By Natasha Persaud
A new study offers some reassurance that asthma medications called leukotriene-modifying agents do not increase the risk of suicide. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first issued a safety alert in 2008 on these meds—which include montelukast (Singulair), zafirlukast (Accolate) and zileuton (Zyflo)—based on case reports, but there has been controversy about the association.
For the study, researchers looked at the rates of suicide among children, teens and young adults ages 5 to 24 taking asthma medication. Using insurance data on more than 3,500 asthma cases, the researchers determined that leukotriene-modifying agents were not more hazardous. Instead, people who attempted suicide were more likely to have other suicide risk factors, such as a mental illness, substance abuse problem or another health problem and be taking additional medications, such as antidepressants or antipsychotics.
The study authors are quick to point out that this isn't the last word on the subject. The study had limitations, so more research is needed.
The bottom line: If you or your child is taking a leukotriene-modifying medication for asthma, talk to your doctor about any concerns you may have. Unlike inhaled corticosteroids, leukotriene-modifiers are taken orally. This method of administration is sometimes a preferential option for treating children with asthma.
Also, watch for suicide signs and discuss them with your doctor. Asthma itself has been associated with a four-fold increase in the likelihood of a suicide attempt, according to background info in the study. The good news is life-saving help is available when you ask for it.
Schumock, et al. "Risk of suicide attempt in asthmatic children and young adults prescribed leukotriene-modifying agents: A nested case-control study." Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, online June 14, 2012.