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According to a new study in the Journal of American Psychiatry, the decreased use of SSRI prescriptions and the record increase of teen suicides from 2003 and 2004 may be linked.

The number of SSRI prescriptions for pediatric depression (ages 5 to 18) tumbled more than 50 percent between 2003 and 2005. In a troubling parallel development, the number of teen suicides jumped a record 18 percent between 2003 and 2004, the most recent year for which data exist.

According to Dr. Kelly Posner, a Columbia University child psychiatrist, “All the data point in one direction: antidepressants save lives and untreated depression kills people”.

The FDA may have scarred people away from using SSRIs because the agency issued a health-advisory warning of a potential link between the use of the drugs and teen suicide in 2003. In 2004, the FDA put a “black box” warning on these antidepressants that showed the increased risk of suicidal thinking and behavior among children and adolescents.

Now, some experts think the FDA’s warning may have done more harm than good. Most psychiatrists think that SSRIs can put people at a temporary risk of suicide, but they consider untreated depression as much more lethal than using the drugs.

“You may induce two suicides by treatment, but by stopping treatment you’re going to lose dozens to hundreds of kids. You’re losing more than you’re saving. That’s the calculus,” says Dr. Robert Valuck, of the University of Colorado Heath Sciences Center, coauthor of the new paper.

The FDA has already discussed changing the black box warning because of the misunderstanding. The FDA may see more evidence that the warning and teen suicides are linked when the CDC releases the suicide figures for 2005. If the rates are still high the agency will likely go back to the board of advisers.

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