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Epilepsy Drugs Don't Raise Suicide Risk, Study Shows
Date:8/5/2010

By Madonna Behen
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 4 (HealthDay News) -- In 2008, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration required epilepsy medications to bear a warning label about an increased risk of suicidal behaviors. The move came after an agency review of 199 studies that found patients taking the drugs showed about twice the risk of suicidal behavior.

But now a study of more than 5 million patients contradicts the FDA's findings. It suggests that the increased risk of suicide has more to do with the conditions for which these drugs are prescribed than the medications themselves.

For the study, researchers in Spain and the United States evaluated the health records of primary care patients in England. They found that people with epilepsy who currently use an antiepileptic drug are at no greater risk of suicide-related events than those who aren't taking the medications.

"In our opinion, in the long term, it is not the drugs themselves that raise the risk of suicide, but the underlying disease for which these drugs are prescribed," said study author Dr. Alejandro Arana, an epidemiologist and managing partner at Risk MR Pharmacovigilance Services, in Zaragoza, Spain. "Treatment with antiepileptic drugs [AEDs] helps to control the psychiatric syndromes that are at the root of suicidal behavior in these patients."

At least one epilepsy expert said the new findings, published in the Aug. 5 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, are powerful enough to prompt the FDA to consider reversing its decision.

"The warning on AEDs and suicide was never justified, and this data strongly argues for its removal," said Dr. Orrin Devinsky, director of the New York University Comprehensive Epilepsy Center.

"This study examined a much larger and more meaningful 'real-life' group of patients on antiepileptic drugs than the FDA study did," added Devinsky, who noted that a major flaw of the FDA ana
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