Twenty to 30% of adolescents diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder are also diagnosed with at least 1 comorbid substance abuse disorder. Moreover, reported drug use has been found to be a predictor of suicide attempts in adolescents, with a positive relationship being found between the number of drugs abused and the likelihood of a suicide attempt.
Fluoxetine (you may know it better as Prozac) is the only antidepressant that the FDA approves for use with children and adolescents, and fluoxetine has been found to be effective in reducing depression and comorbid substance abuse disorders in adults. Findling et al., publishing in the Open-Access Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, decided to study the effects of fluoxetine in adolescents with depression and comorbid substance abuse disorders.
The study originally included 18 patients in a fluoxetine experimental group and 16 adolescents in a random, double-blinded control group. Of the subjects, 26 reported that the depression started before the substance abuse and 6 reported simultaneous depression and substance abuse. Urine screens were used to assess drug use throughout the experiment.
At the end of the study, 12 subjects remained in the fluoxetine group and 13 remained in the placebo control. Both groups had reduced symptoms, but the placebo group had a greater mean reduction in symptoms. Fifty percent of the participants in each group met the criteria for remission. (There is a great graph in the article showing the difference in scores between the two groups, but I’m working off an old computer and can’t get a really good screengrab.)
This study gives us some good data, but it is important to keep in mind the small sample size and low statistical power of the study. I like that the authors didn’t let this study become part of the file drawer problem. It is just as important to see that a psychological or medical intervention is not effective as it is to see that something is effective.
Findling, R., Pagano, M., McNamara, N., Stansbrey, R., Faber, J., Lingler, J., Demeter, C., Bedoya, D., & Reed, M. (2009). The short-term safety and efficacy of fluoxetine in depressed adolescents with alcohol and cannabis use disorders: a pilot randomized placebo-controlled trial.
UPDATE: I just read in one of John’s posts on PsychCentral that the FDA just approved Lexapro for use in children, despite some misgivings. So fluoxetine is not the only SSRI approved for children. Check out John’s post for details about the controversy.
Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, 3 (1) DOI: 10.1186/1753-2000-3-11