A review of 922 prescription medications taken by almost 150 million people over an 11-year period shows that just 10 of these drugs were associated with an increased rate of suicide attempts. Forty-four drugs were linked to a decrease in suicide attempts, including many that carry a “black box” label from the Food and Drug Administration warning of their association with suicidal behavior.

The study, published in the Harvard Data Science Review, identifies several drugs with the potential to prevent suicide attempts that are not currently used for that purpose, including folic acid, a simple vitamin often prescribed to pregnant women.

“There’s an anti-histamine that’s associated with decreases in suicide. There’s a Parkinson’s drug associated with decreases,” said Robert Gibbons, PhD, the Director of the Center for Health Statistics at the University of Chicago and lead author of the study. “If those test out in clinical trials to be real effects, we could be using more of these drugs to treat suicidal people.”

The rate of suicide has been rising for 16 years and is now the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. Most suicides occur in patients with a psychiatric disorder, such as depression. However, common antidepressant medications like fluoxetine (Prozac) carry the FDA’s black box warning, which has led to decreased use of these medications despite the benefits they might provide.

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Originally published in The Forefront, 11/5/2019