November 16th, 2005
Are Some Anti-Depressant Drug Ads Deceptive?
By Gary Ruskin
The December issue of PLoS Medicine has a fascinating article about how some ads for anti-depressants such as Zoloft, Prozac, Paxil, Lexapro and Celexa appear to be misleading. The ads are based on the notion that the drugs, known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), help cure depression by increasing the supply of serotonin in the brain. However, the article cites substantial evidence that this “serotonin hypothesis” is, in fact, false. If so, then the Food and Drug Administration should stop the ads, because federal law prohibits drug advertising that is “false or misleading in any particular.”
“These advertisements present a seductive concept, and the fact that patients are now presenting with a self-described ‘chemical imbalance’ shows that the [advertising] is having its intended effect: the medical marketplace is being shaped in a way that is advantageous to the pharmaceutical companies,” write Jeffrey R. Lacasse and Jonathan Leo. “Patients who are convinced they are suffering from a neurotransmitter defect are likely to request a prescription for antidepressants, and may be skeptical of physicians who suggest other interventions, such as cognitive-behavioral, evidence-based or not. Like other vulnerable populations, anxious and depressed patients ‘are probably more susceptible to the controlling influence of advertisements’ In 1998, at the dawn of consumer advertising of SSRIs, Professor Emeritus of Neuroscience Elliot Valenstein summarized the scientific data by concluding, ‘What physicians and the public are reading about mental illness is by no means a neutral reflection of all the information that is available’. The current state of affairs has only confirmed the veracity of this conclusion. The incongruence between the scientific literature and the claims made in FDA-regulated SSRI advertisements is remarkable, and possibly unparalleled.”
- Posted by Tui Cook on November 22nd, 2005