The study, set to be published in the Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry journal, examined data from 7,829 Coroners’ Inquests in England and Wales over the past two decades that mentioned antidepressants. It revealed that just under half were determined to be suicides.
According to the study, of the 3,543 deaths ruled by coroners to be suicides, 2,329 involved overdosing on drugs. The drugs in question were antidepressants in 933 such cases, and in over half of those, there were no other substances detected. Just over 900 other reports cited “unnamed medicines,” which could also have been antidepressants.
While there are numerous types of antidepressants, the two most widely used are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclics. The study revealed that SSRI drug citalopram and tricyclic amitriptyline were the two most frequently mentioned in the reports.
The remaining suicides involved being struck by a train, subway, truck, bus, or other vehicle, or jumping, falling, drowning, electrocuting, shooting, or burning oneself.
“If preventing suicide is a primary reason for prescribing ADs, this data set includes several thousand people for whom the drugs clearly did not work,” Read wrote. He highlighted the troubling finding that “about 1,000 people used the drugs that were supposed to alleviate their depression to kill themselves.”
He noted that while “systematic analyses of all inquests would be more informative,” the study suggested that “reducing the overprescribing of these relatively ineffective and, for some, lethally dangerous substances” may “reduce suicides.”
Read went on to explain that his study did have some limitations.
“The data set, which relies primarily on archives of local newspapers is incomplete and therefore underestimates the total numbers involved,” he said, adding, “The accuracy of coroners’ verdicts is not perfect.”