Chances are you know someone who takes some sort of medication to treat depression. But a new analysis of a 14-year-old study that tested the effectiveness of Paxil, a popular antidepressant, suggests taking it (or similar drugs) may be no more useful than taking placebos, and may actually cause serious, sometimes irreversible side effects like self-harm and suicidal tendencies.
The new analysis, which was published in the medical journal BMJ after researchers secured access to clinical trial data that’s typically hard to come by, re-examined the medical records of 275 adolescent patients with major depression who were involved in the original study. The researchers found “large and clinically meaningful differences” between their analysis of the patients’ experiences taking Paxil, and the information originally reported on the same data set. One of the biggest discrepancies (besides the drug’s overall effectiveness) was the frequency of suicidal thinking and events, which appears to have been underreported by the original researchers, according to the authors of the new BMJ analysis.
The new findings “apply to all drugs for all indications and all ages — they’re about how industry hypes drug benefits that might not exist and goes about hiding harms,” says BMJ study co-author David Healy, M.D., a psychiatrist and professor of psychiatry at Bangor University in the U.K.
Even though Dr. Healy says it’s mostly female patients who report adverse side effects to drugs and question existing research, if you’re currently taking Paxil, you probably don’t give AF about how or why the original analysis went wrong — you’re wondering whether you should trash your prescription.
The definitive answer is “no.” That’s because withdrawal can heighten your risk of suicide — even if you were never suicidal in the first place, Dr. Healy says. For what it’s worth, no one is calling for a ban on Paxil or any other SSRI antidepressants — even though Dr. Healy thinks other drug formulas could pose similar risks. Rather, researchers are calling for wider access to clinical data so you can thumb through the facts yourself before going on a medication and better understand any side effects you experience while you undergo treatment.
So if you’ve been taking Paxil for more than a few weeks and you’re feeling perfectly fine, there’s no reason to freak out — it’s unlikely you’ll have any problems on your current dose. But if your antidepressant medication is making you feel way worse, talk to the doctor who prescribed it ASAP.