Antidepressant rankings: Zoloft and Lexapro considered best overall

A number of antidepressants were recently ranked in different surveys:

Zoloft and Lexapro came in first for a combination of effectiveness and fewer side effects, followed by Prozac (fluoxetine), Paxil (paroxetine), Cymbalta, and Luvox among others.

The first was efficacy — or how likely patients were to experience the desired effects of the drug.

Efficacy:

1. Remeron (Mirtazapine)
2. Lexapro (Escitalopram)
3. Effexor (Venlafaxine)
4. Zoloft (Sertraline)
5. Celexa (Citalopram)
6. Wellbutrin (Buproprion)
7. Paxil (Paroxetine)
8. Savella (Milnacipran)
9. Prozac (Fluoxetine)
10. Cymbalta (Duloxetine)
11. Luvox (Fluvoxamine)
12. Vestra (Reboxetine)

The second was acceptability — the likelihood that a patient would continue using a drug for the duration of the study (it is generally assumed that a high ratio of patients dropping out indicates the presence of undesirable side effects for a drug).

Acceptability:

1. Zoloft (Sertraline)
2. Lexapro (Escitalopram)
3. Wellbutrin (Buproprion)
4. Celexa (Citalopram)
5. Prozac (Fluoxetine)
6. Savella (Milnacipran)
7.
Remeron (Mirtazapine)
8. Effexor (Venlafaxine)
9. Paxil (Paroxetine)
10. Cymbalta (Duloxetine)
11. Luvox (Fluvoxamine)
12. Vestra (Reboxetine)

antidepressantsMy experience with Lexapro was a disaster and I’ve written about Zoloft’s connection with irritability and rage. Paxil’s side effects are especially rough (see Bob Fiddaman’s Seroxat page) while Effexor’s withdrawal effects proved to be significantly challgenging. Although Prozac offset Effexor’s withdrawal symptoms, it causes severe somnolence that can impair cognitive functioning. And last but not least, Cymbalta contributed to the unfortunate death of Traci Johnson who had no history of depression.

These drugs may be effective for many people but it’s still a guessing game. Dr. Mark I. Levy, quoted in ABC News’s article on the rankings, mentioned that while psychiatrists may not have much use for the rankings, he sees them as beneficial for primary care physicians. And Dr. Harold G. Koenig, a professor at Duke University Medical Center, adds:

“I would be likely to start patients on either Zoloft [because it’s cheaper] or Lexapro … Unfortunately, that is almost none of my patients. By the time they get to me [a psychiatrist], the primary-care doctors have tried Zoloft and other antidepressants, so my patient are not the “new to medication” kind of patients,” he said.

I won’t rehash my thoughts on PCPs prescribing antidepressants and other psych meds. You can read about them here.

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Depression Overawareness and Overmedication Week

The Pursuit of Happiness

This post kicks off Depression Overawareness and Overmedication Week.

Two weeks ago, CLPsych and Gianna, among others, celebrated Bipolar Overawareness Week. To cap off Mental Health Awareness Month, I’ve declared this last week of May Depression Overawareness and Overmedication Week. Use this checklist to identify whether you may possibly be “overaware” and “overmedicated” for depression:

  • If you’re on Zoloft because you’ve never been sad or anxious.
  • If you get a prescription for Lexapro on Thursday because you had a bad day on Tuesday.
  • If you take Paxil because you’re never restless or irritable.
  • If you are on Pristiq as a result of sadness and guilt over your Wii-related injury (eg, throwing your shoulder out or tripping over the coffee table).
  • If you are on Celexa because you hate the job that you disliked anyway before you began the medication.
  • If you are on Cymbalta because you are tired after normal long, exhausting days at your job(s).
  • If you are on Effexor only because you overate during the holidays.
  • If you take Prozac because you’ve never had passing thoughts of suicide.

If you meet any of the criteria above, this is a medical emergency. You are overaware and overmedicated. Go see your doctor immediately and discuss treatment options that involve non-medication and/or talk therapy.

