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Commonly Prescribed HIV Drug May Boost Suicide Risk, Study Shows

A popular HIV drug may double the risk of a patient's suicide, a new study shows."

A popular HIV drug may double the risk of a patient’s suicide, a new study shows. HIV positive patients prescribed a commonly used medication may be at twice the risk for committing suicide, a new study shows. The news is particularly troubling here in Florida, where two cities – Miami and Jacksonville – have two of the highest HIV and AIDS rates in the country, according to figures released in May by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Census Bureau. Known generically as efavirenz, the anti-HIV medication marketed as Sustiva has been shown to double the risk that patients using it will develop suicidal thoughts or even take their own lives.


Researchers followed some 5,300 HIV patients – 3,200 of whom were undergoing treatment that included efavirenz, and 2,100 who took antiretroviral combinations that didn’t include the drug. Each patient’s progress was tracked for about two years and when all information was thoroughly reviewed, evidence pointed to a twice-as-high suicide risk among patients taking efavirenz than among the on-efavirenz group. The newest research is the first to identify a definitive link between the medication and suicidal thoughts, attempts and completions, and backs up results of a prior study indicating that might heighten a patient’s suicide risk because of a negative impact on the central nervous system.


What’s more, researchers say the risk persists as long as patients remain on the drug. “Efavirenz is a very important and effective antiretroviral medication that is the foundation for much of HIV therapy worldwide,” said study co-author Dr. Joseph Eron of the University of North Carolina Center for AIDS Research at Chapel Hill. He noted that in locations and situation where alternative therapies are unavailable, the benefits of efavirenz-based therapy likely will outweigh the risks of no treatment. However, “Clinicians should be aware of this ongoing risk, and talk to their patients to assess suicidality,” he added. The powerful anti-HIV drug is widely considered the backbone of the one-pill-a-day treatment that’s highly preferred, particularly among newly diagnosed patients. Yet, “Since it was first approved it’s been known that it provokes all sorts of psychiatric manifestations, particularly nightmares,” Dr. Jeffrey Laurence, senior scientific consultant for programs at the New York AIDS research advocacy organization amfAR, recently told journalists.


Fortunately, anecdotal evidence shows that patients’ depression can be effectively managed throughout efavirenz based treatment. Plus, effective alternatives to the medication do exist. But the key is a highly involved medical provider who will take a patient’s mental and emotional state as seriously as his or her physical condition. If you are an HIV or AIDS patient prescribed Sustiva and are experiencing suicidal thoughts, or if you’ve lost a love one who was taking the medication to a suicide, contact an experienced medical malpractice or dangerous drug attorney. Jacksonville’s Harrell and Harrell can be reached at 800-251-1111.