Traci Johnson was discovered hung on February 7, 2004 in an Indianapolis laboratory run by Eli Lilly. She had been involved in a clinical drug trial on the antidepressant duloxetine, and investigators from the Food and Drug Administration were there to investigate, coming up with inconclusive results. This left plenty of people wondering, was the drug safe or not?
Was Johnson’s death that one off situation? Now, more recently, researchers have been able to nail down differences between different types of depression from blood and urine test. They have determined that some types actually respond badly to traditional antidepressants, as Johnson did, whereas some others respond well. So what stopped them from looking for the differences before running this test?
Eli Lilly focused on the idea that this was nothing more than an isolated incident, and when any drug company chooses not to publish or reveal these types of results, it leaves the public at large partially uninformed, and in a way, if it is an isolated incident, it protects us from throwing away possibly great drugs because of those one offs.
If you read off the side effects on virtually any common antidepressant, suicide is one of the possible side effects, but only in extreme situations of course. Maybe that’s their way of revealing these types of results in an obscure way. However, the FDA claims their silence is due to the idea that some data in clinical trials is considered
trade secrets or commercially protected information. In other words, if somebody dies, they hide behind trade secrets.
To be fair, the same thing can be said about measured effectiveness, and yet it’s different. Because our body chemistry is so different and we respond so differently, it’s difficult, if not impossible to find any antidepressant that is going to be effective for everybody. We’ve all been through our share of failures and side effects in trying to find the right drug.
The market is littered with stories similar to that of Johnson’s. Marketers are afraid, whether or not their product is riskier, and they don’t want you to know about these incidents, and apparently, neither does the FDA.
Eli Lilly officially lists no suicides and 2 deaths among patients who were enrolled in clinical trials for Cymbalta, which actually had suicides documented. The website now lists 10 clinical trials of Cymbalta and 5 for a drug called Yentreve, where they disclose 1 suicide and 5 deaths combined. There are 5 suicides allegedly left out of the FDA results.
Does this mean that you should swear off your antidepressants and never trust another thing your doctor says about FDA approved drugs? Not at all. Frankly, there have been many helped by antidepressants that may not work or even cause problems for others. But it does mean that you should take the FDA’s word with a grain of salt, and if you find yourself having negative side effects or things like suicidal thoughts, take them seriously and listen to yourself.