Doctors may prescribe antidepressants to children and teenagers to treat depression and anxiety. Health experts, however, have long warned that kids who use antidepressants need to be monitored carefully for possible side effects.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has in fact required antidepressants to carry a black box warning to provide information on the drug's link to increased suicidal behavior in those below 25 years old.
Findings of a new study have added yet another evidence of the dangers associated with use of antidepressants by young patients.
The study, which was published in British Medical Journal on Jan. 27, has found a link between certain antidepressants and increased risk for aggression as well as suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts in young people who use them.
For the study, researchers from Denmark looked at clinical study reports of 70 trials involving more than 18,000 patients and found that while there was no significant link between use of antidepressants and aggressive behaviors and suicidal tendencies among adults, children and adolescents who take serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are commonly prescribed to treat depression, have double the risk for these potentially harmful behaviors.
The researchers likewise discovered that reports on clinical trials by pharmaceutical companies often downplayed the most serious side effects of these drugs. They found a number of cases when hostile behaviors, suicides, suicide attempts and other serious side effects were either not disclosed or improperly recorded by drug companies.
"We have known for decades that we cannot trust the published literature," said study author Peter Gøtzsche, from the Nordic Cochrane Centre in Copenhagen. "Harms of drugs, even lethal ones, are seriously underestimated in the published literature."
Gøtzsche called for study information such as anonymized patient data and clinical study reports to be made publicly available to avoid serious problems.
The researchers acknowledged that they do not have sufficient patient data to effectively assess the risks of serious harms but nonetheless recommended the minimal use of antidepressants in young people.
"Systematic reviews of harms are needed for a balanced view of medical interventions, particularly to elucidate the occurrence of rare but serious events," the researchers wrote in their study. "Clinical study reports are far more reliable than published trial reports,but even using these we were unable to unravel the true number of serious harms."