There is a very public debate raging in Ireland at the moment regarding the tragic death of a young woman who died while suffering a miscarriage at Galway University Hospital. An estimated two thousand people protested outside Leinster House (Irish Parliment) in memory of Savita Halappanavar, who died of septicaemia as a consequence of the Irish Government’s reluctance/cowardice to legislate in this area. My heart goes out to her family and indeed to the woman and her child. The country is in uproar and rightly so.
There was another young woman who also died this year (March) but on this occasion there was no public outcry or no protest outside Leinster House (Irish Parliment). Anna Byrne was Carrying twins (almost full term) when she died by jumping off Howth head. Her inquest was held last week and was reported in the Irish independent (among other more sensationalist newspapers). Given the sensitivities surrounding this case and the fact that the family are (and will always be) grieving, I debated long and hard about writing about Anna. I was away with my family in Berlin when this report came out and Anna was never far from my thoughts; she and her two sons deserved more.
The really surprising thing was that the ‘Independent’ reported on the details of this unfortunate woman’s treatment. She was being treated by her doctor and subsequently a psychiatrist. Irish media, in cases where a person has died by suicide (unlike the UK and the US) rarely report on a person’s Inquest due to the fear of ‘copycat suicides’ and ‘social contagion’. There are strict media guidelines with the reporting of these cases; how’s that working in Ireland you might ask? Not too good!
Anna Byrne who was 35 and heavily pregnant with twins, had been on Seroxat for a number of years. This drug was discontinued earlier in her pregnancy. She was then put on Sertraline by her GP who described it as a commonly used antidepressant during pregnancy; seriously? Sertraline aka Lustral (Ireland) and Zoloft (US) commonly prescribed during pregnancy? Did this doctor not know of the birth defects associated with this family of drugs? Was this woman warned that this drug can cause suicide, depression, aggression, manic behaviour and serious birth defects? Adam Urato, assistant professor of maternal-fetal medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine and a co-author of a recent paper on this very issue, said:
“The truth of the matter is that we are currently witnessing a large-scale human experiment. Never before in human history have we chemically altered human foetal development on such a large scale… As I am telling you this right now, there is a doctor somewhere in the world counselling a pregnant woman that if she stays on her antidepressant medication she will help control her mood and that will lead to a better pregnancy result – and there really is not a shred of evidence to support that.”
Was Anna told that these drugs can, at the very least, double the suicide risk? Was she told that the danger period is upon starting, discontinuing, or changing dosage (up or down)? This woman’s dose was doubled 6 days before her death by psychiatrist John Sheehan. C’mon, join the dots here. Does this woman and her two children not deserve every woman in this country to protest outside government buildings?
I looked up the psychiatrist ‘Dr John Sheehan’ and found him here, speaking at a conference supported by Pfizer (makers of Sertraline/Zoloft), Eli Lilly and Jansen. The speakers also included Timothy Dinan of UCC who last year denied any knowledge that Zoloft can cause suicide following Nicolas Maguire’s inquest in May 2011. Mr Maguire died by suicide shortly after being prescribed Zoloft for anxiety. Similar to most psychiatrists and medical professionals who publicly deny problems with these drugs, Timothy does a lot of work for pharmaceutical companies. This, unlike in the US, is not seen as a serious conflict of interest.
The body entrusted with the expertise in this area ‘The Irish College of Psychiatry’ (who have collectively denied that antidepressants can cause suicide) will defend their ‘medical model/drugs’ till the end, as in the recent debate with Professor Healy and Professor Veronica O’ Keane here. They will spout that the ‘benefits outweigh the risks’ till they actually convince themselves. This is despite the EMA warnings and despite the fact that the drug companies have admitted that the drugs can cause suicide. Notice the difference in Zoloft’s Patient Information Leaflet from Ireland and the US; Criminal.
I would remind medical professions that they are walking on thin ice, as was shown in the the case of Dunne (an inf.) v. National Maternity Hospital  IR 91. Here it was found:
“A medical practitioner who establishes that he followed a practice which was general and approved by his colleagues of similar specialisation and skill is nevertheless negligent if the plaintiff thereupon establishes that such practice has inherent defects which ought to be obvious to any person giving the matter due consideration.”
Given that ex-Seroxat users have declared that the adverse discontuation effects can last for months and sometimes years, the introduction of Sertraline and the subsequent doubling of dosage can all cause a person to act on suicide ideation, it is entirely plausible that the medication caused Anna and her babies’ deaths. Considering Anna is dead, the benefits did not outweigh the risks in this case.
Where is the public outcry for Anna and her babies? The Irish Government have been informed by Professor David Healy that these drugs are causing suicide, that these drugs are the leading cause of death within the mental health field and that the same drugs are causing misciarrages and birth defects. At the same meeting Dr Declan Gilsenan said he had serious concerns that more people are taking their own lives as a direct result of seeking help (and subsequently prescribed mind altering drugs), than those who have not. The Government’s inaction on this issue is a bloody disgrace!
UPDATE REGARDING SEROXAT; Syracuse, N.Y. — Joe Mazella, Basketball coach, died by suicide in Sept 09 while on Seroxat. His widow, Janice Mazella has just won a $1.6 million medical malpractice verdict on Tuesday Nov. 20, 2012 against two psychiatrists who had treated the coach before he committed suicide. Here.
- Open verdict at inquest into death of Anna Byrne (independent.ie)