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Suicide risks studied in drugs for physical ills

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[September 03, 2008]  (AP)  Cody Miller was a high school football player who was allergic to ragweed. Douglas Briggs was a doctor coping with pain from an old back injury.

Both are now dead, hanging victims driven to suicide, their families believe, when drugs prescribed to relieve physical symptoms upset their mental and emotional balance.

Federal drug regulators are investigating to see if the families could be right.

Until now, the Food and Drug Administration's attention to the suicide risks of medications has focused on psychiatric drugs, such as antidepressants prescribed to youngsters. But this year, officials unexpectedly broadened their concerns to include a medication for asthma, drugs for controlling seizures and even one for quitting smoking. Those are medical conditions not usually associated with psychiatric disorders.

Several independent experts say the safety alarms point to a gap in the FDA's knowledge of how drugs affect the brain. Even if medications are intended for physical conditions, some drugs can have unforeseen consequences if they are able to enter the brain. A group at Columbia University has developed a method for assessing the suicide risks of drugs, possibly helping identify risks before a medication goes on the market. But the FDA only requires use of such assessments on a case-by-case basis.

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Drug companies say no cause-and-effect link has been established that would tie the medications under scrutiny to suicides. Also, some doctors worry that the talk of suicide may scare patients with serious illnesses away from drugs that could help. For example, depression -- a major risk factor for suicide -- is associated with physical illness, they note.

The Miller and Briggs families say their lives were turned upside down without warning.

Cody Miller, 15, began using Singulair for his allergies in the summer of 2007. He switched from a different drug after a new doctor assured his mother that once-a-day Singulair was better.


Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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