Sometimes a person comes into your life for all the wrong reasons - I've had it happen to me on numerous occasions - Neil and Rhonda Carlin (Parents Sara), Leonie Fennell and Tony Donnelly (Parents of Shane) - Stephany Gatchell (Mother of Sharise), Stephanie McGill Lynch and her husband John (Parents of Jake) - there have been many more.
No surprise, given the line of work that I do, that another parent who has suffered the heartache of losing her child to antidepressant induced suicide (prescripticide) and I should cross paths.
Kristina Kaiser Gehrki is a mother on a mission. Her story (below) is not uncommon. Pharmaceutical companies, medicine regulators, the majority of psychiatrists and even family doctors will have you believe that these are isolated incidents, yet, more and more people that I meet tell me similar stories ~ be they of losing children, siblings, parents, partners or friends to induced antidepressant suicide.
Suicide Organisations have a huge duty to protect the vulnerable (not just those who are depressed and who feel suicidal) ~ they need to put something in place that prevents the alarming number of people who die each year by suicide - they include the most
vulnerable (those who find themselves caught in the system of ignorance and ill-informed professionals)
Kristina is a terrific writer, please make sure you read about her daughter, Natalie (Link to Natalie's story embedded in text below) - Yes, it's heart wrenching but it's something we cannot, nor indeed, should not, ignore.
As with all of the names above, I wish Kristina and I had never met, the only reason we have is because of another needless death ~ having said that, I truly value our friendship, as I do with those above. Not only do they share the inapt link of having lost loved ones to antidepressant induced suicide, they also share an amazing gift, an overwhelming love and compassion to make sure this doesn't happen to other loved ones - it's an act of unselfishness and we should all
recognise and acknowledge that when reading and sharing their stories.
I hope one day to meet Kristina, I feel as though I already have.
Kristina, I salute you.
Let's Bring Akathisia Out of the Darkness
By Kristina Kaiser Gehrki
n February 6, 2013, my nineteen-year-old daughter died from akathisia-induced “suicide” two days after taking 200 mg. of Zoloft, the maximum legal dose allowed. Natalie's doctor increased the drug over the phone, without ever seeing Natalie. Natalie was tortured for years by doctors who prescribed drugs she didn't need. You can read her story here
At the time of her death, Natalie was suffering from SSRI-induced akathisia. I later spoke with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's (AFSP) chief medical officer to discuss how AFSP might increase akathisia awareness. Their response prompted my open letter.
September 27, 2016
An Open Letter to Christine Moutier, Chief Medical Officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP)
Dear Dr. Moutier,
Remember me? I'm the Virginia mom who arrived home after a typical day of teaching high school to find my teenage daughter dead from violent, self-sustained injury. When I called you, and we spoke about Natalie's death, you requested her photo. Here it is. She was a beautiful person.
Sorry for the delay in providing Natalie's photo. Given that you're a trained psychiatrist, you likely understand navigating such profound grief takes time and energy. There is no “real recovery” from burying a child who died an avoidable death. But that's not what delayed sharing Natalie's picture. Let me explain.
As I shared on the phone, Natalie's death wasn't a typical suicide. At the time of her death, she was suffering from serotonin toxicity and akathisia, two life-threatening side effects of SSRI drugs. She was also a writer, who even up to the end, tried to make sense of what was happening to her. Here's a note left on her nightstand.
I now know upper GI bleeding is one of many listed adverse side effects of SSRI drugs. Other side effects Natalie suffered include a change of gait, memory loss, insomnia, crawling skin, violent nightmares, extreme agitation and anxiety, swollen throat, uncontrollable shaking, sensitivity to light, diarrhea and headache. She thought she had the flu, which is what Natalie texted to friends.
Walgreen's Walks for Natalie
At the time of her death, Natalie worked in the Walgreen's beauty department while attending college. (Although she worked steps away from the product that would lead to her death, Natalie's Zoloft prescription was filled at another pharmacy because of our insurance provider.)
When Walgreen's coworkers asked to organize an AFSP “Out of the Darkness” walk for Natalie, I was initially reluctant because I knew her death was precipitated by akathisia. By this time, an international medical expert had been consulted and determined Natalie's demise and death were caused by the two Zoloft increases and the doctor's care. Nevertheless, we held the AFSP walk for Natalie since there was no walk for "Akathisia Awareness," or "Adverse Drug Reactions."
