May 22, 2017
A scientific study published in 2004 touted the drug citalopram, brand named Celexa, which proved useful in treating major depression in children and teens. The pharmaceutical company making the drug, Forest, benefitted from the influence of the study’s lead author, Dr. Karen Wagner, now the president-elect of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. The study was said to be a double-blind, randomized trial, considered the gold standard for scientific research.
It turns out the drug may not be beneficial, and appears to even have harmful side-effects, and that drug-maker Forest and Wagner maneuvered to hide the negative information. In an unusual development, secret documents showing how they did so came to light, only because some patients’ attorneys suing the company succeeded in getting confidential company documents unsealed.
The documents suggest “ghostwriters” for the company wrote the positive article, then had Wagner review it and put her name on it. The ghostwriters included information from patients who knew they were taking the drug and described positive effects.
The patients’ knowledge that they were receiving the drug destroys the “double-blind” nature of the study, and also implies the researchers knew their status. If these patients are excluded from the study, the drug would have been found to be no more effective than a placebo. None of this was described in Wagner’s article.
A second study of citalopram had even worse findings. It found the drug to be much less effective than a placebo, and twice as many study subjects showed suicidal thoughts or behaviors as those on the placebo! Forest hid the findings of the second study while promoting Wagner’s article aggressively.
A group of 16 scientists are asking the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to retract the study’s positive findings. So far, the APA has not done so. Despite the lawsuit, doctors still widely prescribe this apparently dangerous drug.
How many more drugs are there whose dangerous side effects have been concealed? It all shows the pharmaceutical industry can count on the FDA not to stand in the way of corporate profits.