NPR's Hensley gets headline of the day: "The Crummiest Antidepressant You've Never Heard Of"

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Scott Hensley of NPR’s health blog, Shots, writes:

“…odds are the drug reboxetine would be Greek to you.

The Pfizer antidepressant, never approved in the U.S., has been available in many European countries since 1997. Even so, the medicine, which zeroes in on the chemical norepinephrine in the brain, hasn’t been a big hit.

Now we’re getting a deeper look from German researchers at why that may be. An analysis just published by BMJ, the British Medical Journal, pans reboxetine, calling it “an ineffective and potentially harmful antidepressant.”

Perhaps the most disturbing part of the report is that three-quarters of the clinical test data the German researchers examined had never been published. Pfizer made the data available only after “massive public pressure,” said the researchers, affiliated with the nonprofit Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care.

After the previously unseen data on more than 3,000 patients were added to the mix, the researchers found reboxetine wasn’t effective for treating major depression and had more side effects than a placebo or Prozac.

In a statement, the German group said, “when the results concealed up to now were included, the effect of reboxetine (marketed under the trade name Edronax) became so small that patients did not benefit from the drug, meaning that it is useless.” The researchers say their experience with reboxetine underscores the need for mandatory public reporting of the results from clinical tests of pharmaceuticals.”

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Comments (6)

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Rob Stuart-Vail

October 18, 2010 at 10:31 am

Gary, you’re doing great work with the Review. It’s gotten me past the point where I would tacitly accept a writer’s claim”: “Possible cure for Alzheimer’s….etc” or some similar bit of wishful thinking, and I now read to the end,then ask the kind of questions you’ve been asking:
“what about the limitations, harms, alternatives, conflicts of interest and other facets of the study and its implications.”
You’re probably on the hit list of many big companies as a result of your probing, but please keep it up – we need you.
Best –
Rob Stuart-Vail

Paul Scott

October 20, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Great NPR, but a little late to the party, yes?
After all, you could apply that statement to every single antidepressant: ineffective (against placebo) and potentially harmful.
Where’s the news here?


October 20, 2010 at 7:25 pm

Gary, great blog. I keep sharing it with my friends and family. I just had to widely share the one about the watermelon with your checklist re reading articles about medicine. Great stuff. I have put a link to the specific post– just so you know– I merely tried to spread and amplify. I found you via mutual friend Bruce Dan, speaking of bloggers- whew!