People who die from self-sustained injury while suffering from SSRI-induced akathisia don't end their lives because they are depressed. Rather, patients who end their lives while experiencing the acutely discomforting symptoms of akathisia likely feel that “death is a welcome alternative.”
Here's a photo from 2013.
Back to Our Phone Conversation
Given that prescribers repeatedly failed to share akathisia information and the FDA Black Box warnings, I had never heard of akathisia before Natalie died. But you had. Akathisia is not as rare as the public is led to believe.
When I asked about akathisia, you confirmed your knowledge. After I shared akathisia precipitated Natalie's death, you quickly inquired about Natalie's “illness.” I explained that despite years of medical “care,” Natalie's doctors never provided a specific diagnosis. I stated Natalie's symptoms included an increased focus on dieting and exercise. You replied that people with “eating disorders” often have a higher rate of suicide. That might be true, Dr. Moutier, but Natalie did not have an eating disorder: She had akathisia.
I informed you that—over the phone, without seeing her patient—Natalie's doctor increased Zoloft to 200 mg., the maximum dose legally allowed. I shared that her doctor stated Natalie “was not depressed” and told Natalie to take more Zoloft due to “OCD-like symptoms.” Many doctors misdiagnose the symptoms of akathisia and instead blame this SSRI side effect as a sign of some worsening illness. They then wrongly increase the dosage of the offending drug, causing their patient's further demise.
I asked if AFSP supports prescribing Black Box drugs over the phone. You replied that people who live in rural areas might not otherwise have access to see a doctor for prescriptions. While not relevant to my family as we live in a metropolitan area, it begs the question: Does AFSP support the FDA prescribing guidelines for SSRIs? These guidelines clearly state patients should be closely monitored, and caregivers informed to watch for and report any unusual changes in behavior whenever SSRIs are started, stopped or a dosage changed. As a former military wife, I am concerned about the high suicide rate among our troops, many of whom are prescribed SSRI Black Box drugs with no close monitoring.
Your Call to Remove Black Box Warnings
After our phone conversation, I wondered why a suicide prevention organization dedicated to understanding and preventing suicide, seems to deny that akathisia causes suicidal thoughts, suicidal actions and suicide itself. (Akathisia can also cause violent harm to others.) My shock increased in June 2014, when you publicly called for an end to the SSRI Black Box warnings. (Source
Other medical research seems to escape AFSP advocacy. In June 2016, it was reported most antidepressant drugs don't work for kids. It received national coverage, but I did not see AFSP publicizing these findings. (Most Antidepressants Don't Work for Kids, Study Finds
~ NBC News
My Call for Akathisia Awareness & Action
It's too late for me to save my daughter. It's too late for anyone to save my daughter. But it is never too late to save others by bringing akathisia out of the darkness. Therefore, we made new signs for our AFSP walk earlier this week. I also share Natalie's akathisia-induced death on my AFSP story page.
Here are photos from 2016
Many other families who've lost loved ones to akathisia also advocate for education and awareness. They include victims of all ages. (see missd.co
) We can't raise the kind of money AFSP takes from pharmaceutical companies. But together we can raise akathisia awareness so that healthcare consumers and practitioners can avoid such tragedy.
I ask people to help AFSP bring akathisia “out of the darkness” simply by:
Dr. Moutier, thank you for taking my previous phone call. I've learned a lot since Natalie's passing. Above all is that a mother's love doesn't die with her child, it is simply refocused.
Kristina Kaiser Gehrki
Emma Walmsley, 47, is to take over the reigns from GSK's Andrew Witty on April 1, 2017 - Yup, April the first folks.
Who was it that said, "This shit just writes itself?"
Walmsley, according to the Guardian, is a married mother of four and was born in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria.
I don't want to dwell on this - I just hope she can show more compassion then her predecessors.
Guardian - Emma Walmsley profile: from marketing at L'Oréal to GSK chief
Akathisia - now there's a word.
It's a word that should be spread far and wide, a word that should be...but sadly isn't.
The pharmaceutical industry and, indeed, global medicine regulators and, to an extent, the field of psychiatry, play it down. Your average Dr probably doesn't even know what it is, even if he/she has heard the term before they probably don't know exactly what it means, more importantly, how dangerous induced akathisia can be. If the symptoms of akathisia occur on one SSRI many doctors just assume the patient can't tolerate that particular SSRI and end up giving them another brand - It's ignorant and unprofessional, more importantly, deathly!
