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First patient starts discontinuation of antidepressants in large-scale national research project

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31 August 2020

​The UMCG is taking part in national research into coming off antidepressants. The OPERA study is conducted in five University Medical Centres. The first person taking part in Groningen recently started gradual discontinuation of  antidepressants.

Huib Burger, research physician at  the Department of General Practice and Elderly Care Medicine at the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG) and head of the OPERA project in Groningen, explains: ‘Antidepressants are drugs that can help to combat depression. However, their effectiveness differs highly between  individualswho take them. Some people who take antidepressants recover relatively quickly, while others continue to suffer from symptoms of depression for a long time.’ Medication for depression is widely prescribed, and over 150,000 people with depression take antidepressants for longer than a year. ‘This does not always constitute good healthcare,’ says Huib Burger. ‘A lot of people find it difficult to stop taking antidepressants, even when it becomes unclear whether they still need them.’

Coming off antidepressants

The national research project known as ‘OPERA’ (the Netherlands study of Optimal, PERsonalized Antidepressant use) has been set up to study people’s recovery from depression, and to see which patients can start coming off antidepressants and when they can best bediscontinued. . Psychiatrist and researcher Sjoerd van Belkum, who works for the Department of Psychiatry at the UMCG, explains: ‘Current treatment guidelines advise continuing with antidepressants for a few months after a patient has recovered from depression. But we don’t really know how long someone should keep taking them after they have recovered. Some people need to continue for longer, while others could probably come off them much sooner.’ The information from the OPERA research will help doctors to advise and supervise people who want to reduce and eventually stop taking antidepressants.

OPERA research project

The OPERA project is a national collaboration between five Dutch university medical centres, including the UMCG. Researchers and staff from the UMCG’s Department of General Practice and Elderly Care  Medicine and Department of Psychiatry are involved in the project. They are working together with GPs and pharmacists in the north of the Netherlands, and large and smaller mental healthcare organizations such as Lentis, GGZ-Drenthe and IP-GGZ. While the first patient in Groningen discontinuing  antidepressants represents an important first step, a lot more people are still needed to ensure that the OPERA project finds answers to the research questions it set out to answer. The more people that take part, the better the future guidelines will be.

For more information about the project, please go to: www.opera-project.nl