A new study should help alleviate any concern over a link between the use of certain antidepressants and suicide.
A new class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) have been increasingly used to treat depression and have undoubtedly saved thousands of lives, despite concerns of a possible link with an increased suicide risk.
Antidepressants such as Zoloft (Pfizer), Paxil (GlaxoSmithKline) and Prozac (Eli Lilly) are used by millions of Americans.
The Food and Drug Administration insisted on "black box warnings" on the most popular SSRIs in 2004 amid rising concerns in the United States and United Kingdom concerning the relationship between suicide and antidepressant use in children and adults.
The new study was conducted by Dr. Julio Licinio, while he was the director of the Center for Pharmacogenomics and Clinical Pharmacology at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, UCLA.
He is now the new chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine.
The study analyzed federal data on overall suicide rates since the early 1960s along with sales of Prozac since the antidepressant's introduction in 1988 through to 2002.
The researchers found that the U.S. suicide rate remained steady for 15 years prior to the introduction of fluoxetine, then dropped steadily over 14 years as sales of the antidepressant rose; the strongest effect was among women.
Licinio says the findings suggest that the introduction of SSRIs has contributed to the reduction of suicide rates in the United States.
Licinio also says the psychiatric community fears that the absence of such treatment may prove more harmful to depressed individuals than the effects of the drugs themselves, and most people who commit suicide suffer from untreated depression.
Major depressive disorder affects approximately 10 percent of American men and 20 percent of women over their lifetimes.
Because the prevalence is so high and treatment lasts several months or years, antidepressant medications are the most common form of treatment.
Prozac is the most widely prescribed antidepressant medication in the world and the only antidepressant that is FDA-approved for treatment of depression in children.
The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Dana Foundation and is published in the June 2006 edition of the peer-reviewed journal PLoS Medicine.