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Youth suicide rate still high

Though it drops a bit after a big rise, overall the trend is upward.

September 03, 2008|Denise Gellene | Times Staff Writer

Suicides among U.S. adolescents dropped in 2005 after a sharp rise the previous year, but the number still remained high compared with historical trends, researchers said Tuesday.

The youth suicide rate had been falling steadily for a decade, but shot upward by 18% in 2004, boosted, according to some experts, by a government warning about antidepressants that led patients to stop taking the drugs.

The latest study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Assn., suggests that the reaction triggered by the warning has subsided and patients are being treated with antidepressants or other therapies.

Despite the decrease in suicides, researchers cautioned that the trend was still clearly upward. "It is certainly cause for concern," said Robert D. Gibbons, a biostatistician at the University of Illinois at Chicago who was not involved in the report.

Researchers at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh analyzed data from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

They used suicide reports dating back to 1996 to establish a trend line. A key year was 2003, when widespread publicity linked antidepressants, such as Prozac and Zoloft, to suicidal thoughts and behaviors in teenagers.

In 2004, the Food and Drug Administration required that the drugs carry a "black box" warning, the strongest possible. Prescriptions for antidepressants for teens and adolescents subsequently fell by more than 20%. The black-box warning calls for close monitoring of patients but does not discourage use of the medications.

After the 2004 jump in suicides, the researchers report, the rate among 10- to 19-year-olds in 2005 was 4.5 per 100,000, down 5.3%. The trend line indicated that the suicide rates per 100,000 should have been between 3.5 and 4.2 in 2005.

Based on those figures, researchers estimated there were 292 more suicides than expected in 2005.

Patterns were similar in males and females, said lead author Jeffrey A. Bridge, a pediatric researcher at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

Gibbons said the latest study showed that the increase in 2004 was not an anomaly.

"This was the first time that antidepressant use in children decreased and the first time that suicide rates increased anywhere near this amount," he said.

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