The rate of suicide has been rising for 16 years and is now the tenth 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.
In a recent study from the University of Chicago, researchers found 10 prescription drugs are linked to increased suicide attempts.
These drugs include the opioid painkiller hydrocodone bitartrate and acetaminophen (Vicodin), anti-anxiety drugs alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium), and prednisone, a corticosteroid.
The researchers 44 drugs are linked to a decrease in suicide attempts, including folic acid, a simple vitamin often prescribed to pregnant women.
The study is published in the Harvard Data Science Review. The lead author is Robert Gibbons, Ph.D., the Director of the Center for Health Statistics at the University of Chicago.
In the study, the team conducted a review of 922 prescription medications taken by almost 150 million people over an 11-year period.
The data contained 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.
That analysis found 10 drugs that showed a statistically significant increase in suicide attempts/
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 anticonvulsant used to treat seizures, and, interestingly, the vitamin folic acid.
The team says the statistical model can be used to calculate the risk of any adverse events that happen before and after taking a medication.
They hope 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.
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