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Watchdog seeks review of epilepsy medication and suicide

12 May, 2005

The United States Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) have asked 14 manufacturers of anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) to
review the likelihood of the medication triggering suicidal behaviour
or thought in patients, especially in people taking AEDs for
psychiatric conditions rather than epilepsy.

A
number of AEDs are now being used for 'off-label' purposes (where the
drugs are prescribed to treat conditions that they were not original
approved for) including bipolar disorder. The review is trying to
clarify whether it is the condition or the medication that triggering
these suicidal tendencies.

The
review, it is claimed, is partly in response to a petition sent to the
FDA by an attorney representing people taking Neurontin (gabapentin),
who informed the watchdog of over 270 cases of "suicidal people" taking
the drug who had no previous history of suicidal tendencies.
Neurontin's manufacturer, Pfizer, refutes any accusation that the drug
causes depression or suicidal thoughts.

Dr Robert Temple, of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, commented:

"These
are the sorts of people who are complicated to think about because they
tend to be at risk already. There's a 10 to 20 per cent incidence of
suicide in bipolar disorder. The adverse event reports can't really
tell you whether the suicidal event is because of the drug or despite
the drug."

A
similar study into the suicidal thoughts of children and young people
taking anti-depressants took place in 2003 and this led to increased
warnings about the possible side effects appearing on anti-depressant
packaging in the United States.