According to a recently released study, most of the medication prescribed to children and teenagers suffering from depression does not actually help them, and instead could be considered to be dangerous.
The Lancet study took a closer look at 34 trials of 14 antidepressants involving a total of 5,260 patients between the ages of nine and eighteen. Drugs were ranked by how well they were able to treat symptoms of depression, whether any side effects occurred as a result of stopping the use of the drug, and whether the drug was connected to any thoughts or attempts of suicide, writes Nicole Lyn Pesce for The New York Daily News.
The results show just one drug, fluoxetine, more commonly called Prozac or Sarafem, to have a positive effect relieving severe depression symptoms over a sugar-pill placebo. Meanwhile, the children who took venlafaxine, better known as Effexor, Lanvexin, Viepax and Trevilor, showed an increased risk of suicidal thoughts and attempts.
"When considering the risk–benefit profile of antidepressants in the acute treatment of major depressive disorder, these drugs do not seem to offer a clear advantage for children and adolescents," concludes the report. "Fluoxetine is probably the best option to consider when a pharmacological treatment is indicated."
The idea of prescribing medication to children and teenagers suffering from depression has been controversial for some time. In 2004, the Food and Drug Administration put a black box warning, the strictest it offers, against the use of antidepressants for young people up until age 24 as concerns over suicides began to rise despite no children in the trials actually having committed suicide.
Despite this, the use of antidepressants in children and teenagers is continually increasing in both the United States and the United Kingdom. However, this is the first time a report has reviewed both the published and unpublished trials in order to look at how the drugs are affecting the children who take them, writes Steven Reinberg for US News.
Researchers believe more needs to be done on the topic, saying that not enough individual-level data is available from the trials in order to accurately predict how the drugs will effect patients, or how many may become suicidal.
"Delay in implementing responsible data sharing policies has negative consequences for medical research and patient outcomes, as demonstrated by this study," wrote lead author Dr. Andrea Cipriani at the University of Oxford in the report.
The authors say that this is in part because 65% of the trials were funded by pharmaceutical companies, in which one-third were rated as high risk for bias, with another 59% rated as having a moderate risk of bias. All of this means that these trials could have overestimated how well the drug actually works while also downplaying the side effects.
Dr. Jon Jureidini at the University of Adelaide in Australia believes that additional information pertaining to suicide could have come up if individual patient data had been available. He added that misreporting is dangerous because it can lead people to believe that any antidepressant is better than none.
Researchers suggest that children and adolescents should be closely monitored while taking any antidepressant, regardless of what kind it is.