So, what is it and why is important that the definition of akathisia be spread far and wide?
As always, it's best to leave it to the experts on matters like these. Not psychiatrists, not pharmacologists who work for the pharma funded regulators, but survivors of those who have witnessed akathisia first hand.
One such person is Wendy Dolin (pictured) whose husband, Stewart, experienced akathisia shortly before ending his life. The akathisia, according to a lawsuit, was induced by Paxil, the antidepressant that Stewart was taking shortly before killing himself.
Wendy is the founder of Medication-Induced Suicide Prevention and Education Foundation in Memory of Stewart Dolin (MISSD). Part of that education is to teach about akathisia.
The 'What is akathisia?
' page on MISSD cuts straight to the chase...
"Akathisia is a disorder, induced by SSRI medications, which can cause a person to experience such intense inner restlessness that the sufferer is driven to violence and/or suicide."
It's really that simple - no messages of "Well, it's difficult to explain and unknown if it's caused by SSRi's" - the kind of nonsense one would get back from Dr's, regulators and pharmaceutical helplines.
Akathisia is dangerous and can ultimately lead to acts of violence, including homicide, and/or completion of suicide. It's ironic that the very same pill prescribed to prevent thoughts of suicide actually induces thoughts of akathisia, which is a pre-cursor to suicide. The one small grain of hope one can take from this is that it's evident. So, a loved one of yours starts or misses a dose of any SSRI and starts to feel an inner restlessness is a sure sign that he/she is in turmoil, such a turmoil that they may drive themselves to carry out an act of violence (sometimes homicide) and/or kill themselves.
Wendy, whose story
I've covered countless times on this blog, is a network member of USA Safe Patient Network,
a group of ordinary people who focus on the safety and efficacy of medical treatments. In the next few days the USA Safe Patient Network will release their monthly newsletter in which the spotlight is thrown on her advocacy work with regard to getting the message out about akathisia.
Wendy talks openly about why she became an advocate and even offers advice to those just starting out on their journey regarding raising awareness about non efficacious and unsafe prescription drugs.
CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE
It's all about preventing the unimaginable folks and Wendy does so with a void left in her life. Her husband did not have to die - he did not intentionally jump in front of a train - he was pushed by the hands of a drug company who were well aware of the akathisia link many years ago but decided to underplay the risk and keep it in-house.
USA Safe Patient Network looks like a fairly decent place to join and discuss patient safety. Kim Witczak, who lost her husband, Woody, to Zoloft induced suicide, is also a member. More about Kim in a future post. This remarkable woman goes head to head with medicine regulators out in the states and is recently back from Washington after meeting with FDA officials regarding the anti-smoking cessation drug, Chantix, also known as Champix ~ known amongst a lot of truth tellers as 'yet another suicide pill'. Anyway, more on Kim's advocacy work at a later date.
In the meantime, if you are sharing this post, be it on Facebook or Twitter, be sure to use the hashtag #Akathisia.
RTE News are reporting
today that the anti-malarial drug, Lariam (Mefloquine), has been withdrawn from sale in Ireland.
Side effects reported with Lariam include, but are not limited to, aggression, paranoia, suicidal thinking, completed suicide.
Lariam is no stranger to controversy and a number of pending legal actions in Ireland is, according to manufacturer Roche, not the reason why it has been withdrawn.
According to Roche, "Lariam was taken off sale following "a portfolio reassessment" by the company."
They add that "it remains available in 16 European countries."
Back in August 2015 I wrote to the British drug regulator, the MHRA, regarding the number of associated completed suicides on Lariam, a figure I pulled from the MHRA database.
They told me...
"Of the nine UK spontaneous suspected ADR reports of suicide associated with mefloquine, I can confirm that three of the cases were followed up by the MHRA with either the reporting doctor or family member. Two cases were reported to us by pharmaceutical companies and so follow-up was conducted by the Marketing Authorisation Holder.
"The remaining four cases were received between 1998 and 2002 and as such were previously stored in our legacy ADR database. We do not hold records of follow up letters to cases from our legacy database and can confirm that we have no record of any further communications regarding these cases."
