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Study Focuses on Antidepressants

November 18, 1998

CHICAGO (AP) _ Patients who recovered from depression with drug treatment were much more likely to avoid recurrences if they took the drug for two years instead of tapering off after a few months, researchers say.

The findings confirm what psychiatrists have assumed _ that long-term drug treatment can keep some patients from new bouts of the disabling illness, according to a study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Subjects of the study had previously suffered from either chronic depression, defined as lasting two years or more, or ``double depression,″ a milder form of depression called dysthymia followed by at least one two-week episode of full-blown depression.

After seven months on the drug Zoloft, 161 subjects were randomly assigned to continue the medicine for 1 1/2 years or be tapered off to a placebo, without knowing which.

Only five of 77 patients (6 percent) of the drug group suffered new bouts of depression, compared with 19 of 84 (23 percent) of those who took the placebo.

The study was led by Dr. Martin Keller of Brown University and conducted at 10 medical centers and two research clinics.

The study involved Zoloft, but the findings should extend to other drugs in the same class _ Prozac, Paxil, Effexor, Serzone and Celexa, according to Dr. Jerrold Rosenbaum, an expert not involved in the work.

He said doctors already prescribe antidepressants for years at a time because previous studies have suggested they would be safe and effective.

But the new findings provide needed data to back the practice, said Rosenbaum, associate chief for clinical research in psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital.

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