The manufacturer says Abilify is indicated for:
- Use as an add-on treatment to an antidepressant for adults with Major Depressive Disorder who have had an inadequate response to antidepressant therapy
- Treatment of manic or mixed episodes associated with Bipolar I Disorder in adults and in pediatric patients 10 to 17 years of age
- Treatment of schizophrenia in adults and in adolescents 13 to 17 years of age
- Treatment of irritability associated with Autistic Disorder in pediatric patients 6 to 17 years of age
But how good is Abilify, really, as an adjunct to antidepressants? Here is the graph touted on the Abilify website:
|Abilify's efficacy (as an adjunct to antidepressants), versus placebo. (Click to enlarge.) The vertical scale plots average change (decrease) in patient scores on the Montgomery–Åsberg Depression Rating Scale.|
This graph pools data from three studies. It shows that the average drop in MADRS score for patients on placebo-plus-antidepressant is a drop of 6.2 points after 6 weeks (from a starting average score of 26). When Abilify is added to the mix, the average score drop is 9.4 points. So if you add Abilify, you can expect a 3.2-point drop in your MADRS score that you wouldn't otherwise have had.
But if you look at the MADRS test, a change in just one answer (e.g., better sleep) could easily produce a 3-point change in your score. What you need to ask yourself is whether this magnitude of change is clinically significant. If you found a dollar bill on the sidewalk, your MADRS score would probably change by 3 points (briefly, of course). If your tax refund was $100 larger than you expected, it would probably mean a 3-point change on MADRS. The point is, the magnitude of change we're talking about here is small. It may be statistically significant, but is it clinically significant?
Abilify's primary use is in treatment of schizophrenia symptoms. Here's the efficacy graph for improvement on the PANSS scale, a common rating system for assessing schizophrenia symptoms:
|Abilify efficacy with respect to schizophrenia symptoms (placebo in grey).|
Abilify costs over a thousand dollars a month (10 mg, 30 pills) if you were to have to pay for it out of pocket. For most patients, this cost is hidden by insurance (or Medicare, in my wife's case). If you were taking Abilify for depression (as an adjunct) and had to pay for it out of pocket, you'd probably find the cost depressing (to the tune of much more than a 3-point drop in MADRS). Still, desperate people will do desperate things. Adding Abilify is "one more thing to try." So by all means try it. But don't expect miracles. If you see any effect at all, it's likely to be a rather small one.
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