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Consumer Alert: Are Your Prescription Drugs Making You Depressed?


A new study finds more than one-third of Americans take a prescription drug that has the potential to cause depression and increase the likelihood of suicide. Compounding the problem, patients, as well as their doctors may be unaware of the risks involved.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago used a large database, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, to evaluate drugs used by 26,000 Americans from 2005 to 2014. They discovered that more than 200 common drugs list depression or a heightened risk of suicide as possible side effects. The medications included beta blockers that treat high blood pressure, emergency contraceptives, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) for reflux, anticonvulsants, prescription strength ibuprofen and corticosteroids.

The More Drugs Taken Concurrently, the Higher the Depression Risk

One of the findings was that drugs with depressive side effect are often used concurrently, a practice called polypharmacy. The incidence of depression rose with the number of such drugs taken simultaneously. Only 5 percent of those who didn’t take any of the drugs experienced depression. This compares to 7 percent of those who took one drug, 9 percent of those who took two drugs and approximately 15 percent of those who took three drugs.

Chillingly, similar findings for medications that listed suicide as a possible side effect were noted. The results stood after the excluding people on psychotropic drugs, which would indicate an underlying depression not due to medication use. “The take away message of this study is that polypharmacy can lead to depressive symptoms and that patients and health care providers need to be aware of the risk of depression that comes with all kinds of common prescription drugs — many of which are also available over the counter,” said lead author Dima Qato. “Many may be surprised to learn that their medications, despite having nothing to do with mood or anxiety or any other condition normally associated with depression, can increase their risk of experiencing depressive symptoms, and may lead to a depression diagnosis.”

Use of Medications with Depressive Effects is Increasing

Over the course of the study, the use of prescriptions with depressive and suicidal side effects rose. From 2005 to 2014, the use of drugs that can potentially cause depression increased three percentage points; and the concurrent use of three or more such drugs increased three percentage points. Likewise, the use of drugs that can potentially cause suicide rose seven percentage points, and the concurrent use of three or more such drugs rose one percentage point.

“People are not only increasingly using these medicines alone, but are increasingly using them simultaneously, yet very few of these drugs have warning labels, so until we have public or system-level solutions, it is left up to patients and health care professionals to be aware of the risks,” Qato said. Quato suggested possible solutions to deal with the problem. These included updating medication safety software to identify depression as a drug-drug interaction, along with adding an assessment of medication use in depression screening tools used by doctors.

“With depression as one of the leading causes of disability and increasing national suicide rates, we need to think innovatively about depression as a public health issue, and this study provides evidence that patterns of medication use should be considered in strategies that seek to eliminate, reduce or minimize the impact of depression in our daily lives,” Qato said. The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Society.

How to Protect Yourself From OTC Drugs’ Side Effects

In an interview with Live in the Now, Susan Besser M.D. of Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore provided her insights on how patients can protect themselves.

“Patients may not be sharing with their doctors everything they take. They may think that over-the-counter (OTC) medications are “safe” because they don’t require a prescription. That isn’t always true. OTC drugs have side effects and can interact with prescription drugs. “How can you deal with the problem? It all starts with a good relationship with your doctor. Have an honest discussion with him or her about all the medications you take, including those prescribed by other doctors, OTC drugs and illegal drugs, as well as medications shared with friends and family.

“Discuss whether or not you actually need your medications. For example, many people are put on acid blockers while in the hospital to help with stress-related increased stomach acid. These medications are then continued after the patient leaves the hospital, and no one ever thinks to ask if they are still needed. In addition, sometimes medications are changed in the hospital, but that isn’t made clear to patients; so when they go home, they resume their previous medications along with the new ones. “The bottom line is to bring all your medicines — not just names but every bottle you are taking medication from, and talk with your doctor. Discuss side effects, including potential depression; and work together to make your health better.”


Mary West is a natural health enthusiast, as she believes this area can profoundly enhance wellness. She is the creator of a natural healing website where she focuses on solutions to health problems that work without side effects. You can visit her site and learn more at Ms. West is also the author of Fight Cancer Through Powerful Natural Strategies.

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