Now, the disclaimer.
The checklist above is satire. It is not intended to poke fun at those who suffer with real clinical depression (of which I am one). It is intended to mock the extremely high number of people in the U.S. who are diagnosed with depression and medicated with antidepressants. This is not a medically based checklist for anything. It is not a professional recommendation or intended for professional use. It is not intended to be serious. In fact, it is not intended to be seriously serious. If you take this to your doctor, he or she will probably diagnose you with something other than depression. If you have been offended by this post, don’t be; you shouldn’t come close to meeting the criteria above. And if you do, then you really should go to a doctor. While I meet the criterion for sadness over my Wii-related injury, I don’t take Pristiq for it. If you have something nice to say, click on the Comments link below. If you don’t have something nice to say, click on the Comments link below.

(comic from problogs.com)

My official position on pharmaceutical companies and psychotropic meds

In previous posts, perhaps I’ve come off a little bit as “I hate Big Pharma.” I did. For a while.

I’m not in love with pharmaceutical companies either. I’ve quoted it before but “to whom much is given, much is required.” As a result of accumulating knowledge through reading and research, I know a whole lot more about pharmaceutical companies, the treatment options they put out there, and what lengths they go to get those treatments out there. Most of the things I read are negative. Much of what I’ve said is negative. Perhaps “ignorance is bliss.” My husband said this recently:

“The Internet is the great bitching ground. No one’s going to talk about how great medication is. Everyone’s going to go on and just bitch about side effects and bad experiences.”

I agree. “Effexor really helped me feel better today” doesn’t make for an interesting blog post. No one pays attention to medication when it’s working, however, everyone will complain if something is going wrong. The most “positive” drug comments I’ve seen are on my seemingly “negative” posts from people who are being helped by a drug.

Take, for instance, the following comment from Suffering:

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Paxil's great for kids

An Associated Press article has reported on how antidepressants have a positive effect on children and adolescents. The upside? No suicides.

Antidepressants used: Paxil, Celexa, Zoloft, Lexapro, Prozac, Serzone, Remeron.

Dr. David Brent from the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Medicine is a flat-out idiot:

‘‘The medications are safe and effective and should be considered as an important part of treatment. The benefits seem favorable compared to the small risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior.’’

Screw you, Dr. Brent for not taking meds and taking money from drug companies (probably to fund research studies). All meds listed above – Paxil, namely – have side/withdrawal effects strong enough to fuck an adult up, let alone a developing child. Sure, I recommend alcohol for kids: It’s safe, effective, and the benefits are favorable compared to the small risk of alcoholism and drunk driving.

The prestigious Duke University has a smarter and cautious doctor, Dr. John March, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center.

“He said the suicidal behavior risk, although lower than found by the FDA, demands that doctors and families watch for warning signs.

‘You can’t treat kids with these drugs without taking this information into account,’ said March, who was not involved in the study, but does similar research. ‘You can’t say, ‘Take these and call me in six weeks.’ You have to monitor carefully the benefits and adverse events.’

An addendum: “The study was supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.”

Talk amongst yourselves.

Hirschfeld developed MDQ for GSK

“GlaxoSmithKline, one of the world’s leading research-based pharmaceutical healthcare companies, is committed to improving the quality of human life by enabling people to do more, feel better, and live longer.”

Quetiapine articleOK, I’ll be honest. I can’t keep up with my own posts and have no idea whether or not I’ve posted on this yet. Judging from the fact that I still have this bp booklet, I’m going to guess not. If I have, then there’s more.

When my psychiatrist diagnosed me with bipolar disorder in November, he handed me a bunch of material: a mood tracker (PDF), an article touting the benefits of Seroquel, and a booklet titled, “Bipolar Disorder,” which refers the reader to www.1on1.health.com.

The booklet seems pretty harmless to a patient newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder:

“Highs and lows can be part of life. But, with bipolar disorder, they can be severe. You may feel too depressed to get out of bed one day. Soon after, you may feel full of energy. You may have normal times between the highs and lows. When people have mood symptoms, it’s more likely to be depression.

Mood swings can be hard to predict. But you may have warning signs. You may even learn what can trigger your symptoms. You’ll read about this and more in this booklet.

