Antidepressants Help More Kids Than They Harm

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter
Tuesday, April 17, 2007; 12:00 AM

MONDAY, April 16 (HealthDay News) -- Whether depressed or troubled kids should take antidepressants has been the question at the center of an intense public debate in recent years, and the latest evidence suggests the answer is "yes."

A study in the April 18 issue of theJournal of the American Medical Associationfound that the benefits of antidepressants outweighed the risks for children and adolescents under the age of 19.

Anecdotal reports released over the past few years suggest that antidepressants raise suicide risk in children and teens. But the drugs may also prevent deaths by curbing depression, experts say.

"Our study shows that, at least in the short-term, treatment benefits appear to outweigh the risks," confirmed study author Jeffrey A. Bridge, an investigator with Columbus Children's Research Institute, in Ohio.

The findings seem to tip the scale more in favor of antidepressants, which include widely used selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Celexa, Paxil, Prozac and Zoloft.

"They're saying that, yes, there is a slightly increased risk but it's not as big as we thought and the risk-benefit ratio is favorable. But that's a decision that every family has to make. It's not a generalized decision," said Dr. Jane Ripperger-Suhler, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and a psychiatrist with Scott & White Mental Health Center in Temple.

"This leans us more toward the middle -- that we don't have to say these are terrible medicines, that this looks like a fairly good option. and let's not take them off the table," she said.

Antidepressants, particularly SSRIs, have been the subject of intense controversy in recent years.

In October 2003, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a public health advisory, warning of an increased risk of suicide attempts or suicide-related behavior among children and teens taking SSRIs.

One year later, the FDA directed manufacturers of those drugs to revise their labeling to include a black-box warning. The warning alerts health-care providers to an increased risk of suicide and suicidal thoughts in children and teens.

On the other side of the argument, a major new study found that SSRIs have actuallysavedthousands of lives by preventing suicides since they were introduced in 1988.

The negative press SSRIs received may have had a chilling effect on their use in the pediatric population, however. One recent study found that the number of U.S. children being prescribed the antidepressants has dropped since warnings about suicidal behavior associated with the drugs emerged. This trend could be worrisome if it means that young patients who might benefit from SSRIs aren't getting them, experts have said.

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