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Antidepressants Linked to Lower Child Suicide Rates

Researchers report an inverse relationship between antidepressant prescriptions and the rates of suicide in children// and adolescents -- a finding that contradicts the Food and Drug Administration's "black box" warning for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor medications, also known as SSRI drugs.

The University of Illinois at Chicago epidemiologic study appears in the November issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

The researchers examined suicide rates of children ages 5-14 in each county of the United States from 1996 to 1998 and county-level data on SSRI prescriptions. The results were adjusted for sex, race, income, access to quality mental health care and variations in county-to-county suicide rates.

"We found that counties with the highest prescription rates for SSRI drugs had the lowest suicide rates in children and adolescents," said the lead author Robert Gibbons, director of the Center for Health Statistics and professor of biostatistics and psychiatry at UIC. "This is just the opposite of what you would predict if SSRI's were producing suicide."

There were 933 suicides among children ages 5-14 from 1996 to 1998, or an overall annual rate of 0.8 per 100,000. The researchers found that in counties with low antidepressant prescription rates, the suicide rate was as high as 1.7 per 100,000. In counties with high antidepressant prescription rates, the suicide rate was as low as 0.7 per 100,000.

The study predicts that if there were no SSRI prescriptions, there would be 253 more suicides per year among children and adolescents in the United States.

According to Gibbons, who was a member of the 2004 FDA advisory panel that voted 15-8 in favor of placing a black box warning on SSRI prescriptions, some experts fear that "doctors, particularly general practitioners, would be terrified of prescribing SSRI drugs for children" because the antidepressants are believed to cause suicidal tho
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