New warning after
anti-depressant drug deaths climb
Sarah Womack, Social Affairs Correspondent
A fresh warning was sounded yesterday over the
anti-depressant Efexor after it emerged that deaths involving the
drug were rising at a time when those from other types of
anti-depressants were falling or remained static.
It came as official statistics showed that almost
5,000 people died from drug poisoning involving anti-depressants in
the past decade. Most were suicides.
Efexor - whose chemical name is venlafaxine - was
licensed around nine years and used by about 3,000 adolescents,
among others, until last year when a study found it could cause
hostility, suicidal ideas and self-harm.
Doctors said it should no longer be prescribed to
New figures from the Office for National Statistics
show there were 17.6 deaths among users for every million
prescriptions written for Efexor and similar types of
anti-depressant between 1993 and 2002. This compares with a rate of
4.3 deaths per million prescriptions for anti-depressants such as
An ONS spokesman said more commonly prescribed
anti-depressants were more toxic "but the difference with
venlafaxine is that the death rate is going up."
Asked if the figures on venlafaxine could be taken as
a warning signal over prescribing the drug, the spokesman said: "We
could interpret it like that, yes."
Robbie Williams, the singer, said a year ago that he
took Efexor daily to cope with his life.
"I am happy because of the pills," he said, comparing
his depression to being stabbed in the leg, and saying he believed
it was hereditary.
Trials have also shown Efexor is effective for
Other figures yesterday show deaths from certain
anti-depressants are 10 times higher than those from other
Its report raises new questions about the efficacy of
the drugs, their side-effects and whether doctors are over
prescribing so-called "happy pills" to people anxious or stressed
rather than suffering severe mental problems.
The number of anti-depressants being prescribed in
England alone has risen dramatically over the past 10 years from 10
million to 26 million items per year.
A spokesman for Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, manufacturers
of venlafaxine, said: "These figures (death per million
prescriptions) do not take into account the severity of depression
being treated. People on Efexor have often failed on other
"In Britain, Efexor is often reserved for a second
line therapy (which means it is not the first drug of choice) and
given to people seriously ill with depression."