February 2, 2009 / 10:12 PM / 10 years ago

Common antidepressants cut adult suicide risk: study

LONDON (Reuters) - Common antidepressants suspected of raising suicide risk among children reduce the risk for adults, Italian scientists reported on Monday.

The findings that the drugs cut suicide risk by more than 40 percent among adults and over 50 percent for elderly people should reassure doctors, the researchers said.

But the study confirmed the drugs seriously raise the suicide risk for children, Corrado Barbui of the University of Verona and colleagues reported in the Canadian Medical Journal.

“Data from observational studies should reassure doctors that prescribing (the drugs) to patients with major depression is safe,” they wrote.

“However, children and adolescents should be followed very closely because of the possibility of increased of risk suicidal thoughts and suicide.”

Depression is the leading cause of suicide, which is the third-biggest killer of children and young adults between the ages of 10 and 24.

The researchers focused on selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs like GlaxoSmithKline’s Paxil or paroxetine and Eli Lilly and Co’s Prozac or fluoxetine, both of which are now available generically, are the most commonly prescribed class of antidepressant.

U.S. and European regulators sent out a series of public health warnings on use of antidepressants beginning in 2003 after clinical trials showed the drugs increased the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors in children and teens.

A 2007 analysis by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found SSRIs significantly increased suicide risk for adolescents, offered protection for the elderly but were neutral for adults.

Barbui and his team’s review of eight large studies which included more than 200,000 patients found the same for the young and old but differed when it came to adults, showing significant protection.

“Our risk estimates were very similar to those obtained by the FDA only for the elderly and adolescent groups,” they wrote.

Editing by Maggie Fox and David Holmes

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