Research just published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology shows a sudden increase in reports immediately after each of the three programmes were aired in the UK in October 2002, May 2003 and October 2004.
Five regulatory announcements made in the UK during the same period resulted in a much smaller five per cent increase in reports of adverse reactions.
The research team from the Department of Social Medicine at Bristol University, UK, explored prescribing patterns and adverse drug reports for paroxetine, which is part of a group of drugs called SSRIs (selective serotonine reuptake inhibitors).
"Our analysis of adverse drug reports made by doctors suggests that negative publicity, particularly the three Panorama programmes, were associated with marked, short-term peaks in reporting" says lead author Dr Richard Martin.
"In the months before and after the three Panorama programmes were aired adverse reports went up from 8.3 to 13.4 per 100,000 prescriptions. The change before and after regulatory announcements went from 7.6 to 8.0."
SSRI's are used to treat patients with depression. They work by raising levels of the important chemical serotonin which helps to regulate communications (electrical activity) in the regions of the brain thought to be affected by depression.
The initial Panorama programme followed two announcements by the US Food and Drug Administration. The first announcement, in January 2002, warned of severe withdrawal symptoms from paroxetine and the second, in October 2002, suggested links between the drug and suicidal behaviour.