Deadly cures

Practicing the wise caution that, first, medicine should do no harm, the Food and Drug Administration recommended that 10 antidepressant drugs carry a warning that they may cause suicidal tendencies. Though there is no absolute proof of a link, the agency decided that anecdotal evidence was persuasive enough to make patients, and their doctors, aware of this possible risk.

Antidepressants are the most commonly prescribed medications in the United States, with perhaps as many as 30 million Americans taking the drugs. Worldwide, they are a $12 billion industry. These medications help millions of people lead normal lives, but for some patients the cure can be deadly.

Since 1990, doctors have encountered cases in which people who were not suicidal before taking the drugs tried to injure or kill themselves soon after beginning treatment. More frightening, a large number of the patients were children and teens, who were given the drugs even though these were never proven safe for young people.

The FDA’s advisory is a harsh dose of reality for physicians who prescribe these pills without proper monitoring. Now they will have no excuse to dish out the drugs as a quick fix because the word “suicide” will appear prominently on the warning label, rather than in a long list of side effects.

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.