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Eur J Med. 1992 Oct;1(6):343-8.

Suicide and fatal antidepressant poisoning.

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National Poisons Unit, Guys Hospital, London, UK.



To compare the fatal toxicities of antidepressant drugs in England, Scotland and Wales 1985-1989.


Epidemiological retrospective study using Department of Health prescription data and mortality data from the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, and the Registrar General for Scotland, for the years 1974-1989. The fatal toxicity index (FTI) of groups of drugs and individual drugs was compared with the FTI for all antidepressant drugs for the years 1985-1989.


Of 3,604 single antidepressant deaths between 1975 and 1989, the majority (70.95%) were from amitriptyline or dothiepin. The mean FTI for all drugs for the years 1985-1989 was 35.6; the FTIs for dothiepin, amitriptyline, nortriptyline and tranylcypromine were significantly higher than the mean of all, while those for clomipramine, lofepramine, fluvoxamine, trimipramine, maprotiline, trazodone, mianserin, protriptyline, isocarboxazid and phenelzine were lower. The FTI for the older tricyclic drugs was higher at 43.03 (p < 0.001). The FTI for the monoamine oxidase inhibitors, of 27.03 (p = 0.045), and for all drugs introduced after 1973, of 5.32 (p < 0.001), were each significantly lower than the mean of all drugs.


Overdose deaths from antidepressants have not decreased over the last 15 years. A trend away from prescribing drugs with a higher fatal toxicity index in favour of those with a lower index, would reduce the number of deaths from antidepressant poisoning.

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