Suicide by antidepressant intoxication identified at autopsy in Vienna from 1991-1997: the favourable consequences of the increasing use of SSRIs

Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2000 Mar;10(2):133-42. doi: 10.1016/s0924-977x(00)00055-9.


In the area of Vienna, any person dying under questionable circumstances is examined at the Institute of Forensic Medicine, where the cause of death is determined by means of autopsy and chemical analysis. Our study on fatal intoxications was performed in the period between 1991 and 1997, when selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) were establishing themselves on the market, reaching the top of prescription statistics. Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) were involved in 30 single- and 127 multiple-substance intoxications, with amitriptyline and doxepin being the most frequently used drugs. SSRIs were involved in five multiple-substance intoxications. The f-value, which refers to the number of deaths per million defined daily doses prescribed, was found to be significantly (P</=0.001) higher in TCAs than in SSRIs. The f-value for the total group of all antidepressants declined significantly (P</=0.05) during the observation period of 7 years. In conclusion, SSRIs turned out to be less toxic than TCAs, and the increasing use of new antidepressants did not coincide with an increased number of deaths caused by these drugs.

MeSH terms

  • Antidepressive Agents / classification
  • Antidepressive Agents / poisoning*
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic / poisoning
  • Austria / epidemiology
  • Autopsy
  • Cause of Death
  • Drug Prescriptions
  • Forensic Medicine
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Poisoning / epidemiology*
  • Poisoning / mortality
  • Poisoning / prevention & control
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors / poisoning
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data*
  • Suicide Prevention


  • Antidepressive Agents
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors