CBS News: 60 Minutes
Treating Depression: Is there a placebo effect?
On February 19 CBS 60 minutes interviewed a Harvard Professor Irving Kirsch. Kirsch has used the Freedom of Information Act to gather records from the FDA on the subject of antidepressants. Kirsch is the Associate Director of the Placebo Studies Program at the Harvard Medical School.
His research concludes that for most people taking antidepressants and feeling better the reason has nothing to do with the drug and everything to do with the placebo effect.
For a antidepressant drug to be approved by the FDA there have to be two studies where the drug performed better than the placebos.
Hirsch discovered that drug companies do many studies until they get two to meet the FDA criteria. He said that in one case there had been twelve studies and only two of the twelve had done better than the placebo thus allowing the drug to be certified by the FDA.
Hirsch says the effectiveness of the antidepressant drugs versus a placebo is minimal for most people. Sugar pills have the same effect.
Seventeen million Americans take these drugs and the pharmaceutical industry makes eleven billion dollars selling them.
The placebo effect is very effective. Often placebos are more effective even in surgery.
If a person is extremely depressed the drugs can be of value.
If a person just exercises they will do as well as the antidepressant drugs.