UNC CFAR in the News: HIV drug linked to higher suicide risk

The UNC CFAR is getting exciting news coverage! Our researchers Katie Mollan, MS, Joe Eron, MD, Kevin Robertson, MD, and ACTG investigators have been featured in WedMD, Harvard News, and MedPage Today for their new article which explores the risks of anti-HIV drug efavirenz. This drug appears to double the risk that patients will develop suicidal thoughts or take their lives.

Study co-author Dr. Joseph Eron shared that “Efavirenz is a very important and effective antiretroviral medication that is the foundation for much of HIV therapy worldwide.” Dr. Eron explained that “suicidality (i.e. suicidal thoughts or suicidal behavior or suicide death) is a very serious adverse event that requires clinicians to actively engage patients to assess risk”. This new study demonstrates a clear association between efavirenz and suicidality.

Although the absolute risk of suicidality is relatively small, Eron explained that it appears to be persistent, lasting as long as patients take the drug. Antiretroviral treatment typically is lifelong, helping people with the AIDS-causing virus live healthier lives.

“Clinicians should be aware of this ongoing risk, and talk to their patients to assess suicidality,” Eron added. That means looking for any history of depression or suicidal thoughts or attempts, the study noted.

Good alternatives to efavirenz do exist for patient who may need to start, or to switch to, another therapy. In settings where alternative therapies are not available, the benefits of efavirenz-based therapy with management of depression will usually outweigh the risks of no treatment, especially for people with low CD4 cell counts.

Follow the coverage:

WebMD: “Common HIV Drug May Boost Suicide Risk”

Harvard News: “Widely Used HIV Drug Linked to Higher Suicide Risk”

MedPage Today: HIV Drug Linked to Suicidality Risk

Video Clip: The link between Efavirenz and Suicide