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The results of a new study seem to confirm that side effects of some drugs used to treat epilepsy and depression, such as Neurontin, Lamictal and other medications, may increase the risk of suicide.
The epilepsy drug suicide study was published in the April 14 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), backing up a 2008 determination by the FDA that anticonvulsants can double the risk of suicidal thoughts and attempts. The drugs are often prescribed “off-label” for unapproved uses such as the treatment of migraines, depression and bipolar disorder; conditions that already carry a higher risk of suicide.
Researchers from the U.S. took data from the HealthCore Integrated Research Database, which keeps extensive records on drug prescriptions and adverse side effects, and looked at about 300,000 patients ages 15 or older who took anticonvulsant medications between July 2001 and December 2006. The researchers found an increased risk of suicide among users of the anticonvulsants Neurontin, Lamictal, Trileptal, Gabitril and valproate when they compared them to the use of Topamax, an older anticonvulsant.
Researchers found a total of 868 suicidal acts or violent deaths among the users, including 801 attempted suicides, 26 suicides that ended in death and 41 violent deaths. They did not track suicidal thoughts and tendencies in the study. However, the findings do add weight to the FDA’s own investigations into the suicidal effects of anticonvulsants. In 2008, the FDA required Neurontin and similar epilepsy drugs to begin carrying label warnings alerting users to the risk of suicidal thoughts.
Despite the results, scientists have cautioned that the suicides are comparatively rare and that epilepsy patients should not stop taking the medications.
The results of the study come just days after Pfizer settled a neurontin suicide lawsuit for about $400,000, which alleged the drug maker failed to adequately warn about the risk. In another recent case, Pfizer was found guilty of illegally promoting Neurontin for off-label uses, and ordered to pay $142 million in damages in a case brought by the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc., a subsidiary of Kaiser Permanente.