Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the class of drugs commonly used to treat depression. New research suggests their use is modestly associated with violent crime among some age sectors.

Researchers from the University of Oxford found that the link between depression meds and violent behavior was significant for individuals aged 15-24, but not for individuals aged 25 or older.

Study results appear in the journal PLOS Medicine.

SSRIs are widely prescribed, but inconclusive evidence links SSRI use with violent behavior. In this study, Dr. Seena Fazel and colleagues compared the rate of violent crime while individuals were prescribed SSRIs with the rate of violent crime in the same individuals while not receiving medication.

Researchers using matched data from the Swedish Prescribed Drug Register and the Swedish national crime register.

During the four-year study period, about 850,000 individuals (10.8 percent of the Swedish population) were prescribed SSRIs, and one percent of these individuals were convicted of a violent crime.

The result was an overall association between SSRI use and violent convictions among younger adults. Increased risks were found in individuals aged 15-24 years for violent arrests, non-violent convictions and arrests, non-fatal accidental injuries and emergency contacts for alcohol problems.

Researchers explain that the study results do not represent a cause-and-effect or causal relationship. For example, the research methodology does not account for risks such as symptom severity.

However, researchers believe the findings, if confirmed by follow-up research, should caution providers in the use of SSRIs among young people.

Nevertheless, clinicians must weigh the SSRI-associated increase in violent crime against the benefits of SSRI in reducing disability, hospitalization, and suicide.

The authors state, “From a public health perspective, this worsening of overall morbidity and mortality might argue against restrictions on the primary care prescribing of SSRIs as long as potential risks are disclosed.”

In other words, use of current SSRI antidepressant medications for young patients may still be indicated if the risks are calculated and providers and patients warned of the potential side-effects.

Source: PLOS/EurekAlert