Suicide Rate Down in the Era of Prozac

From the Los Angeles Times
THE NATION

Suicide Rate Down in the Era of Prozac
Numbers have declined since a 1980s peak when such drugs came into use, a study finds.
A skeptic says gun laws might be the cause.

By Alan Zarembo
Times Staff Writer
February 3, 2005

The U.S. suicide rate has fallen steadily since Prozac and related antidepressants came into use in the late 1980s, according to an analysis by researchers worried that evidence linking the drugs to suicide in children could reduce their use.

The suicide rate, which reached a peak in 1988 of nearly 13 deaths per 100,000 people, fell steadily to about 10.5 in 2002.

Most suicides are the result of untreated depression, not adverse reactions to antidepressants, wrote Dr. Julio Licinio and Dr. Ma-Li Wong, psychiatrists at UCLA, in an opinion piece released Wednesday by the journal Nature Reviews: Drug Discovery.

But Vera Sharav, president of the Alliance for Human Research Protection, said the conclusions of the analysis might not be valid because the decline could just as easily be explained by laws introduced around the same time reducing access to firearms – a common means of committing suicide.

The number of people being treated for depression rose more than 50% during the 1990s, an increase largely due to the availability of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs.

Studies conducted in Denmark and Sweden have shown that fewer than a fifth of suicide victims were taking antidepressants when they killed themselves.

The drugs, however, have recently become the focus of a medical debate after clinical trials data showed that they increased the risk of suicidal thoughts in children and adolescents. Starting this month, the drugs will carry a label warning of the dangers in minors.

Licinio said that he feared that the concern about the use of the drugs in children could deter adults from taking them.

“And then we will have the reverse problem – more people committing suicide because they are not taking antidepressants,” he said.

The UCLA professors did not look at the suicide rate in minors. But according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicides per 100,000 people age 10 to 19 peaked at 6.6 in 1988 and dropped steadily to 4.3 in 2002.

This week, Medco Health Solutions Inc., a pharmacy benefits management company, released data showing that prescriptions of antidepressants for patients under 18 fell sharply after the Food and Drug Administration announced its warning label requirement in October.

Copyright © 2005, The Los Angeles Times

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