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J Child Adolesc Psychopharmacol. 2006 Feb-Apr;16(1-2):91-102.

Treatment benefit and the risk of suicidality in multicenter, randomized, controlled trials of sertraline in children and adolescents.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke Child and Family Study Center, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina 27710, USA.



The aim of this study was to examine the balance between the benefits of treatment and the risk of suicidality in children and adolescents in multicenter, randomized, controlled trials of sertraline versus placebo.


The published literature was searched for multicenter, randomized, placebo-controlled trials of sertraline for pediatric mental disorders. Four trials were identified: Two (pooled) in pediatric major depressive disorder (MDD; Wagner 2003) and two in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD; March et al. 1998; POTS Team 2004). Using intent-to-treat (ITT) analysis populations, the authors calculated the number needed to treat (NNT) for response and remission and the number needed to harm (NNH) for suicidality, and their ratio, for each clinical trial.


NNTs ranged from 2 to 10, indicating clinically meaningful benefits. Benefit was greater for OCD than for MDD, and for adolescents as compared with children in MDD. No age effect was apparent for OCD. Suicidality was reported in 8 patients (5 assigned to sertraline and 3 assigned to placebo). All but 1 (a placebo-treated patient in the Pfizer OCD trial) were enrolled in the sertraline MDD trial. The NNH for suicidality in MDD was 64. Treatment emergent suicidality was more common in children (NNH 28.7) than in adolescents (NNH 706.3). Because no patient developed suicidality in sertraline-treated OCD patients, the NNH for sertraline in OCD approaches infinity.


With the stipulation that doctor and patient preferences necessarily play a critical role in the choice of treatment, NNT to NNH ratios indicate a positive benefit-to-risk ratio for sertraline in adolescents with MDD and in patients of all ages with OCD.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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