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March 19, 1999 - Study Contrasts New and Old Drugs Used to Treat Depression

March 19, 1999 - Study Contrasts New and Old Drugs Used to Treat Depression

Health care providers might have a difficult time prescribing the right medication to their patients since a new generation of antidepressant drugs has entered the market. Effexor, Wellbutrin and Serzone could soon become as widely known as Prozac or Paxil.

But new drugs might not necessarily mean better drugs. Psychiatrists and physicians treating depression should consider a number of factors before sending a patient home with a new prescription. For example, a new government report on antidepressants warns physicians who prescribe new antidepressants for children or patients who are only mildly depressed to use caution, since it is necessary to conduct more research to determine whether the drugs are effective in either case.

The report also reminds doctors that the side effects of any antidepressant vary from person to person, making some side effects less of a problem for some patients than for others. For example, a drug that has sedation as a side effect may actually help a depressed patient who is having trouble sleeping.

Dr. Matthew Rudorfer, acting associate director for treatment research at the National Institute of Mental Health, said that "The importance of this report is that when one actually looks at the scientific data, it's clear that in the effective treatment of depression, one has many options, all of which work. What can make the difference, therefore, is how well matched a given individual with depression is with a given treatment."

However, there are some advantages of taking newer antidepressants. Dr. John W. Williams Jr., an associate professor of medicine at the South Texas Veterans Healthcare System in San Antonio, and a co-author of the report said that "While both new and old drugs have side effects, patients taking newer antidepressants on the whole appear to find the side effects more tolerable, and are less likely to stop taking the medicines because of them."

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