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The Daily Telegraph
Edition 2 - Extended MetroTHU 17 JUN 2004, Page 021
Does this drug encourage youth suicide? The minister says ...Evidence of risk is clear
By Anna Patty, Health Reporter

THE Federal Government yesterday said there was ``credible'' scientific evidence that a drug available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) could drive children to suicide.
Health Minister Tony Abbott said he was concerned about a series of scientific studies on the adverse effects of anti-depressant drug Aropax.
The studies, published by pharmaceutical giant Glaxo-
SmithKline, show children under 18 taking the drug were at increased risk of feeling suicidal, hostile and depressed, as reported exclusively in yesterday's The Daily Telegraph.
``There are credible reports these antidepressant drugs can cause significant side effects in children,'' Mr Abbott said.
``I have asked the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee whether these drugs should stay on the PBS.''
Aropax has been banned in Britain and the US has advised against its use.
Yet Australian doctors gave out more than 23,000 prescriptions for Aropax to children last year and are divided on its risks.
AMA federal councillor and child psychiatrist Dr Choong-Siew Yong yesterday said the adverse effects associated with Aropax were rare and there had been an ``over-reaction in other countries''.
``In Australia we have taken a more measured approach to educate doctors,'' he said.
``There are a lot of children who have got better from Aropax. I think it would be a mistake to ban it outright.''
A Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) spokeswoman yesterday said an inquiry by the US Food and Drug Administration would help determine whether the drug was banned in Australia.
The TGA cannot stop doctors from prescribing the drug to children, even though it is only registered for use by adults.
``The TGA has never registered Aropax for use by children,'' the TGA spokeswoman said.
``The TGA has made it clear these drugs are not suitable for children and adolescents.
``If doctors still prescribe them to children, they should do it in conjunction with a closely monitored care plan.
``The most the TGA can do at the moment is strengthen its warnings. It is monitoring the FDA's inquiries and on the basis of those findings we will decide whether to go further.''
The US findings on Aropax and other drugs in its class are expected within two months.

Alicia deals with downside
FOR Alicia Quartermain, Aropax did more harm than good.
A year ago, the then-18-year-old slammed her mother against a wall and cut her own arms.
It was six months after she stopped using it before the Northern Beaches resident felt better.
Now Ms Quartermain wants to warn others of side effects.
``I was on it for about 2 1/2 months, [along with Serapax and Hepnogram],'' she said.
``I was suicidal. I even slammed my mother against the wall, totally out of character for me.''
But Rebecca, 25, of Melbourne, took Aropax when she was 18 and called it her saviour: ``It was quite positive on my mental state.''

Caption:  The Daily Telegraph article
Lows ... Alicia Quartermain yesterday. Picture: JUSTIN LLOYD
Illus:  Photo
Section:  LOCAL

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