Date Published: Thursday, May 8th, 2008
Suicide is common in the US, representing the fourth leading cause of death for those aged 18 to 65 and the third leading cause for those aged 15 to 24. Add to those figures the complexity of medications. In recent years, disturbing reports have suggested that side effects of some popular drugs - such as Chantix, Accutane, Singular and Paxil - include suicidal thoughts and behavior.
Reports have been filed with drug makers and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on at least six drugs or drug classes that may be linked to suicide or suicidal thoughts. Recently, the FDA released notices about several such medications including Singlulair; Epilepsy drugs including carbamazepine, gabapentin, felbamate, lamotrigine, levetiracetam, oxcarbazepine, pregabalin, and valproate; and the smoking-cessation drug Chantix. Reports have been filed on SSRI antidepressants including Paxil and Prozac, the influenza drug Tamiflu, and the acne medicine Accutane. “The brain is a complex organ, and most of the drugs are complex as well,’’ says Dr. Thomas Laughren, head of the division of psychiatric products at the FDA. “It’s not unreasonable to think that a drug that gets into the brain may have effects other than you hope they would.’’
Kelly Posner, principal investigator at the Center for Suicide Risk Assessment at Columbia University in New York, is working with the FDA to determine suicide risks and at-risk categories; Posner’s quantitative tools and questionnaires are being applied to drugs on the market and in testing. “We know that whether or not these drugs actually cause suicidal thought or action is a question we have to answer, but up until now, none of the clinical trials for the drugs were set up to address the question,’’ says Posner.