Bipolar disorder is complex. Doctors docn’t know what causes it. They know that genes play a role. The illness may be linked to brain chemicals. These chemicals can get out of balance.

There are treatments to help control the symptoms. Learn about your condition. Get help for it. This booklet is a good first step.”

Thank you, GlaxoSmithKline.

GSK, the provider of such psych drugs as Lamictal, Paxil, and Wellbutrin, issues a series of booklets for patients referring them to 1on1health.com. The topics include depression, anxiety disorders, epilepsy, type 2 diabetes mellitus, high cholesterol, among others. The tips seems pretty simple and straightforward:

“Health and lifestyle chances may trigger your symptoms. Some common changes are:

Not having a sleep schedule
Misusing alcohol or drugs
Stopping your medicine, or starting medicine for depression or another illness
Having thyroid or other health problems”

Then it gets into the general stuff about the difference between mania, depression and further clarifies what hypomania and mixed moods are. Then, the kicker follows:

“If you think you may have bipolar disorder, fill out the checklist on the next two pages. Share it with your doctor. He or she can use it to help diagnose you.”

Bipolar questionnaireFurious Seasons posted a link about a fake drug named Havidol (which I totally got suckered into because I skimmed the post and missed the “OK, it’s a gag” part), but the hilarity stems from similarly stupid (and vague) questions. I’ve put a screenshot of the PDF GSK provides on their Web site to the right. My issue is not so much with the questions necessarily, but with the lead-in to them:

Has there been a time when...” [emphasis mine]

It doesn’t matter whether you were 3 years old or 46 years old, if you answered “yes” to more than one “there’s ever been a time when” question, guess what? You MAY qualify for bipolar disorder! A sampling:

Has there ever been a time when…

  • You were easily angered that you shouted at people or started fights?
  • You felt much more sure of yourself than usual?
  • You talked or spoke much faster than usual?
  • You were so easily distracted that you couldn’t focus?
  • You had much more energy than usual?
  • You were much more active or did many more things than usual?
  • You were much more social than usual?
  • You were much more interested in sex than usual?

Guaranteed everyone reading this said “yes” to at least TWO questions. If not, I question whether you’re breathing. (Sadly enough, this makes me realize how easy it was for me to get fooled by the phony Havidol quiz.)

The follow-up to the questions above asks, “If you checked YES to more than one of the questions above, have several of these things happened during the same period of time?” Then, “How much of a problem did any of these things cause you (like not being able to work, or having money or legal troubles)? Choose one[:]

  1. No problem
  2. Minor problem
  3. Moderate problem
  4. Serious problem”

The multiple choice question above may not matter. Answering some of the lead-in questions in the affirmative may qualify you for the disorder.

Here’s a nice little tidbit. The questionnaire was “adapted with permission from Robert M.A. Hirschfeld, M.D.” So as an uninformed patient reading this (which I was at the time), I’m thinking, “Oh, this must be legit since they got permission from a doctor to use this checklist.” There’s more than meets the eye here.

On the surface, Dr. Hirschfeld seems like an awesome doctor – and he very well may be. Dr Hirschfeld’s bio from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB) extols the “Professor and Chair” of its psychiatry deparment. He has history of working with various national organizations such as the National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association,  National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD). He’s written all kinds of articles and blah blah blah. He’s considered a leader in his research of bipolar disorder.

In fact, because Dr. Hirschfeld is so great, he’s a member of pharmaceutical boards and has acted as a consultant for pharmaceutical companies, according to ISI Highly Cited.com. Some of our favorite guys appear here: Pfizer, Wyeth, Abbott Labs., Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Forest Labs, Janssen, and – lookee here! – GSK.

The duration of Dr. Hirschfeld’s affiliations with these pharmaceutical companies are unspecified. All other “appointments/affiliations” have assigned years, i.e. 1972-1977, 2001-Present. His consulting affiliations follow his internship in 1968-1969. It looks a bit misleading to follow the consulting jobs after, oh say, 1969, and not provide dates of when he became a consultant for all of these pharma companies. Toward the end of the document that I found, his affiliations from 1986-Present are listed with various boards, associations, journals, and a slew of pharmaceutical companies.

