After running a survey of anxiety medication on my Facebook page it is clear that SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) are a popular medication with anxiety sufferers with many users crediting it with relieving their symptoms, but are they really as effective as drug companies would like us to believe?
Well the jury is still out to some degree on this one but the evidence is certainly not as clear cut in favour of the pharmaceutical giants anymore.
Only after a lawsuit under the freedom of information act in 2004 when GlaxoSmithkline were forced to publish all studies done on their drugs online could the numbers be properly crunched. Until this time it was common practice for drug companies to selectively publish their studies, which of course led them to only publish those that were favourable to the drug they were trying to sell.
Once all of the papers were published, a group of researchers at Wayne State University and Harvard Medical school decided to do a meta-analysis to test the effectiveness of the SSRI drug paroxetine (Paxil) against taking a placebo (sugar pill). A meta-analysis is where the researchers collect all of the results of many studies together to see the overall picture.
The researchers took 12 studies altogether (4 of which has originally been unpublished by GSK) and looked at the effect both the drug and the placebo had on people based on the Hamilton Scale. The Hamilton is the mostly commonly used and accurate measure of anxiety symptoms that we have at the moment and rates sufferers on a 56 point scale based on a number of questions – the higher the score, the more serious the anxiety symptoms.
What they found was that over a relatively short study of between 8 and 12 weeks, the people who took the paroxetine saw an average overall improvement of 11.1 points – which means their score decreased by 11.1 points from the 56. The people who took the placebo sugar pill on the other hand saw an overall improvement of 8.8 points.
Now while it is clear then that the SSRI in question was more effective than the placebo, the relative amount of effectiveness is troubling.
If a daily sugar-pill can be shown to be 79% as effective as a drug that often comes parceled with inherent costs and side-effects, is it really worth it?
Is it the active ingredients within these pills that relieved the symptoms of my Facebook users or was it the placebo effect?
I guess we will never know.