The press release cited a new CDC study released in the New England Journal of Medicine and further stated, "a second study on SSRI and birth defects, also published in the June 28 issue of NEJM, did not find such an association with birth defects overall, but did find significant associations between specific SSRIs and several birth defects."
Since the CDC put out the press release, hundreds of headlines have flooded the internet citing the new studies as proof that there is a low risk of birth defects with SSRI use during pregnancy, and the results of the studies have been reported as breaking health care news by every major media outlet in the US.
The pharmaceutical industry as a whole has spent a fortune buying influence in the media since 1997, when the government lifted restrictions on direct-to-consumer advertising.
In an article titled, Physicians and Bribery, published by News Target on July 7, 2005, Dani Veracty says the real story about prescription drugs is not being told because the drug makers are controlling the budgets of the major media companies by pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into TV, magazine, newspaper and online advertising.
"Because of this," he states, "the media companies out there don't want to say anything bad about these prescription drugs."
In the July-August Columbia Journalism Review, contributing editor Judy Lieberman, reported that at the end of 2004, drug-company ad revenue for Time Magazine totaled $67 million; for Newsweek $43 million; and for The New York Times took in $13 million.
By 2004, she reported, advertising revenues for the five networks including CNN and Fox news was $1.5 billion.
The drugs in the NEJM studies included Prozac by Eli Lilly, Zoloft from Pfizer; Paxil by GlaxoSmithKline, Celexa and Lexapro from Forest Labs; Luvox by Solvay, Effexor by Wyeth, and generic SSRI makers include Barr Pharmaceuticals, Ranbaxy Labs and Genpharm.
Prior to the arrival SSRIs on the market, depression was estimated to affect only 100 people per million and patients with depression sought help from a medical professional trained in psychiatry and the treatment of disorder.
However, the rate of depression is now estimated to be in the range of 50,000 to 100,000 cases per million, or between a 500 to 1,000-fold increase, according to Jane Currie in the Marketization of Depression, in the May 2005 journal Women and Health Protection.
In April 2004, the CDC reported that antidepressants topped the list of drugs prescribed to women at visits to doctor's offices and outpatient departments, followed by estrogens and progestins, antiarthritics, and medicines for acid/peptic disorders, in the Journal of Women's Health.
By 2005, the CDC recently reported, antidepressants were the most prescribed drugs in the US during visits to doctors and hospitals and were prescribed far more often than even medications used to treat high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and headaches.
Yet, a recent analysis of studies on the efficacy of 12 second-generation antidepressants including SSRIs and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), released on January 25, 2007, by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's (AHRQ), a division of the US Department of Health and Human Services, offers little support for the wide-spread use of these medications.
The AHRQ reviewed efficacy in treating major depressive disorder, dysthymia and subsyndromal depression (including minor depression), and also evaluated comparative efficacy for maintaining remission and for treating accompanying symptoms such as anxiety or insomnia or neurovegetative symptoms.
The review included 187 studies deemed to be of good or fair quality, including 89 head-to-head randomized controlled trials, 57 placebo-controlled randomized studies, with 126 of the studies sponsored by drug companies and 17 funded by government agencies or independent sources, and analyzed the effectiveness of Cymbalta, Wellbutrin, Effexor, Celexa, Lexapro, Prozac, Luvox, Remeron, Serzone, Paxil, Zoloft, and Desyrel, many of which are now also sold in generic form.
Overall the analysis found that in controlled studies, during 6 to 12 weeks of treatment, well over a third of the patients, or 38%, saw no improvement in their condition and 54% had only partial improvement and did not achieve remission.
In light of this clear lack of efficacy, it should be noted that as early as August 2004, the FDA label for SSRIs warned that "anxiety, agitation, panic attacks, insomnia, irritability, hostility, aggressiveness, impulsivity, akathisia (psychomotor restlessness), hypomania, and mania have been reported in adult and pediatric patients being treated with antidepressants for major depressive disorder as well as for other indications, both psychiatric and nonpsychiatric"