Did black box warnings on antidepressants have any effect on teen suicide?

Health and medicine explained.
Sept. 15 2009 10:12 AM

Listening to the Black Box

Did the FDA's warnings on antidepressants have any effect on teen suicide?

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An FDA spokeswoman said the agency appreciates studies of the impact of its warnings, adding that "our drug safety discussions, for any type of product including SSRIs, are always open and ongoing."

There's one obvious conclusion to be drawn here: The FDA warnings, which came about because of worry that antidepressants might cause young people to commit suicide, have not caused suicide rates to drop and may have even caused doctors to withhold treatment for those who need it. Perhaps we can't fault the FDA for this. Anxiety about the use of SSRIs has grown with their use because of our profound philosophical concerns about the prescribing of mind-altering medications, especially in children. Perhaps the black box warnings were as good a method as any to test a hypothesis on public health. Once the impact of the warning becomes clearer, it may also help us clarify our thoughts about the role of pills in shaping our thoughts and actions.

Arthur Allen, author of Vaccine and Ripe: The Search for the Perfect Tomato, can be reached at artnews@earthlink.net.