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FDA May Expand Antidepressant Warning

Studies Show Risk of Suicidal Behavior for Some Antidepressants May Apply to Young Adults
WebMD Health News

Dec. 13, 2006 -- The FDA said Wednesday it planned to expand warnings on up to a dozen antidepressant medications following studies suggesting the drugs raise the risk of suicidal behavior in a wider range of patients than previously thought.

In 2004, the agency ordered "black box" warnings to be added to antidepressant packaging alerting doctors of evidence that the drugs increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and attempts in children and teens under the age of 18. Officials said Wednesday they would now move to expand the warning to include young adults up to age 25.

The warnings apply to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac and Paxil, in addition to related drugs including Effexor and Wellbutrin. Officials said the warnings would also likely be included in medication guides distributed to patients

Antidepressants and Young People

Adult antidepressant studies have suggested that adults, up to the age of 24, who take antidepressants are more than twice as likely to think about or attempt suicide as adults taking a placebo.

An analysis of 372 studies performed by the FDA showed no evidence of any completed suicides that can be blamed on the drug. The analysis also showed that suicidal ideas and behaviors remain relatively rare.

The regulators pointed to a consistent trend, which is highest in children and then tapers off through early adulthood.

"There's nothing magical about 25. It's not like this goes away the day you turn 25," said Marc B. Stone, MD, a medical reviewer in the FDA's division of psychiatric products. "But the risk seems fairly flat in the 25 to 64 range and pretty steep in the 18 to 24 range," he told an advisory panel called to review the warnings. "We can't ignore it."

The FDA estimated in 2004 that antidepressants cause suicidal thoughts and behaviors in an additional 14 children for every 1,000 who take them. The agency concluded Wednesday that less than a third as many young adults may face that additional risk.

Elusive Explanation of Risk

But officials and other researchers acknowledged that any biological explanation for the increased risk is elusive. Widespread use of antidepressants is credited with helping to lower the risk of suicide attempts or completion in the population at large.

Experts at the meeting said it is possible that the drugs spur suicidal behavior at the beginning of treatment in younger patients, only to help stave it off later as depression or other mental disorder symptoms wane. They add that a greater proclivity toward impulsiveness in younger people could be to blame.

On the other hand, antidepressants may merely make young patients more communicative, making it more likely that they relate suicidal thoughts to a parent or doctor.

"We don't know enough to be surprised or not surprised," said Robert Temple, MD, director of FDA's office of drug evaluations.

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