Tuesday, August 19, 2008

American Psychological Association Writes Misleading Press Releases, New Research Finds

Here's the headline:

Antidepressants may impair driving ability, new research finds

It should really be:

Depression may impair driving ability, but we don't really know yet because unmedicated depressed people were not tested in this unpublished study

The truth doesn't make for very exciting PR, now does it?

Let's look at more of the article, starting with the subtitle.
Depressed drivers on meds performed worst in driving simulation

BOSTON – People taking prescription antidepressants appear to drive worse than people who aren't taking such drugs, and depressed people on antidepressants have even more trouble concentrating and reacting behind the wheel.

These were the conclusions of a study released Sunday at the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.

The first sentence conveys the message that taking antidepressants makes you a worse driver, especially if your symptoms have not remitted. Let's continue.
University of North Dakota psychologists Holly Dannewitz. PhD, and Tom Petros, PhD, recruited 60 people to participate in a driving simulation in which participants had to make a series of common driving decisions, such as reacting to brake lights, stop signs or traffic signals while being distracted by speed limit signs, pylons, animals, other cars, helicopters or bicyclists. The simulation tested steering, concentration and scanning. Thirty-one of the participants were taking at least one type of antidepressant while 29 control group members were taking no medications with the exception of oral contraceptives in some cases.
Do oral contraceptives impair driving? We do not find out.
The group taking antidepressants was further divided into those who scored higher and lower on a test of depression. The group taking antidepressants who reported a high number of symptoms of depression performed significantly worse than the control group on several of the driving performance tasks. But participants who were taking antidepressants and scored in the normal range on a test to measure depression performed no differently than the non-medicated individuals.
So it's very clear that the participants on antidepressants, who were no longer depressed, were not impaired!! The all-important group of unmedicated depressed people was not even tested!

The authors themselves noted:
"Individuals taking antidepressants should be aware of the possible cognitive effects as [they] may affect performance in social, academic and work settings, as well as driving abilities," the researchers wrote. "However, it appears that mood is correlated with cognitive performance, more so than medication use."
But nonetheless we have the ominous conclusion from the APA, warning us about all the impaired female drivers on Prozac:
This research is important in light of the rapid increase in the number of Americans taking antidepressants. Americans' use of antidepressant drugs such as Prozac, Paxil or Zoloft, nearly tripled in a decade, according to the 2004 Health United States report, issued by the National Center for Health Statistics. Among women, one in 10 takes an antidepressant drug, according to the government.
Fortunately (and surprisingly), the popular press didn't swallow the PR hook, line, and sinker. Here's US News & World Report:
Antidepressant Use Tied to Poorer Driving

But experts aren't sure if the pills, or underlying depression, are to blame
Good job Alan Mozes, HealthDay Reporter.

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