Note: I just received this e-mail from Dr. Joseph Goldberg, in response to our recent critique of this AstraZeneca funded supplement of the journal Current Psychiatry. With Dr. Goldberg's permission, I am printing his letter below in its entirety. I'll comment on it when I get a chance, most likely early next week.
Dear Dr. Carlat,
Your distillation of our comments in the case presentations of our recent Current Psychiatry supplement implies that the authors' goal was to motivate clinicians to diagnose more bipolar disorder and then use a medication manufactured by the sponsor of the CME. For the sake of fair balance to your readers, you might mention our findings published elsewhere that community practitioners fail to utilize DSM-IV criteria when diagnosing bipolar disorder, and consequently over-diagnose it in as many as 2 of 3 patients with mood instability and substance abuse (Goldberg et al., J Clin Psychiatry 69: 1751-1757, 2008); in such over-diagnosed patients, mood stabilizers appear far over-used to the exclusion of rigorous substance abuse treatment. But in patients WITH DSM-IV bipolar disorder, suicide risk is significantly higher, and use of unstudied drugs or medications with negative data may lead to disastrous outcomes.
Part of our goal in these case discussions was to review the differential diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Psychiatric medications work better when the diagnosis is correct, but often fail when it is not. Your comments fail to discuss the importance of correct diagnosis, differential diagnosis, and evidence-based (i.e., well-studied) therapeutics, as expressed in our supplement.
When a diagnosis of bipolar disorder IS correct, unfortunately, few medications have robust effects. In the case of bipolar depression, for example, the controlled trial literature has far more negative than positive studies (e.g., antidepressants + mood stabilizers are no better than mood stabilizers alone [Sachs et al., NEJM 2007; 356: 1711-1722); aripiprazole is no better than placebo (Thase et al., J Clin Psychopharm 2008; 28: 13-20); lamotrigine has 4 negative placebo-controlled studies (Calabrese et al., Bipolar Disord 2008; 10: 3; 10: 323-333)). For better or worse, quetiapine and Symbiax are the only psychotropics that have demonstrated efficacy for acute bipolar depression. The academic community would greatly welcome CME-sponsorship by more organizations, but most studied agents are now either off-patent (e.g., lithium, divalproex, lamotrigine), lack FDA indications due to negative findings (e.g., divalproex for maintenance; oxcarbazepine for acute mania (Wagner et al., Am J Psychiatry 163: 1179-1186, 2006); topiramate for acute mania (Kushner et al., Bipolar Disord 8: 15-27, 2006); or lack any data (e.g., ziprasidone or risperidone for bipolar maintenance). Our case discussion reflects this literature, but yours does not. Readers deserve a more fair-balanced critique of our summary than the one you provide.
-- Joseph Goldberg MD,
Assoc. Clin. Professor of Psychiatry, Mount Sinai School of Medicine;
Deputy Editor, Current Psychiatry