Popular painkiller could cause patients to commit suicide

Tuesday, February 22, 2011 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: painkillers, suicide, health news

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(NaturalNews) A popular and powerful prescription painkiller may be causing people to kill themselves, according to a study conducted by researchers from the Pain Clinic Bergmannsheil at the Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany, and published in the journal Pain.

Six years ago, a new painkiller named ziconotide (also known as SNX-111 and Prialt) was approved by the FDA for patients in which the older, more well-known opioid drugs prove either ineffective or addictive. Derived from the lethal venom of the cone snail (Conus magus), ziconotide acts by directly blocking the pain receptors in the brain.

Although ziconotide appears to be non-addictive, increasing concerns have emerged that it may cause unintended effects in the brains of patients, increasing their risk of suicide. According to the new study, the drug deteriorates patients' states of mind while reducing both anxiety and impulse control. While this will not produce suicide in all patients, it may drastically increase the risk in psychologically vulnerable people.

In addition to analyzing growing reports of suicide associated with ziconotide prescription, the authors use case studies to make their point. In the first, a patient who had suffered from untreatable pain for years finally gained relief from ziconotide, apparently without side effects. His depression, never severe to begin with, apparently decreased. Three weeks after starting ziconotide, he killed himself without warning.

In another case, a woman who had been undergoing pain treatment for 14 years and who had attempted suicide while suffering from depression 20 years previously was prescribed ziconotide. Two months later, she experienced an increase in suicidal thoughts, hallucinations, confusion and partial amnesia. She suffered two car accidents, which may have been cause by the psychic side effects, possibly including suicidal urges. When ziconotide treatment was halted, all suicidal thoughts and other psychological side effects ended.

The researchers called for careful psychological monitoring of any patients who are prescribed ziconotide.

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