Warning that Effexor antidepressant is associated with an increasing number of suicides and accidental fatal overdoses
August 23, 2004
A warning has been issued by statisticians that the Effexor antidepressant is associated with an increasing number of suicides and accidental fatal overdoses.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) surveyed the fatal toxicity of all antidepressants over 10 years, based on data in coroners' reports in England and Wales.
The government agency's survey found deaths associated with venlafaxine, a drug sold in the UK under the brandname Effexor by drug firm Wyeth, were equivalent to 8.5 for every million prescriptions since its launch in 1995.
The drug, a serotonin and noradrenaline re-uptake inhibitor (SNRI), is more powerful than the selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (SSRI) anti-depressants. It is most commonly prescribed for psychiatric inpatients.
The agency said deaths associated with Effexor were a lot more than the SSRIs, which averaged one death for every million, but less than the tricyclic family of antidepressants including dothiepin and amitriptyline, which averaged 43.1 for every million.
Nevertheless, the National Institute of Clinical Excellence is expected to approve Effexor when it soon launches its guideline for treating depression.
Meanwhile, The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency is close to completing a review of the safety and efficacy of SSRIs. It is expected to warn that a minority of SSRI users may experience increased feelings of suicidality.
Wyeth sells about 2m Effexor prescriptions a year.
A Wyeth spokeswoman told www.societyguardian.co.uk: "These figures of deaths per million do not take into account the severity of the condition of people being treated, or the fact that patients being given Effexor have often failed on other antidepressants.
"Patients who are severely ill are being treated on this drug and that is why the figures are higher."
Sophie Corlett, director of policy at Mind, the mental health charity, told societyguardian.co.uk: "Effexor is a relatively new antidepressant, and so reports of adverse side-effects have only recently begun to emerge.
"Mind has been aware for some time of reports from mental health service users of quite debilitating side-effects, ranging from dizziness and nausea to severe headaches, and dependency problems. Although on the whole Effexor has a better reputation than other antidepressants, in a recent survey almost half of respondents reported difficulties when coming off the drug or in reducing its dose."
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