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A Retrospective Comparative Effectiveness Study of Medications for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Routine Practice

J Clin Psychiatry 2018;79(5):18m12145

Objective: Fluoxetine, paroxetine, sertraline, topiramate, and venlafaxine have consistently shown efficacy for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials. However, no study has compared the effectiveness of these agents in routine clinical practice. We conducted a retrospective comparative effectiveness study of these 5 medications using electronic medical record data.

Methods: We identified 2,931 Department of Veterans Affairs outpatients initiating treatment for PTSD between fiscal years 2004 and 2013 who received 1 of the 5 medications at an adequate dose and duration, combined with baseline and endpoint PTSD Checklist (PCL) measurements. Patients were identified based on clinical diagnoses of PTSD (DSM-IV criteria). We weighted participants in order to balance pretreatment characteristics. We compared continuous changes on total PCL score, symptom cluster scores, and sleep items, as well as categorical changes including reliable improvement and loss of PTSD diagnosis, using weighted regression analyses. We conducted exploratory analysis to determine whether any patient characteristics or service use variables predicted loss of PTSD diagnosis.

Results: Patients improved by a mean of 5–6 points on the PCL over approximately 6 months of treatment. While half of patients had a reliable improvement of 5 points or more on the PCL, less than a fifth achieved loss of PTSD diagnosis. There were no differences between medications. The only significant (P < .001) predictor of loss of PTSD diagnosis was concurrent treatment with evidence-based psychotherapy.

Conclusions: Available evidence-based medications for PTSD are equally effective in clinical practice. Although effective, our data suggest that patients choosing medication treatment for PTSD should consider concurrent treatment with evidence-based psychotherapy in order to maximize their chances of meaningful improvement.