When Dr. Irving Kirsch published his meta-analysis in PLoS Medicine in February 2008 showing that antidepressants were no more effective than a placebo in treating mild or moderate depression, the national news media ignored his explosive findings, for the most part. And when I published Side Effects a few months later, exposing the deception behind the making of the bestselling antidepressant Paxil, they were similarly unresponsive. While my book received great reviews and a lot of attention from regional radio outlets, the national broadcast media pretty much ignored the story. Indeed, a studio interview I did with Kai Ryssdal on American Public Media’s Marketplace never aired, perhaps because of the pressure Paxil’s maker, GlaxoSmithKline, brought to bear on Marketplace’s producers.
So it was with some bemusement that I watched the 60 Minutes segment on antidepressants, which focused on Kirsch’s 2008 finding that antidepressants are no better than placebo in treating most forms of depression. In the segment, Kirsch, who is now associate director of the Program in Placebo Studies at Beth-Israel Deaconess Hospital, noted that the reason many patients feel better after taking antidepressants is not because of the drug’s effect, but because of the powerful placebo effect in making them feel better.
Why, I wondered, was 60 Minutes taking note of this now, four years after Kirsch published his meta-analysis and two years after he published his own book on the subject, The Emperor’s New Drugs?
Here is one very plausible reason, as articulated by Dr. Stephen Greer in a CurrentTV column today: because the patents for most of these blockbuster antidepressants (like Paxil and Prozac) have expired and the drug companies, who advertise heavily on television, are no longer pressuring the national media to stay mum.
As Greer notes, “it is quite rare for national TV news to report on any data critical of blockbusters despite plenty of research over the last several decades questioning the risk/benefit profile of numerous commonly used drugs.”
So why now? As he points out:
The most likely explanation is that the same drugs now being exposed as unsafe and ineffective have also lost patent protection and therefore, are no longer generating the huge advertising revenue for the networks. A significant portion of the revenue for the broadcast networks is derived from pharmaceutical advertisements.
I think Greer’s on to something. Don’t you?