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Paxil and Suicide

Earlier this month (September 2015), a major medical journal released findings that Paxil (paroxetine) is NOT, in fact, safe for teenagers and can make some teenagers suicidal and likely to harm themselves. This finding on Paxil and suicide among teens is in direct contradiction to the earlier study which concluded the drug was safe to use in children. Ironically, this groundbreaking new study is being released in September which happens to be Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

The medical journal (BMJ) essentially re-analyzed the original, and controversial, Paxil safety study from 2001. The original study’s findings essentially opened up the floodgates, inviting doctors to write millions of Paxil prescriptions for teenagers. The original 2001 study on Paxil was funded by SmithKline Beecham, now GlaxoSmithKline, which stood to benefit financially if Paxil could be marketed to a wider audience.

Paxil has been at the very center of the “antidepressant wars” since 2000, and there have been concerning reports of thousands of Paxil users committing violent acts and harming themselves. It is difficult to quantify the cause and side effects here given that so many factors may have contributed to this outcome. In other words, many argue that these are troubled kids that were taking Paxil for a reason and may have been predisposed to violence or suicide. However, critics claim that there is an undeniable correlation between the use of Paxil in teens and suicidal thoughts and acts even after accounting for the emotional state of the patients. “Black box” warnings have since been placed on Paxil for over a decade, which has thankfully slowed down usage of Paxil among teens.

Paxil critics claim that serious side effects such as suicidal thinking were downplayed in the original study and categorized generally as “emotional liability”. Also, it has been noted that the original study was “ghost-written” by a consultant on the drug maker’s payroll. Those who reanalyzed the 15 year old study found that the teens on Paxil were no better off than those on the placebo, and that there was actually an increase in suicidal thoughts and behavior within this group.

Recently, an article was published titled, “An Irish Epidemic: Suicide and Homicide and on Antidepressants”. The author writes about her own son who was sad, after breaking up with his girlfriend, and was prescribed a similar anti-depressant (SSRI) to Paxil. 17 days later he killed his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend and then himself.

Also, of interest, the FDA has warned that Paxil use during pregnancy “increases the risk for birth defects, particularly heart defects. The early results of two studies showed that women who took Paxil during the first three months of pregnancy were about one and a half to two times as likely to have a baby with a heart defect.” The FDA has specifically warned that children born to mothers who were taking Paxil during pregnancy were at an increased risk of atrial septal defects (ASD) and ventral septal defects (VSD), holes in the walls of the heart, and persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN), a circulatory condition that can lead to respiratory failure shortly after birth. GlaxoSmithKline has paid out over $1 billion to settle more than 800 Paxil lawsuits. However, they continue to market and sell Paxil to the public.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people (behind accidents and homicide). This is staggering. If Paxil and other anti-depressants are a part of this tragic statistic, changes must be made.