Hello, hello, hello. He is a MEMBER of the Zyprexa U.S. Bipolar Academic Advisory Board, the Celexa/Excitalopram [sic] Executive Advisory Board, the Lamictal National Advisory Board, and the Zoloft Advisory Board.

Humor me here. His clinical trials include:

  • 1994 Paroxetine for Dysthymia (SmithKline Beecham)
  • 1995-97 Several (I found five) double-blind studies on sertraline and imipramine in patients qualifying for the DSM-III definition of major depressive disorder
  • 1996-98 Gabapentin therapy for bipolar patients

And the list, including mirtazapine, fluoxetine, venlafaxine, lamotrigine, goes on. You can also find the “grants” pharma companies gave to fund these clinical trials.

From 1997-2000, Hirschfeld received a $100K grant from Abbott Labs to develop “a new checklist for bipolar symptoms.” (I’m not sure what the old one was.) In 2001, he received a $142K grant for the “Bipolar Prevalence and Impact MDQ Project.”

I don’t even need to look MDQ up. It’s Mood Disorder Questionnaire. The grant came from GSK, who “adapted” the questionnaire with Hirschfeld’s “permission.” That sounds simply gravy.

To understand more about bipolar disorder, you can listen to the stories of Greg, Stuart and Leslie – all your classic bipolar cases and how medication and/or therapy has helped them so much. You can also watch the bipolar
disorder animation
that regurgitates all the things that we’ve become skeptical about.

In the meantime, remember the instructions included in Seroquel’s safety information that no one reads (excuse the crappy “Paint” job):

Seroquel warnings

The "Black Dog," Part III

By the end of March, we decided to get engaged and work out our differences. (I’d move to Kentucky and he’d be open to not having biological kids.) In early July, I quit Lexapro cold turkey. (This, folks, is a NO-NO.) Two weeks later, I had a relapse and attempted to commit suicide. Bob freaked out and called the cops and I nearly lost my job at a prestigious magazine. It wasn’t Bob’s fault; it was mine for quitting a med cold turkey and it was Dr. X’s for not warning me about the potential for suicide attempts on the drug. Perhaps she didn’t know. After all, she kept doling out Lexapro samples to me via the drug rep. When I told her in August that Lexapro wasn’t working, she became skeptical, assumed that I was still being noncompliant and wrote out a prescription for Zoloft. By that point, I was tired of meds. I’d gained 40-50 lbs between Paxil and Lexapro (after being skinny all my life) and still had a difficult time functioning normally. I never filled my prescription.

I moved to Kentucky in September and started a new job in October. After things became a little hectic and overwhelming at work in December, I became suicidal once again. I never saw Bob during the day (I worked second shift into third shift sometimes) so he was able to be depressed during the night and hide it apart from me since I rarely saw him. Bob, fearful of a failing marriage and I’d make good on my promise to kill myself, made the decision for us to move back to his hometown in Pennsylvania in April 2006.

As of January 2006, I knew I needed to be hospitalized and talked about it frequently. However, I felt like I couldn’t: "My job needs me," I said. "We’re understaffed. My job needs me." Even the anxiety of handing in my resignation at a job I hadn’t been employed at for a year gripped me.

We began our job search in the metro Philly area in April and both landed jobs in May. He in the suburbs; I in Philadelphia. My suicidal attempts and thoughts remained with me, but began to increase in August. My sick days became frequent. After a honeymoon at the end of August, I came back in September to a hostile co-worker and a micromanaging, picky boss. Those factors – in addition to whatever I was already dealing with – contributed to taking a disability leave from my job and admitting myself to a psych hospital. I’d been unwilling to do it because I was so busy, but if not, my husband would have been forced to do it for me.

