[Fred A. Baughman Jr., MD:
Study Shows Drug Lifts Children's Depression Tue Aug 26, 6:06 PM ET Add Health - Reuters to My Yahoo! By Andrew Stern CHICAGO (Reuters) - An antidepressant popular with adults also helped many depressed children in a study released on Tuesday, although questions remain about its effectiveness compared with a placebo and whether it might stunt growth. Sixty-nine percent of the children between 6 and 17 who had been diagnosed with major depressive disorder responded positively to sertraline, sold under the brand name Zoloft by Pfizer Inc., which funded the study. But 59 percent of those taking a placebo, or sugar pill, for test comparison purposes also showed improvement in the 10-week study. Lead study author Karen Wagner of the University of Texas, writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association (news - web sites), attributed the powerful "placebo effect" to various factors, notably the increased attention accorded the patients in terms of doctor visits and psychotherapy. In an accompanying editorial, Christopher Varley of the University of Washington in Seattle noted the difference in effectiveness between drug and placebo was "only 10 percent," suggesting a therapeutic approach might be preferable. Also troubling was that 17 of the 189 sertraline patients dropped out of the study compared with five on the placebo because of "adverse events" such as agitation, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and anorexia, which also affect some adults. WEIGHT LOSS Another potentially significant finding was the weight loss among children who took Zoloft. The finding paralleled a previous study in which the similar antidepressant fluoxetine, commonly sold as Prozac by Eli Lilly and Co., resulted in children losing weight and not growing as fast as those taking a placebo. Wagner downplayed the finding, saying depression could play havoc with appetite, and that over 24 weeks the Zoloft users gained more weight than those taking a placebo. "The mechanism may just be decreased calorie consumption, it may be something as simple as that," said Dr. Richard Gorman, chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on drugs, in an interview with Reuters. Gorman said there was considerably less controversy over prescribing antidepressants to children than there was with Ritalin (news - web sites), a drug often prescribed to calm hyperactive behavior. If anything, he added, doctors may be too reluctant to prescribe a short course of antidepressants to children facing a depressing trauma in their lives, although diagnosing depression in children so young may be questionable.
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