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Antidepressant boom described as harmful

John Horgan, director of the Center for Science Writings at the Stevens Institute of Technology, wrote an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education in which he questions whether the surge in antidepressant prescriptions may be doing more harm than good.

In fact, he writes that clinical evidence suggests “American psychiatry, in collusion with the pharmaceutical industry, is perpetrating what may be the biggest case of iatrogenesis—harmful medical treatment—in history.”

When he first researched the issue 15 years ago, sales of a new class of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRI’s, were booming. The first SSRI, Prozac, had quickly become the most widely prescribed drug in the world.

More types of SSRI antidepressants would show up in the years ahead. And all of the SSRI antidepressants would eventually generate health concerns, including a number of studies linking them to potentially dangerous heart and lung defects in newborns.

Despite the rave reviews from many psychiatrists when SSRIs first came on the market, Horgan writes, clinical trials found SSRIs to be no more effective than two older classes of antidepressants, tricyclics and monoamine oxidase inhibitors. And antidepressants as a whole proved to be no more effective than so-called talking cures, whether cognitive behavioral therapy or even old-fashioned Freudian psychoanalysis.

Some investigators attribute any benefits from the SSRI antidepressants to the placebo effect.

Over the past few decades the proportion of Americans diagnosed with mental illness has skyrocketed, coinciding with a paradoxical surge in prescriptions for psychiatric drugs. Anecdotal and clinical evidence suggests that the two trends may be related, Horgan writes. While antidepressants and other psychiatric medications often provide short-term relief, over time they make many patients sicker than they would have been if they had never been medicated.

Patients should consult their doctors before making any changes in their medication. A consultation with an SSRI lawyer is also important if there are significant injuries from SSRIs.

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