The statement included on the box warned of the following: "Antidepressants increase the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior (suicidality) in children and adolescents with major depressive disorder (MDD) and other psychiatric disorders. Anyone considering the use of [drug name] or any other antidepressant in a child or adolescent must balance this risk with the clinical need."