Patients being treated for epilepsy, depression, migraine, chronic pain, bipolar disorder, and other conditions may need to be vigilant about suicide-related side effects of their treatment. A recent report on CNN.com details the results of a study just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). It found that taking antiseizure drugs to treat epilepsy and other conditions roughly doubles the risk of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts, compared with other drugs in the same class. The medications in question are the antiseizure and nerve pain relief drug gabapentin (Neurontin), the antiseizure and bipolar disorder drug lamotrigine (Lamictal), and the antiseizure drugs oxcarbazepine (Trileptal), tiagabine (Gabitril), and the seizure, bipolar disorder, and migraine treatment valproate (Depakote). I see a lot of people who have experienced unexpected negative effects from prescription drugs in my work as a defective prescription drug attorney, and I am glad that news outlets like CNN are making the public aware of these dangers.
In 2008, the U.S Food and Drug found that people who took any of eleven anticonvulsants, as these drugs are called, approximately doubled the risk of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts. The risk is less than half of one percent — about one in 230 patients will have suicidal behavior or thoughts. Experts say patients need to be aware of this risk, so that they’ll be more likely to notice if they are that one in 230. The FDA required these drugs to carry a warning label about this risk, but did not require a “black box” warning, the most serious kind of warning.
The new study published in JAMA looked at people taking thirteen anticonvulsants over five years and tracked suicide attempts, suicides and violent deaths. It found that five of the drugs increased the risk of suicidal behavior compared with topiramate (Topamax), a widely prescribed and versatile drug in the same class. Aware that many of the anticonvulsants they looked at were used to treat mental illnesses, the authors of the study accounted for the increased risk of suicide because of mental illness as they analyzed the data. They still found that “the risk was derived from the specific drug that the patient was taking and not their underlying conditions,” said Dr. Elisabetta Patorno of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, the lead author of the study. Dr. Andres Kanner of Rush Medical College in Chicago, who did not work on the study, said that patients taking anticonvulsants should tell their doctors if they or a family member have a history of mental illness. Patients should not stop taking the drugs without discussing the issue with their doctors, and they should tell their doctors if they feel depressed or have thoughts of suicide.
As a dangerous prescription drug lawyer, I am glad that patients are gaining access to better information about the drugs that they take, but I am concerned that this information is not coming from the drug manufacturers. The risk of suicide is a well known side effect of certain antidepressants, and it’s not unlikely that the manufacturers could have been aware of it before the JAMA study came out. In fact, the drugmaker Pfizer just settled a wrongful death lawsuit with the widow of a man who committed suicide while taking Neurontin. Pfizer still faces many similar lawsuits and also pleaded guilty to criminal charges in 2004 and agreed to pay $430 million because of how it promoted Neurontin. Neurontin had been one of the company’s best selling drugs before it lost patent protection and generic versions became available. These circumstances suggest that some drug manufacturers might have worried that warning people about the increased risk of suicide would harm their profits.


If you have taken a prescription medication that has harmed you, you may be able to recover compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages, permanent injuries, and pain and suffering, with the help of an experienced and knowledgeable defective drug attorney at the Lowe Law Firm. Please call us at (877) 678-3400 for a free consultation to discuss your situation. You can also send us a message through our Web site.