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Study Probes Link Between Suicide Risk and Many Prescription Drugs

In a new review, researchers looked at 922 prescription drugs taken by 146 million people over an 11-year period to see how the drugs were linked to suicide attempts.

The findings, published in the Harvard Data Science Review, show that 10 of these medications were linked to an increase in suicide attempts. These include Vicodin, Xanax and prednisone.

In contrast, 44 drugs were linked to a decrease in suicide attempts, including many that carry a “black box” label from the Food and Drug Administration warning of their association with suicidal behavior.

As such, the research identifies several drugs with the potential to prevent suicide attempts that are not currently used for that purpose, including folic acid, a simple vitamin often prescribed to pregnant women.

“There’s an antihistamine that’s associated with decreases in suicide. There’s a Parkinson’s drug associated with decreases,” said Robert Gibbons, Ph.D., director of the Center for Health Statistics at the University of Chicago and lead author of the study. “If those test out in clinical trials to be real effects, we could be using more of these drugs to treat suicidal people.”

Suicide rates have been on the rise for 16 years; it is now the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Most suicides occur in patients with a psychiatric disorder, such as depression. However, common antidepressant medications like fluoxetine (Prozac) carry the FDA’s black box warning, which has led to decreased use of these medications despite the benefits they might provide.

For the new study, the research team developed a statistical tool to measure the links between drugs and suicide attempts. They analyzed data on 922 drugs with more than 3,000 prescriptions in a database of medical claims from 2003 to 2014.

The data included records of 146 million unique patients from more than 100 health insurers in the United States. For each person taking each drug, they counted suicide attempts in the three months prior to filling the prescription and the three months after taking the drug. This approach allowed them to evaluate each drug individually within a single person and see its effect on suicide attempts.

“It’s actually a very simple model that answers the question, ‘Does a suicide attempt occur more frequently after taking the drug than before?'” Gibbons said.

Overall, 10 drugs were linked to a statistically significant increase in suicide attempts, including the opioid painkiller hydrocodone bitartrate and acetaminophen (Vicodin), anti-anxiety drugs alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium), and prednisone, a corticosteroid.

A total of 44 drugs showed a decrease in suicide risk, including a large group of antidepressants with black box warnings like fluoxetine and escitalopram (Lexapro); gabapentin (Neurontin), an anti-convulsant used to treat seizures; and the vitamin folic acid.

Gibbons said the statistical model can be used to calculate the risk of any adverse events that happen before and after taking a medication. The Veterans Administration has already expressed interest in using the tool, and Gibbons hopes other large hospital systems and local health agencies will adopt it to help decide which drugs to prescribe, especially for patients at risk of suicide.

“What we’ve done is come up with an alternative approach to drug safety surveillance that could be used by any agency, country or formulary,” he said.

“We simultaneously did this analysis on all 922 drugs, and from that model we can back out the risks for each one individually.”

Source: University of Chicago

 

Study Probes Link Between Suicide Risk and Many Prescription Drugs

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2019). Study Probes Link Between Suicide Risk and Many Prescription Drugs. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 22, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2019/11/06/study-probes-link-between-suicide-risk-and-many-prescription-drugs/151607.html
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Nov 2019 (Originally: 6 Nov 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 6 Nov 2019
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.