Does Lexapro Work?

SSRI anti-depressants have become very popular and prescriptions for them are common, however, recent research has raised questions about their effectiveness.

A review of studies used to get FDA approval of SSRI anti-depressants found that pharmaceutical companies had withheld unfavorable results and falsely presented other studies to make results look more favorable than they really were. Researchers reviewed 74 studies, involving 12 anti-depressants and over 12,000 people and found that manufacturers’ reports of the percentage of positive outcomes was much higher than the FDA’s and that there appeared to be selective publishing of research results, noting “[m]edical decisions are based on an understanding of publicly reported clinical trials. If the evidence base is biased, then decisions based on this evidence may not be the optimal decisions. For example, selective publication of clinical trials, and the outcomes within those trials, can lead to unrealistic estimates of drug effectiveness and alter the apparent risk–benefit ratio.”1

A 2010 study found that antidepressant medications were of little to no benefit to patients suffering mild to moderate depression and had no more effect than placebo in patients not suffering severe depression.2

Patient comments in on line forums show both satisfaction and dissatisfaction with their experiences with Lexapro. Some patients wrote that it was effective for them, other patients that Lexapro did not help them and did nothing for their depression.3

In February 2012, a suit was flied against Forest Pharmaceuticals alleging that the company paid a bribe to the principal investigator of a federally funded anti-depressant study to fix the results of the study in favor of Celexa, Lexapro’s predecessor. The study was “Sequenced Treatment Alternatives to Relieve Depression”, commonly called STAR*D. It was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and conducted at the University of Texas. STAR*D involved more than 4,000 patients over twelve months, at a cost of $35M. STAR*Ds purpose was “to determine the effectiveness of different treatments for people with major depression who have not responded to initial treatment with an antidepressant” and it was the most significant study on this subject ever conducted. A psychologist who participated in review of the study’s materials has alleged that Forest Pharmaceuticals paid the primary investigator in charge of the study to influence the study in favor of Celexa, that the study’s results falsely overstated Celexa’s effectiveness and resulted in greater sales of Celexa and, later, Lexapro.4

An investigation in the United Kingdom found that a study done by an “independent” research company used to get approval in the UK for the European version of Lexapro, Cipralex, was done by researchers who were also employees of Cirpalex’s maker, Lundbeck Pharmaceuticals. which also partners with Forest Pharmaceuticals to make Lexapro.5


1 Turner EH et al. 2007, “Selective publication of antidepressant trials and its influence on apparent efficacy,” New England Journal of Medicine. 358: 252-260. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18199864

2 JAMA, Fournier JC, “Antidepressant drug effects and depression severity: a patient-level meta-analysis.” (6 January 2010), http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20051569

3 Depression Forums (retrieved 7 October 2012), http://www.depressionforums.org/forums/topic/12126-how-long-did-it-take-for-cipralexlexapro-escitalopram-to-start-working; healingwell.com, Patient Forums (retrieved 8 October 2011), http://www.healingwell.com/community/default.aspx?f=19&m=1229057

4 Bloomberg BNA, Aquino J., ” Whistleblower Claims Forest Bribed Study’s Investigator to Favor Celexa,” (1 February 2012), http://www.bna.com/whistleblower-claims-forest-n12884907568/

5 Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Newman M., “” (), http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2011/10/03/was-trial-of-blockbuster-anti-depressant-truly-independent; H. Lundbeck A/S, Annual Report 2000 (Retrieved 1 January 2012), http://www.e-pages.dk/lundbeck/82/fullpdf/full50e39a777e9f4.pdf