Remarkably, the MHRA continue to give the antidepressant, Seroxat, a clean bill of health despite it being reported that there have been 65 reports of completed suicide via the MHRA database. Lariam, to date, has 12 reports of completed suicide associated with its use.
Lariam (Mefloquine) Roche
12 reports of completed suicides (MHRA)
Seroxat (Paroxetine) GlaxoSmithKline
65 reports of completed suicide (MHRA)
Lariam removed from sale in Ireland.
Seroxat still prescribed in Ireland.
The current CEO of the MHRA is Dr Ian Hudson.
Before joining the MHRA Dr Hudson was the Head of World Safety at GlaxoSmithKline.
Do the maths!
'How GlaxoSmithKline Took Its Medicine'
by Forbes journo Matthew Herper is an interesting read. It's fairly balanced and, for once, we see a journalist not blowing smoke up the ass of GlaxoSmithKline's Chief Executive, Andrew Witty.
'How GlaxoSmithKline Took Its Medicine'
sees Herper delve into Witty's time in charge of the British pharmaceutical giant, much of which has been tainted by the stench left for Witty by his predecessor, JP Garnier. Heper's peice even features some selected quotes from Witty, many of which kind of stick in my teeth, given that so many people have been harmed by his company's medicines.
Herper's post tries to show how Witty, unlike his predecessor, JP Garnier, has strived to make things better at GlaxoSmithKline since he took the hot seat off the Frenchman 8 years ago. In doing so, Herper has missed a couple of key factors that have arisen during Witty's control of GSK.
Witty seems to paint the picture that he is whiter than white with his carefully chosen quotes, one such is his apparent apology following the $3 billion fine handed down to his company when they plead guilty to a host of violations, including fraud and bribery.
Herper notes that at the time of the guilty plea Witty offered the following apology in a prepared statement. “On behalf of GSK, I want to express our regret and reiterate that we have learnt from the mistakes that were made.”
No mention of the patients harmed and killed by the drugs in question. No mention, apart from a line or so, of the sickening way in which Glaxo's reps targeted Dr's to prescribe Paxil (a drug known to induce suicidal thoughts and completion in this population) - okay, it happened on Garnier's watch but are we expected to believe that Witty knew nothing about the way in which Garnier set his stall?
No mention, either, of when Witty used to work under Garnier .
Witty's Wellbutrin Years
Between the years of 1997 and 1998 Witty was head of the Glaxo Wellcome marketing team. (1)
1997/98 is a period of time where Witty was heavily involved in marketing although there are very few articles left on the internet that show this.
Glaxo Wellcome's VP-General Manager of Marketing Andrew Witty, as he was known between 1997/98, worked very closely with prescription drug ads on TV. This is known as DTC or Direct to Consumer advertising.
In August 1997 the US Food and Drug Administration [FDA] relaxed its rules on DTC, it basically meant that the FDA were giving carte blanche to the pharmaceutical industry whereby they could promote their products in TV ads without giving detailed medical information on the indications, potential side effects, or proper use.
Witty was quick to pounce. Why wouldn't he? DTC is lucrative for the pharmaceutical industry, well, it is in America and New Zealand as these are the only two countries that allow TV ads for prescription medication.
Witty added more products in 1997 with Glaxo's new anti-smoking pill Zyban, [buproprion] which got an estimated $55 million in support (the brand even got TV teaser ads prior to its launch)
For those who don't know, Zyban is also in fact Wellbutrin which is an antidepressant that Glaxo marketed off-label for a whole host of reasons that it was never indicated for. They subsequently pleaded guilty and this plea was part of the reason why a $3 billion fine was handed down to them.
So, if Witty was Vice President of marketing for Glaxo in 1997 he, surely, would have known the ins-and outs, or Garnier's policy, on illegal marketing, right?
It emerged through the DOJ suit that Glaxo hired celebrities to promote Wellbutrin via radio shows, something Herper picks up on in his article...
"Glaxo paid Drew Pinsky, who parlayed a radio show giving teenagers sex advice into the celebrity persona of “Dr. Drew,” $275,000 for two months to talk about antidepressants and sex. Dr. Drew gave an interview where he segued from talking about a woman who said she had 60 orgasms in a row to saying how Glaxo’s Wellbutrin was better for the libido than other antidepressants. Pinsky didn’t disclose at the time that Glaxo was paying him; no charges were brought against Pinsky."
