NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Study Links Prescription Drugs to the Decrease in Suicides

November 10, 2003

The drop in suicide rates among teenagers may be linked in part to the increasing use of antidepressant drugs in young people, according to a Columbia University study.

The researchers examined teenage suicide rates and prescriptions filled by children ages 10 to 19 in 588 zip codes across the country from 1990 to 2000. They found:

  • Zip codes with higher rates of antidepressant use in 1990 or 2000 had higher suicide rates, but over time, an increase in the use of antidepressants was associated with a decrease in suicide; in 2000, 4.7 adolescents per 100,000 took their own lives, compared with 6.4 per 100,000 in 1990.
  • A 1 percent increase in adolescent use of antidepressants from 1990 to 2000 was associated with a decrease of 0.23 suicides per 100,000 adolescents per year; the link was found only for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) and not for older antidepressants.

The researchers showed that this trend between antidepressant treatment and decreasing teen suicide rates was significant for older adolescents (ages 15-19) and males but not for younger adolescents and females.

Compared with younger adolescents who commit suicide, older adolescents who commit suicide are more likely to have a diagnosable mental disorder, such as depression or anxiety disorders, and might be more likely to benefit from antidepressants, say the researchers.

Source: Erica Goode, "Study Links Prescription to Decrease in Suicides," New York Times, October 14, 2003.


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