Study finds antidepressants may contribute to drug resistance in bacteria

In the last six years, antidepressant prescriptions have increased by 35 percent, and now a new study, published Jan. 23, points to evidence that this increase may also be contributing to drug resistance in bacteria.

"Antidepressants, one of the most frequently prescribed drugs, can induce antibiotic resistance and persistence," researchers wrote of their findings, which were published in PNAS. "Considering the high consumption of antidepressants (16,850 kg annually in the United States alone), our findings highlight the need to re-evaluate the antibiotic-like side effects of antidepressants."

The rise in bacterial resistance to antibiotics is something experts are paying close attention to globally. Some of the most prominent infections, including gonorrhea, pneumonia, tuberculosis and others, are increasingly growing resistant to treatments. 

Both antibiotics and antidepressants are prescribed and consumed frequently, and take up similar percentages of the pharmaceutical market share. Antidepressants account for 4.8 percent of pharmaceuticals prescribed, and antibiotics make up around 5 percent, researchers note. 

Though further examination is needed around exactly how much antidepressants exacerbate the problem with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, researchers note that mathematical modeling predicts that "antidepressants would accelerate the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and persister cells would help to maintain the resistance."

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