Question is, did Witty, as VP of marketing, have anything to do with payments made to Pinsky? Someone made the decision, someone signed off and agreed.
Transparency for Victims of Glaxo Products
Nothing has been mentioned about Witty's role of VP of marketing. Instead we see deflection and Witty cover himself in garlands by making claims that Glaxo have opened its doors to published and unpublished clinical trial results - good ones and bad ones. Witty fails to mention that his company were forced to do so as part of a settlement agreement. It's akin to someone on parole helping pensioners around their homes - they, the parolees, have to do it - just as Witty had to open the door of transparency into GlaxoSmithKline, even though it's only slightly open - to open it fully takes a lot of hoop jumping as the authors of the RIAT study found out when requesting information on the Paxil trial results in children and adolescents.
Witty has also been approached regarding the current UK Seroxat (Paxil) litigation where over 100 people have claimed that GSK's drug caused them severe withdrawal problems.
Back in 2011, Janice Simmons, who operates the Seroxat User Group, wrote to GSK to request a meeting with GlaxoSmithKline's CEO, Andrew Witty. To her surprise, GSK’s UK medical director Dr Pim Kon wrote back asking what she wished to discuss...adding that they cannot give advice to patients, they need to seek that from their healthcare professionals.
Janice informed Dr Kon that she wished to discuss the issue of Seroxat withdrawal. Kon wrote back telling Janice that they was not allowed to discuss personal matters with patients and that they should 'talk to their doctor'.(2)
Witty had a golden opportunity here to show his caring side, sadly, he chose not to, leaving the 100 or so in limbo, many of whom were still trying to taper off Seroxat.
Furthermore, when it was brought to Witty's attention that corruption was rife in its China operations, what did he do? Did he inform the authorities immediately or did he follow up the allegations? Well, neither, opting instead to hire a private detective (Peter Humphries) to try and find out who was making the allegations - it was only through the investigation that Witty and co, on the advice of Humphries, were told that there was a bigger problem than the anonymous whistleblower, the corruption was widespread. Only then did Witty and co come clean.
In Herper's piece Witty claims that at the time of the Chinese investigation into his company's bribery (funneled illegal payments to doctors and government officials in order to boost sales) he found it “Distressing”
, adding that, “It was so counter to everything we were trying to do.”
Glaxo were subsequently fined almost $500 million after the investigation by Chinese authorities were complete. No prison sentences, apart from suspended sentences, were handed down to either Witty or the then Head of Chinese operations, Mark Reilly.
And what of the litigation brought against his company during his spell there? Okay, the litigation is a result of Glaxo's actions before Witty became Chief, but an apology would have been nice to the 800 or so women who either gave birth or aborted infants with birth defects caused by Paxil (Approx 800 cases have been settled out of court in the USA)
Witty, and GSK, are quick enough to sell their wares through Direct to Consumer ads but both are silent when it comes to making an apology to those very same consumers.
During Witty's reign its also come to light that his company played around with clinical trial results with Paxil, in as much that they hired a ghostwriter to say that the drug was safe in kids, when in actual fact it wasn't. The ghostwritten article still remains today and calls for its retraction have fallen on deaf ears. Again, Witty had a golden opportunity to show, at the very least, empathy but, for reasons unknown, he chose not to make any effort to retract the fraudulent article from the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
Herper's article also sees Witty claim, “Honestly, I don’t regret a single decision.”
Maybe not but it's the decisions that Witty never made that may just cause him a conscience in his later years as he nears a natural death from old age. After all, isn't it when we are on our death beds that we tend to repent or ask for forgiveness for the things we did, or didn't do?
Witty is set to leave GSK sometime next year. I'll leave the final words to him...
“Is everything right?”
he asks. “No. Did we make mistakes? Yes. Did things go wrong? Yes. But it hasn’t put us off trying to improve. And I hope whoever takes over will continue trying to improve. Because there’s still plenty of things to keep improving.”
'How GlaxoSmithKline Took Its Medicine'
can be read, in full, here
On-going GSK v Consumer litigation regarding Paxil.
UK Seroxat Litigation (
Severe Withdrawal Problems)
US Paxil Suicide Litigation
US Paxil Birth Defect Litigation
(1) GlaxoSmithKline: The Andrew Witty "Era"
(2) GSK's Andrew Witty in Patient Aftercare Snub
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