For more than a decade, there has been talk about the lesser-known side effects of a class of antidepressants and antipsychotic medication called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Families have claimed these drugs — which include Paxil, Zoloft, Lexapro, and other familiar brand names — drove their loved ones to commit suicide. But some drug manufacturers and healthcare professionals continue to dismiss them, saying there is no proof.
Even in the face of this adversity, some of those family members are sounding the alarm to hold the drug manufacturers accountable and to prevent others from losing loved ones.
Their efforts are working. In April, a jury awarded Wendy Dolin $3 million in her lawsuit against GlaxoSmithKline over its failure to warn of the increased risk of suicidal behavior tied to its drug Paxil. Dolin’s husband had been taking Paxil’s generic form, paroxetine, when he stepped in front of a train in July 2010. Despite the fact that he did not take the brand name drug, the jury still held GSK responsible, because the identical drugs have the same labeling. Dolin’s lawsuit claims that instead of easing her husband’s work-related anxiety and depression, Paxil made those symptoms worse — to the point that he had difficulty sleeping and “extreme thoughts” prior to his suicide.
“This for me has not just been about the money,” Dolin said after the verdict was announced. “This has always been about awareness to a health issue, and the public has to be aware of this.” As founder of the non-profit Medication-Induced Suicide Prevention and Education Foundation, Dolin is a patient safety advocate raising awareness about akathisia, a condition involving severe restlessness or anxiety that sometimes occurs as a side effect of SSRIs.
According to Dolin’s original complaint, “Akathisia has been associated with suicidal behavior for decades. For instance, a scientist working for another SSRI manufacturer, Pfizer, wrote in a 1998 medical journal article that the suicidal impulses resulting from akathisia may be explained as a feeling that ‘death is a welcome result’ when the ‘acutely discomforting symptoms of akathisia are experienced on top of already distressing disorders.’ ”
Seven years before Dolin lost her husband, Kim Witczak’s husband committed suicide while taking an SSRI drug. Of her husband’s death, the website Woody Matters explains: “On August 6, 2003, Woody died of a Zoloft-induced suicide at age 37. He was not depressed, nor did he have any history of mental illness or depression. He died after taking the drug a total of 5 weeks with the dosage being doubled [shortly] before his death. He was given the antidepressant from his general physician for ‘insomnia.’ ”
Witczak has also become a crusader against the dangers of these medications. In 2004, she testified at the Psychopharmacologic Drugs Advisory Committee and the Pediatric Drugs Advisory Committee’s public hearing regarding the risk of suicide in young people who take antidepressants. After the hearing, the FDA recommended antidepressants include a black box warning. Witczak has continued her fight. She frequently testifies and advocates for antidepressant warnings and FDA reform.
Putting Life Back Together
As the Woody Matters site puts it, “Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Think of all the world events it could have prevented, including Woody’s death. If only we knew then, what we know today…”
Dolin, Witczak, and many others have turned their grief into a war against those who should be more concerned with warning the public about these deadly dangers. But as families of those who died from adverse drug side effects push to protect others from suffering a similar fate, how do they also face the challenges of putting life back together? How does anyone move forward after the suicide of a loved one and, in some cases, the litigation that follows?
I have worked with many grieving spouses and family members as they press through the pain to hold those responsible legally accountable for their negligence. The fight is never over. As a settlement planning firm, we simply hope to relieve some of the family’s burden by developing a comprehensive plan after their lawsuit concludes. With our help, the plans for our clients’ financial futures are in good hands, so they can focus on their lives moving forward.
All of us at Milestone Consulting commend Wendy Dolin, Kim Witczak, and others who continue to work to raise awareness about the dangers of SSRI drugs.
ABOUT JOHN BAIR
John Bair has guided thousands of plaintiffs through the settlement process as founder of Milestone Consulting, LLC, a broad-based settlement planning and management firm. Milestone’s approach is comprehensive and future-focused. John’s team has guided thousands of clients by taking the time to understand the complexities of each case. They assess the best outcome and find the path that enables each client to manage their many needs. Read more about Milestone Consulting at http://milestoneseventh.com.
A West Point graduate where he served as captain and military aviator, John Bair continues his commitment to our country through his efforts within the settlement planning industry. He has represented families of victims lost in the Flight 3407 crash, offered pro bono services to the families of 9/11 victims and drafted the first consumer protection bill for plaintiffs (H.R. 3699).