UK launches new antidepressant-suicide probe

Last Updated: 2004-01-06 10:44:47 -0400 (Reuters Health)

By Richard Woodman

LONDON (Reuters Health) – Britain’s medicines’ agency announced on Tuesday a new study to find out if people taking antidepressant drugs are at increased risk of suicide.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency said the study would estimate the risk of suicide, suicidal thoughts, non-fatal overdose and self-laceration in patients taking selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRI) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCA).

Britain has taken the lead in reviewing the safety of the newer SSRI class of drugs following reports that some depressed patients turn violent or suicidal after starting medication.

A safety review in children last year resulted in the UK agency advising doctors not to prescribe the majority of SSRIs to under-18 year-olds as the risks of treatment were found to outweigh the benefits.

The new study will follow patients of all ages up to 90 years old who were diagnosed with depression between 1995 and 2001.

Relative risks of suicide and other adverse events will be calculated for SSRI and TCA treatment versus no drug treatment, SSRI versus TCA treatment, and for each SSRI compared with GlaxoSmithKline’s SSRI Seroxat/Paxil (paroxetine).

Officials were not immediately available to explain why the Glaxo product had been singled out, though one possible explanation is that it is the most commonly prescribed SSRI.

Drug companies insist that millions of patients have been prescribed SSRIs without suffering major adverse events and that any suicidal thoughts are the result of their depression rather than the treatment.