Thursday, January 17, 2008

Drug Research is Somewhat Misleading

I heard an interesting story on NPR this morning, and I've been researching it on the 'net ever since.

A researcher who used to work for the FDA noticed that studies of anti-depressants that yielded positive results (that the drugs worked better than placebo) were published more frequently than studies that yielded negative results (that the drugs only worked as well as placebo). So he did some research into it, and wrote a paper about it that was published today in the New England Journal of Medicine.

I guess this is news, but I'm not so surprised. Of course it makes sense that journals publish studies that show interesting results. If the result is "it doesn't work," that's not as interesting.

The problem with this is that the doctors and other medical professionals who read the journals are getting a biased view of the studies. They are only reading the studies that say the drugs work, and have no way (unless they really dig) of learning about studies that found no effect of the drug.

Here are some articles I've found on this topic today:
Unfavorable drug studies don't get into print
A happy face on antidepressants
Study indicates bias in drug trial reporting

And there are MANY others.

So what does this mean? It doesn't mean that anti-depressants don't work, which I'm afraid is the message that many people will get from this report. What is does mean -- in my opinion -- is that providers need to be careful to review ALL the studies about a drug, both positive and negative, in order to learn the real story of its effectiveness. Journals need to be more open to publishing studies that show no effect. With anti-depressants, prescribing is very trial-and-error anyway. Some drugs work for some people, some don't. So docs often need to try several in order to find one that works for a patient. I don't think this research should discourage people from using anti-depressants. It just reminds us of the importance of research -- all research -- and that we need ALL the facts when making medical and health decisions.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great minds think alike-- I saw this in the NYT and blogged about it as well.