Coroner's warning over suicide risk side effect of common antibiotic
19th June 2023

Coroner’s warning over suicide risk side effect of common NHS antibiotic Ciprofloxacin after newly retired doctor, 63, killed himself a week after being prescribed it

  • Robert Stevenson had no mental health problems before starting Ciprofloxacin
  • For confidential support call Samaritans on 116123 or visit

A coroner has issued a warning about the potential suicide risk side effect of a common NHS antibiotic after a newly retired senior doctor killed himself a week after being prescribed it.

‘Respected and ‘experienced’ consultant cardiologist Robert Stevenson had no history of depression or mental health problems before he started a course of Ciprofloxacin.

The hearing was told Dr Stevenson, 63, hadn’t been told about a ‘potential rare link’ to suicidal behaviour in patients who took the drug, as this wasn’t in line with medical guidance.

Now, West Yorkshire coroner Martin Fleming has issued a warning to highlight the risk of taking the antibiotic, which is prescribed by the health service for serious conditions.

Coroner Martin Fleming has issued a warning to highlight the risk of taking Ciprofloxacin, which is prescribed by the health service for serious conditions (stock photo)

The Prevention of Future Deaths Report said Dr Stevenson, a Consultant Cardiologist and General Physician at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary, West Yorks, had retired in May 2022.

At that time, he had been referred to a urology department for the investigation of possible prostate cancer, with a private consultant urologist.

To help with the inflammation of his prostate gland and to get him ready for an investigative biopsy, he was prescribed Ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic used to treat a number of bacterial infections.

Does the antibiotic ciprofloxacin cause depression?

Ciprofloxacin is a powerful antibiotic designed to fight off serious infections.

They belong to class of drugs called fluoroquinolone antibiotics, with other examples being levofloxacin, moxifloxacin and ofloxacin.

Like any medication it can cause side effects which vary in severity and frequency.

One of the most serious is an alteration of mood and mental state which can include severe tiredness, depression, anxiety, or memory problems. 

Information provided with ciprofloxacin warns of this ‘very rare’ risk and that it can even lead to thoughts of suicide. 

The NHS estimates these side effects occur in less than one in 100 people who take them. 

Patients who experience such side effects are urged to contact their doctor or call 111 immediately so their doctor can potentially prescribe an alternative antibiotic. 

Just over a week later, Dr Stevenson left his home for his ‘usual walk’. According to the report, ‘he had not previously given any indications to his family for them to be concerned for him’.

But that afternoon at 12.30pm, his wife received a Facebook message from him saying he had left a note under the pillow of his bed.

‘The note was found to be uncharacteristically confused and illogical given his reference to his baseless concerns that he may have developed AIDs after taking an HIV tester kit he had previously bought online,’ the coroner said.

‘Concerns were raised for his welfare, and this triggered an intensive police and family search of the surrounding area.’

Dr Stevenson was later found dead in a nearby wood. 

Mr Fleming concluded: ‘Robert Stevenson intended to take his own life when the balance of his mind was disturbed.’

Writing to the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the coroner said that doctors may not be aware of the potential side effect.

‘During the inquest, I was referred by Mr Stevenson’s treating urologist to published literature relating to Ciprofloxacin and Quinolone antibiotics and a potential rare link to suicide behaviour in patients.

‘Although I found on the balance of probabilities that it remained unclear that he was suffering from this side effect, it remained possible for this to be the case.

‘I heard evidence to suggest that the prescribing doctor did not reference this side effect at the time of issuing the prescription to Mr Stevenson, since it was not in accord with current advice.

‘I also heard evidence to suggest that prescribing doctors may not be fully aware of this rare side effect and that patients suffering from depression may be more vulnerable to it.

‘I am therefore concerned that this potential risk has not been given sufficient emphasis.

‘I would ask you to consider the appropriateness of reviewing the current guidelines as to the dispensation of the drug to patients by clinicians and increasing the awareness of the side effect in order to monitor and mitigate the risks.’

The MHRA have until August 1 to respond.

  • For confidential support call the Samaritans on 116123 or visit a local Samaritans branch, see for details

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