I stayed in the hospital for 7-8 days. The doctor who initially admitted me asked me what meds I’d been on. I said Lexapro and Paxil. I mentioned I didn’t like them. He suggested that I try Celexa in the meantime and that it wasn’t the same as those two. Before I began this blog, I had no idea that Lexapro (escitalopram) and Celexa (citalopram) are virtually the same thing. I passed on Celexa at med times, knowing that my case doctor would be switching me to something different. My case doctor, Dr. S, recommended Effexor XR after I told him that I’d had trouble with Lexapro and Paxil. He said, "Well, it’s an SNRI and functions differently than an SSRI. Let’s try you on that. We’ll start you off at 37.5 mg and get you up to 150 mg by the time you leave."

On the first day of Effexor, I developed severe somnolence that lasted an hour. Later that day and the next three days, I developed severe dry mouth. I’d never known what dry mouth was until then. So I chugged several Snapple Iced Teas a day since water wasn’t available through their vending machines. (Weird, I know.) When I began at my intensive outpatient treatment afterward, a nurse told me that drinking too much sugar can cause the liver to overproduce sugar – if I remember correctly – which can lead to diabetes. *sigh*

Because of a (somewhat) sexual assault incident at the hospital, my release was hastened and I left at 75 mg of Effexor. My psychiatrist at the outpatient clinic titrated me up to 150 mg, which according to him, "is standard. Some patients do better at 300 mg." (!) By the time my outpatient treatment was over, I was steady at 150 mg of Effexor.

In the meantime, my husband was overtaken by all the events that had been occuring since August. (You’d be freaked out too if you woke up to see your spouse trying to hang him/herself.)

In November, he finally admitted to me that he struggle with depression. He began crying all the time over nearly everything. As a computer programmer for seven years, he felt inadequate and insecure at his new job. He cried over my depression. He cried about worsening my depression with his depression. He became anxious over everything. He couldn’t sleep in the event that he’d wake up to see another suicide attempt. He became wracked with anxiety. After much provoking and nagging, he finally agreed to seek treatment in the evening at the outpatient clinic I’d been to. He found it somewhat helpful but admitted that it was difficult to act on what he’d learned.

November threw another curveball at us when my outpatient psychiatrist diagnosed me with bipolar disorder. That finally explained my hostile, irritable, and angry episodes (which normally occurred at night) in addition to my depression. Now, Bob became anxious over the next manic episode that might occur.

Just as he had involved my mother of my situation, I sat down with his parents and spoke with them about Bob’s. His parents seemed taken aback. The quiet, shy kid had all these problems that they’d never known about? His parents and I thought that Bob was freaking out over me and the recent events. Little did we all know that it was simply a trigger. Since I was around Bob all the time now, he wasn’t able to hide it from me any longer.

Despite weekly counseling that we began in August, he still suffers from extreme anxiety. He still suffers from depression with passing suicidal thoughts. He still cries and gets angry over, well, insignificant things. But he’s been brave to admit that he struggles with depression. He’s taken a leap of faith to talk to his parents, his brother, and me about what he deals with and some of what he’s been thinking. Bob has a long way to go, but he’s finally taken the steps forward to recovery.

Blog worth checking out

Holly Finch’s blog “Am I Still Me?” is worth taking a look at. She was a survivor in the London bombing that occurred on July 7, 2005 and as a result, blogs about her daily life while suffering from PTSD.

She recently blogged about coming off citalopram (U.S. trademark name: Celexa) and is experiencing some awful withdrawal effects. This makes me glad that I skipped Celexa in the hospital before I met my doctor. He recommended Effexor instead.

Not that it makes a difference really. I just had the privilege of not having two withdrawal symptoms in succession.

2nd-generation Celexa, or TC-2216

Targacept is in the process of developing a “new class of [oral] drugs known as NNR (neuronal nicotinic receptor) Therapeutics.” They’re starting the first phase of a clinical trial called TC-2216 that targets depression and anxiety treatment.

“The trial is designed to evaluate the safety and tolerability of TC-2216 and to assess its pharmacokinetic profile. The trial is a double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover study, with sequential ascending single oral doses administered to healthy male volunteers.”

The next paragraph in the press release (basically) that I got this from goes on to explain that the new compound focuses in on the central nervous system and mood-regulating neurotransmitters, blah, blah, blah.

“In preclinical studies, TC-2216 showed greater potency than and anti-depressant effects comparable to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and tricyclics, which are commonly used treatments for depression, as well as anxiety-relieving effects.”

