WASHINGTON – All antidepressants (search) must carry a "black box" warning, the government's strongest safety alert, linking the drugs to increased suicidal thoughts and behavior among children and teens taking them, the Food and Drug Administration (search) said Friday.
Because the warnings are primarily seen by doctors, the agency also is creating an information guide for patients to advise them of the risk.
"Today's actions represent FDA's conclusions about the increased risk of suicidal thoughts and the necessary actions for physicians prescribing these antidepressant drugs and for the children and adolescents taking them," said Dr. Lester Crawford, acting FDA commissioner.
The drug labels also include details of pediatric studies which, thus far, have pointed to Prozac (search) as the safest antidepressant for youths to take.
On average, 2 percent to 3 percent of children taking antidepressants have increased suicidal thoughts, independent experts, working with Columbia University, found.
The FDA announcement follows to the letter guidance from federal advisers. After searing and emotional public hearings one month ago, the advisers urged the agency to add its most strident warnings to the drugs.
The FDA said in a statement that it recognizes that depression in pediatric patients "can have significant consequences in pediatric patients if not appropriately treated. The new warning language recognizes this need but advises close monitoring of patients as a way of managing the risk of suicidality."
An information guide will be distributed with each antidepressant prescription. Parents will be advised to look for warning signs in children that include worsening depression, agitation, irritability, and unusual changes in behavior. Those worrisome signs could come within the first months of starting an antidepressant or when the drug's doses changes — higher or lower.
In 24 trials involving more than 4,400 patients taking antidepressants, researchers found a greater risk of increased suicidal thoughts and behavior during the first few months of treatment.
Celexa (search), Prozac and Zoloft (search) posed lower risks for children, researchers found, while Luvox, Effexor (search) and Paxil (search) had higher risks of increased suicidal thoughts and behavior.
Prozac is the only antidepressant approved by the FDA for use for treating depression in pediatric patients.
The new warnings, however, will be carried by all antidepressants, including Anafranil, Aventyl, Celexa, Cymbalta, Desyrel, Effexor, Elavil, Lexapro, Limbitrol, Ludiomil, Luvox, Marplan, Nardil, Norpramin, Pamelor, Parnate, Paxil, Pexeva, Prozac, Remeron, Sarafem, Serzone, Sinequan, Surmontil, Symbyax,Tofranil, Tofranil-PM, Triavil, Vivactil, Wellbutrin, Zoloft and Zyban.
The agency's action comes at a time when it faces withering criticism for not acting sooner on antidepressants, and for the shortage of flu vaccine and the high-profile withdrawal of Vioxx for safety concerns.
Congressional investigations have focused on allegations the agency silenced its own employees who tried to raise safety concerns on the antidepressants and Vioxx.