Antidepressants May Increase Suicide Risk In Young Users: Study

New research suggests that starting young patients off at high doses of antidepressants, such as Paxil and Zoloft, could increase their risk of suicide and self-harm.  

In a study published this week in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers warn that drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may have a dose-dependent connection to suicidal behavior among teens and children. However, the findings suggest that the risk could be minimized by starting young patients off at lower doses.

Researchers from Harvard and University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill looked at data involving 162,625 patients between the ages of 10 and 64, who were given SSRIs for depression. They looked for signs of incidents of self-harm or suicide.

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According to the findings, children and adults ages 24 or younger who were started off at higher-than-recommended doses of SSRIs were twice as likely to deliberately harm themselves or try to commit suicide. The findings suggest that an event occurred for one out of every 150 patients treated with high-dose SSRI therapy.

“Considered in light of recent meta-analyses concluding that the efficacy of antidepressant therapy for youth seems to be modest, and separate evidence that antidepressant dose is generally unrelated to therapeutic efficacy, our findings offer clinicians an additional incentive to avoid initiating pharmacotherapy at high-therapeutic doses and to closely monitor patients starting antidepressants, especially youth, for several months,” the researchers concluded.

SSRI Health Concerns

SSRIs are a common class of antidepressant drug, used to treat depression and anxiety disorders. They are among the most widely used drugs in the United States.

Last year, researchers warned that SSRI use may increase the risk of surgical complications in a study also published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

In 2012, researchers from Canada found antidepressants like Zoloft and Celexa increased a patients risk for life-threatening brain bleeds by nearly 50%.

Earlier this year, research published in the British Medical Journal linked certain SSRIs, such as Celexa and Lexapro, to an increased risk of abnormal heart rhythms, a side effect which the FDA warned the public about in 2011.

Other side effects of the SSRI drug class span beyond blood and heart problems and include increased risk of death for ICU patients and higher risk of giving birth to an autistic child.

Concerns have also been raised about use of antidepressants during pregnancy, which has been linked to an increased risk of birth defects and malformations.

GlaxoSmithKline has faced hundreds of lawsuits over Paxil birth defects involving children diagnosed with persistent pulmonary hypertension on newborns (PPHN), a serious and potentially life-threatening respiratory disorder. The drug maker has settled most of those cases, which alleged that inadequate warnings were provided about the risks associated with using Paxil while pregnant.

Pfizer now faces more than 400 Zoloft birth defect lawsuits being pursued by parents of children born with various heart defects and other severe health problems, which raise similar allegations that the drug maker withheld important safety information from women using the medication and the medical community.


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