How safe are psychiatric medications after a voluntary overdose?

Enrique Baca-Garcí, Carmen Diaz-Sastre, Jeronimo Saiz-Ruiz, Jose De Leon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


This study assessed psychiatric medications and their potential lethality in a representative sample of suicide attempts. Materials and methods: During 1996-98, 563 suicide attempts were studied in a general hospital in Madrid (Spain). Medication overdose was used in 456 suicide attempts (81%). The ratio between dose taken and maximum prescription dose recommended was used to evaluate the medication toxicity. Results: Benzodiazepines were the drugs most often used in self-poisoning (65% of overdoses), followed by new antidepressants (11%), tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) (10%), and antipsychotics (8%). An overdose with any of the three latter psychiatric medications was significantly more frequent in patients prescribed those medications. The overdoses for TCA were potentially lethal in 47% of the cases. However, all patients who overdosed on psychiatric medications recovered well and were discharged without any sequelae. Discussion: This study suggests that psychiatric medications, particularly benzodiazepines, new antidepressants and antipsychotics, are relatively safe when they are used for self-poisoning. If patients with mental illnesses are under treated, there is a clear and documented higher risk for suicide.Conclusion: It is better to prescribe psychiatric medications, particularly the new ones, rather than withhold them due to an exaggerated fear of a lethal overdose

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)466-470
Number of pages5
JournalEuropean Psychiatry
Issue number8
StatePublished - Dec 2002

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was partly supported by a National Alliance for Research in Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD) Young Investigator Award to EBG. No pharmaceutical company provided support for this study. The authors thank Debra Browne, B.S. and Margaret Susce, R.N., M.L.T., for editorial assistance.


  • Mortality
  • Overdose
  • Psychiatric drugs
  • Self-poisoning
  • Suicide
  • Suicide attempts

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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