Widely used HIV drug linked to higher suicide risk

People infected with HIV whose treatment includes the widely used antiretroviral drug efavirenz appear to have double the risk of suicidal thoughts, attempts, and completion compared to HIV patients not taking the medication, according to a study by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and other researchers.

The study was published June 30, 2014 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

“When efavirenz is used as a component of antiretroviral therapy, patients should be monitored carefully for exacerbation of depression or evidence of suicidal thoughts or behavior,” the researchers wrote. Senior author for the study was Camlin Tierney, senior research scientist in HSPH’s Department of Biostatistics and the Center for Biostatistics in AIDS Research.

Efavirenz had previously been associated with central nervous system side effects and suicide, but until now a clear link to suicidal thinking, attempted suicide, or completed suicide was lacking. The new study found that while suicide risk with efavirenz was low, it appeared to persist as long as patients take the drug. The authors recommended using alternative HIV drugs for patients at risk for depression when possible.

Read the study abstract: Association Between Efavirenz as Initial Therapy for HIV-1 Infection and Increased Risk for Suicidal Ideation or Attempted or Completed Suicide

Read a Health.com article: Study: Common HIV Drug May Boost Suicide Risk

Learn more

Treating depression in HIV-positive patients improves treatment adherence and viral outcome, study shows (HSPH News)

AIDS at 30: Hard lessons and hope (Harvard Public Health Review)

HSPH AIDS Initiative