A “Suicide Pill” of a Different Kind

The first rule of the medical profession is supposed to be “Do No Harm.” I don’t think the pharmaceutical industry ever took that pledge. We’ve known for ages that pills and potions passed out like candy by the medical and drug cartels are seldom effective and often have dangerous side effects.

A study published in the April 14, 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) puts another layer of concern onto that knowledge: An analysis of prescription and clinical claims data suggests that the use of certain anticonvulsant medications may be associated with an increased risk of suicide, attempted suicide or violent death! Now that’s a side effect that should cause all these drugs to be pulled off the market immediately. But, knowing how strong the drug lobby is in this country, doctors will continue to prescribe these drugs with nothing more than a “warning” attached.

Anticonvulsant medications are a primary therapeutic approach for patients with epilepsy, but labeled indications also include bipolar disorder, mania, neuralgia (sudden occurrences of short, sharp pains along a nerve), migraine, and neuropathic pain.

“The wide range of indications and common use of anticonvulsants in patients with or without psychiatric comorbidities make their safety an issue of great relevance,” the study’s authors wrote. “In 2008, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration mandated warning labeling for anticonvulsant medications regarding the increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors. The decision was based on a meta-analysis not sufficiently large to investigate individual drugs.”

Elisabetta Patorno, MD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, and her colleagues evaluated whether there was an increased risk of attempted or completed suicide, and combined suicidal acts or violent death associated with a range of individual anticonvulsant medications and within patient subgroups.

The researchers analyzed data for 14 states from the HealthCore Integrated Research Database (which includes information on filled prescriptions and clinical encounters) for patients 15 years and older who began taking an anticonvulsant between July 2001 and December 2006.

The study identified 827 suicidal acts (801 attempted suicides and 26 completed suicides) and an additional 41 violent deaths (868 combined suicidal acts or violent deaths) in 297,620 new episodes of treatment with an anticonvulsant. “This exploratory analysis contributes to the understanding of the complex and little-understood relationship between anticonvulsant medication use and suicide risk.”

Sadly, that will be small comfort to the families of the people who die as a result of taking this drug. If any non-medical procedure — chiropractic, acupuncture, etc. — was found to increase the rate of suicides and violent deaths in patients, it would be prohibited. When will we start imposing the same standard of “do no harm” to the profession that supposedly is guided by that principle?

SOURCE: JAMA. 2010;303[14]:1401-1409.