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Depression Risk Linked to Many Common Drugs Used by Older Adults

One-third of Americans are taking these medicines 

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Common prescription drugs may contribute to feelings of depression and suicidal risk.

More than one-third of Americans are using prescription drugs with possible side effects that may contribute to depression and suicidal thoughts, a new study reports. This comes on the heels of last week’s report that stated suicide rates are rising sharply around the country, with a particular increase for middle-aged Americans.

The study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) was conducted by researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago. They used data from 2005 through 2014 on 26,192 adults who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and a depression screening. The takeaway: Those who use medications that have the potential side effect of depression have a higher risk of depression than those who don’t take such medicine, and the more of these medicines they take the greater the risk. 

The drugs in question include about 200 common medications such as antihypertensives, especially beta blockers, hormone replacement therapy, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) used to treat acid reflux, steroids and painkillers. “These are all commonly used in older adults,” notes study lead author Dima Mazen Qato, an assistant professor and pharmacist at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Among men, specifically, finasteride (often used for prostate problems or hair loss) may potentially cause suicidal symptoms.”

Qato says she was “surprised by the number of prescription medications that are associated with depression adverse effects — especially suicidal risks. The strength of the association between the number of meds and depression was also surprising: Adults using three or more of these medications (excluding antidepressants) were three times more likely to report depression when compared to adults not using any of them.”

The prevalence of depression among those who used only one such medication, and weren't taking antidepressants, was about 7 percent.

The study authors noted that this does not prove that the drugs cause depression in a healthy individual, only that there's a correlation between the use of these drugs and a higher risk of depression.

Qato suggests that patients, their families and/or caregivers “tell their providers if and when they experience new or worsening (in antidepressant users) symptoms of depression. Health care professionals should also consider discussing the potential risk of depressive or suicidal symptoms with their patients who are prescribed medications that carry these side effects.”

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