What's So Great About STAR*D?

Fri Apr. 21, 2006 3:51 PM EDT

Treatment for depression costs the United States a staggering $83 billion each year. Part of this is due to the fact that the treatments themselves involve so much trial and error; there's very little reliable information out on the effectiveness of various drugs and forms of therapy.

So it's good news that today Slate is reporting on a new study called STAR*D, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health, that compares and contrasts the twenty options for prescription antidepressants, their dosages, and even the effects of psychotherapy -- something no other study has ever done. For the 19 million Americans who suffer from depression, this is a major step forward. The pharmaceutical industry usually doesn't produce any comparative data on depression, a state of affairs that has previously left most patients and their doctors guessing which treatment will be the best fit.

Comparative, independent trials will also enable doctors to rely less on collected by the pharmaceutical industry. Mark Gibson, deputy director of the Center for Evidence-Based Policy at Oregon Health and Science University, adds that in regards to data provided by drug firms, "it's not unusual for less than 10 percent of studies to meet our standards of quality." And according to Jerry Avorn, professor of medicine at Harvard, comparative studies could motivate drug companies to develop more advanced versions of current drugs, improving on what we already have.

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