Because every new product in the clinical trial phase and has yet to receive FDA approval is better than everything currently out on the market. Of course.

“In November, the company announced positive top line results from a Phase II clinical trial of TRIDMAC, a treatment combination comprised of mecamylamine hydrochloride as an augmentation therapy to citalopram hydrobromide, in patients who did not respond adequately to citalopram alone. Mecamylamine hydrochloride binds non-selectively to various NNR subtypes, but there is a body of scientific evidence that suggests that its anti-depressant activity is derived through its antagonism at the alpha4beta2 NNR.”

What’s that mean? They’re basically working on Celexa II if people were treatment-resistant to the original Celexa. Like many other drug companies, they’re patenting a similar version of Celexa once Celexa’s eligible to become a generic brand.

“‘The results of our TRIDMAC trial not only substantiate the promise of the NNR mechanism in the treatment of depression and other mood disorders, but also further bolster our enthusiasm for the potential of TC-2216 said J. Donald deBethizy, Ph.D., Targacept’s President and Chief Executive Officer.’”

That’s a pretty bold statement for a company that’s just in Phase I of a clinical trial.

Docs don't prescribe enough antid's: Part II

I finally watched the MSN video that I talked about here.

MSNBC

As I predicted, it was extremely lame. It was a pitch to get on depressed people on antidepressants. The 1 minute 18 second video from Today stated the following:

  • doctors prescribe smaller doses of antidepressants than they should
  • depression is the most common cause of disability America
  • the “groundbreaking new study” says antid’s aren’t prescribed enough to be effective
  • medication and therapy can help 70 percent of patients recover IF they find the right combination
  • Casey Thompson – the lady above featured in the video taking pills (hooray!) – feels amazingly better after getting antid’s

The accompanying article also states that 13 percent of the 123 study participants who did not get better on the first three drugs they tried were helped by a fourth. If I’m correct, essentially 16 people were helped after trying four different antid’s. The article says 37 percent went into remission after starting Celexa (citalopram), made by Forest Laboratories. That would mean about 46 people saw immediate remission of symptoms. The rest – 77 people now – “switched to another antidepressant or continued with Celexa and added a second treatment.” The second round on the merry-go-round helped 31 percent of the remaining group: 24 people. Ok, so we’re now down to 53 people who haven’t been helped. The third attempt – whatever that was, the article doesn’t say – had a 14 percent success rate: 7 people. And the fourth attempt had a success rate of 13 percent of the leftovers: 6 people. That means 40 people were NOT helped by antidepressants are these combination of treatments. Therefore, “67 percent of the total group had been helped by one or more drugs.” Nice pitch.

Here’s where the Today video fails to educate its viewers:

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PCPs Don't Know Jack From Zyprexa

Eli Lilly’s actions continue to be appalling.

LillyApart from trying to hide the fact that Zyprexa induces weight gain, diabetes, and hyperglycemia, they also had sales reps encourage primary care physicians to prescribe Zyprexa for patients who did not have schizophrenia or bipolar disorder (basically off-label usage).

It seems that Lilly told marketing reps to suggest Zyprexa for dementia in the elderly. Lilly denies this, of course, since olanzapine (Zyprexa’s generic name) is not approved for that kind of use since it increases the risk of death in seniors with psychosis associated with dementia. Lilly also attempted to market olanzapine to patients with mild bipolar disorder who suffer mainly from depression. (In actuality, Zyprexa is approved to treat those who suffer from mania.)

This issue with Eli Lilly delves into precisely why I am against PCPs prescribing psychiatric medicines. Primary care physicians don’t know enough about the various psychiatric conditions to prescribe the appropriate kind of medication. This type of prescription should be left to specialists like psychiatrists. PCPs should focus on the things they deal with on a daily basis that no one else can take care of: the common cold, the flu, annual physical, etc. It should be the job of the PCP to refer a patient to a psychiatrist should they present symptoms of mental illness (depression, schizophrenia, etc.). I have been burned by having a PCP prescribe antidepressants for me and as a result, attributed my horrible experience with drugs to that.

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