Teenage suicides have been rising in the USA and the Netherlands during a period when prescriptions for antidepressants such as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) have been falling.
The drugs have been blamed for many teenage suicides, and that still may be the case if coroners would only recognise the link, says David Healey, professor of psychological medicine at Cardiff University.
Prof Healey was one of the first to suggest a link between the drugs and teenage suicides, a view that has been supported by several medical trials. The evidence has become so overwhelming that the American drug regulator, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has put a 'black box' warning about the risk of suicidal tendencies on all SSRI drug packages.
A new study suggests that the drug may not be to blame. Between 2003 and 2004, the number of SSRI prescriptions fell, and yet the rate of suicides in the USA and the Netherlands rose. In the USA the suicide rate rose 14 per cent among teenagers while there was a 22 per cent decrease in SSRI prescriptions to the same group.
But Prof Healey is convinced the link is still there. The drugs' dangers may be masked by a failure by coroners to recognise an association, or by a change in doctors' prescribing habits to move teenagers from SSRIs to antipsychotics.
(Source: American Journal of Psychiatry, 2007; 164: 1356-63; British Medical Journal, 2007; 335: 531).