Threat of suicide leads to ban of major antidepressants for children

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Indy Lifestyle Online

All major antidepressant drugs other than Prozac, known as SSRIs, are set to be be banned for children under 18 by the Government today, amid concerns that the drugs cause young patients to commit suicide.

Sources at the Department of Health confirmed reports last night that four antidepressant drugs would be banned for children. Two drugs in the same group, Seroxat and Efexor, were banned in June and September respectively. An announcement is expected in Parliament today from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Doctors will be told not to prescribe Lustral (chemical name setraline), Cipramil (citalopram), Cipralex (escitalopram) and Faverin (fluvoxamine) to under-18s. Fifty thousand children are estimated to be on antidepressants in Britain.

The MHRA was said to have told doctors last night they should not prescribe any selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), other than Prozac. It will also warn that Prozac will help only one child out of 10. However, the agency will say that patients already on medication should not stop it suddenly, to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

The decision comes after pressure from parents and campaigners. Health authorities have never recommended use of the drugs by under-18s but GPs have prescribed more and more for children.

The ban is likely to cause problems for doctors because there are an insufficient number of counsellors and psychotherapists to deal with mental health problems through alternative treatment - therapy.

The ban was reported, by The Guardian, to have come after details of clinical trials of depressed children that were held by drug companies in the late 1990s were studied by the MHRA. Efexor was said to be used by about 3,000 adolescents when it was banned in September.

Seroxat was said to have been prescribed to up to 8,000 children by June and was used by 600,000 to 800,000 adults. It was banned after research showed it could trigger suicidal thoughts and thoughts of self-harm. The drug's maker, GlaxoSmithKline, disagreed with the Government's decision at the time, saying it would "limit the choices" available to doctors to treat depression.

The Government's SSRI review group would now look at the safety and efficacy of the drugs in adults, it was reported last night.

Drug companies began trials on the safety of SSRIs in children after US government pressure in the early 1990s.