Suicide-related behavior: anti-epileptic drugs not direct cause

Posted: Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Mary Jo Pugh, Ph.D., and her team analyzed the records of more than 90,000 older military veterans. The results showed that the suicidal ideation peaked before, not after, the drugs were prescribed.

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Mary Jo Pugh, Ph.D., and her team analyzed the records of more than 90,000 older military veterans. The results showed that the suicidal ideation peaked before, not after, the drugs were prescribed. Click on image to make it larger.  

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Contact: Elizabeth Allen, 210-450-2020

SAN ANTONIO (Jan. 8, 2013) — A large new study of the suggested link between anti-epileptic drugs and suicide-related behavior among veterans revealed that the risk for that behavior peaked in the month before the drugs were prescribed.

It doesn’t discount the link completely, said Mary Jo Pugh, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the School of Medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, but it raises important questions about the association that has been codified in an FDA warning.

“I think what it suggests is that we need to be careful about attributing everything to a drug,” said Dr. Pugh, who is also a research health scientist for VA Health Services and Development Service, which funded the study.

Analysis of more than 90,000 military veterans' records
Pugh and her fellow researchers analyzed the records of more than 90,000 older military veterans and published the findings in the Nov. 26, 2013, edition of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Many of the veterans who were prescribed anti-epileptic drugs had mental health conditions such as depression or bipolar disorder, and not all had epilepsy.

“This is a cohort that may be more likely to have suicidal ideation or attempts even before receiving the drug,” Dr. Pugh said. “Probably people with depression or mental health-related diagnoses need to be screened more carefully and checked more frequently.”

The results from this group also led to questions about how different drugs work in other age groups, she said.

“I think we need more information on specific kinds of drugs and younger patients,” Dr. Pugh said.

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