Dr Bob's Blog

The Antidepressant Scandal

The Big Pharma industry would have you believe that their myriads of antidepressants—from Prozac on—are effective. They’ve been pushing them for 50 years. Yet ever since 1998 it has been suspected that they are no more effective than placebos (see New Scientist, July 11, 1998). The famous 2008 study by Hull University (see PLoS Medicine, February, 2008), which showed that none of the antidepressants that were available then worked, should’ve put paid to the pharmaceutical industry’s Big Lie.

But it didn’t. The fact is that physicians and psychiatrists go on prescribing them because patients demand something and doctors believe that a placebo is better than nothing. Tragically they push them to children (a large and growing market) even though authorities in most developed countries have warned against their use for people under 18. They are even prescribed for dementia patients—though studies have shown they are totally ineffective (The Lancet July 18, 2011).

The side effects of these drugs, even for adults can be dangerous (FDA bulletin, January 2009) and sometimes fatal.

The truth is that the drug companies are so intent on pushing their current ineffective and dangerous antidepressants that for many years they have done little research aimed at finding another cure.

And yet an effective treatment is, perhaps, already available. It is in limited use as an antidepressant in some hospitals in the US. It’s called ketamine. Traditionally ketamine has been used as an anaesthetic for animals and more recently as a clubbing drug called ‘Special K.’ Its use as an antidepressant was pioneered a few years ago by Yale University researchers (see Science October 5, 2012). Its main drawback is that it is presently delivered intravenously. It has other problems. In large doses it can cause memory loss and it is a potentially dangerous hallucinogen. For these reasons it is considered unsuitable, at the moment, to be released for general use—though human trials are underway in both the US and Australia.

The point here is that the development of ketamine, and other promising antidepressant drugs, is being held up because Big Pharma isn’t interested, and they’re the only ones with the funds to develop, test and market them. The drug companies would rather go on peddling their useless and dangerous placebos.