Antidepressant Use Correlates to Reduced Suicide Rate Since 1980s
The U.S. suicide rate has fallen "steadily" since the late 1980s, when Prozac and other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors were introduced, according to an analysis by researchers at the University of California-Los Angeles in the Wednesday issue of the journal Nature Reviews: Drug Discovery, the Los Angeles Times reports. SSRIs have come under scrutiny in recent months following the release of clinical trial data showing they increase the risk of suicidal behaviors in children and adolescents. This month, the drugs will begin carrying a black box warning on the dangers to minors.
According to the analysis, the U.S. suicide rate fell from a high of nearly 13 deaths per 100,000 people in 1988 to about 10.5 per 100,000 in 2002. Meanwhile, the number of people being treated for depression increased more than 50% during the 1990s, largely because of increased availability of SSRIs. Studies have shown that fewer than 20% of suicide victims were taking antidepressants at the time of their deaths, and most suicides are the result of untreated depression, not adverse reactions to antidepressants, according to analysis co-authors Julio Licinio and Ma-Li Wong, both psychiatrists at UCLA. The analysis did not examine the suicide rate in children and adolescents.
Licinio said he was concerned that fears about the use of SSRIs in children could deter adults from using them. "And then we will have the reverse problem -- more people committing suicide because they are not taking antidepressants," he added. Vera Sharav, president of the Alliance for Human Research Protection, said the conclusions drawn by the analysis might not be legitimate because the decline in the suicide rate could be explained by laws passed at about the same time reducing access to firearms (Zarembo, Los Angeles Times, 2/3). The analysis is available online.