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ANTIDEPRESSANTS: The suicide watch

Here's a quiz with which you can enthrall the whole family over the dining table. Hours of family fun guaranteed! It's called 'Guess How Long It Takes', and the family has to estimate the time before a drug company responds to concerns about one of its products.

The clock starts ticking in 1988 (probably before that, but let's make that the start year) when the medical authorities first realized that children as young as two years were being prescribed antidepressants. These powerful drugs have never been licensed for use in children, let alone toddlers.

By 1994 this unauthorized usage had increased by 400 per cent, and by which time a worrying pattern of suicides among children was being established. This was quickly picked up by researchers, and 20 studies all confirmed everyone's worst fears that eight popular antidepressants were indeed being prescribed to kids, and that an alarming number of children were committing suicide or were developing suicidal thoughts while taking one of the drugs.

The American drug 'watchdog', the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), finally woke up to the problem in 2003, and agreed to 'review the practice'.

Finally, in June 2004, Wyeth, the manufacturer of one of the eight antidepressants, issued a warning note about the suicide risk. It also mentions, en passant, that children should not be prescribed the drug.

So the answer is 16 years, but extra points can be awarded to the family member who responds with '16 years and counting'. The other manufacturers have yet to issue a warning, after all, and those readers in the UK will be gladdened to hear that, as ever, our own drugs vigilante has yet to notice that there's a problem.


  • FDA website