Veteran's Kin Demands Answers on PTSD Drugs; after Death of Son, Dad Takes Cases to Capitol Hill

Article excerpt

Byline: Andrea Billups and Audrey Hudson, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

HURRICANE, W.Va. -- A West Virginia man whose son survived the battlefields of Iraq only to die in his sleep at home is crusading to find other military families whose loved ones also have died after taking drugs prescribed for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Stan White's son Andrew, who was found dead in bed at the family's Cross Lanes, W.Va., home on Feb. 12, 2007, is one among a cluster of young veterans in the state who have died in their sleep with little explanation. Now Mr. White wants the federal government to monitor the drugs it prescribes to some 375,000 soldiers who have been diagnosed with mental trauma.

So far, he has identified nine veterans across the country - including four in West Virginia - who have died in their sleep after taking antidepressant and antipsychotic medications.

Mr. White has met with members of Congress and asked for Capitol Hill hearings to investigate the deaths. His research prompted a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) investigation into Andrew's and one other death, which were found to have been caused by combined drug intoxication. But the investigation could not determine whether the prescribed medications were at fault.

The father is taking up the crusade amid increased criticism of VA medical treatment of veterans suffering PTSD upon their return from Iraq or Afghanistan, including media and government reports that several VA centers failed to adequately care for patients and inform them of potentially dangerous drug side effects.

Finding out why his son died and keeping others from suffering a similar fate has become a personal cause for Mr. White.

Our goal was to find out if the medications are safe, said Mr. White, who, with his wife, continues to grieve the loss of his son. "If they are, that needs to be publicized. But if they are not, that also needs to be publicized as well.

I believe there are many more soldiers and Marines who have died in their sleep just like the four in West Virginia, said Mr. White, a retired high school principal. I think what we have found is just the tip of the iceberg, but we need more national publicity to help us find others who have lost loved ones and are looking for answers.

The VA's Office of Inspector General conducted a review of the quality of care received by Marine Cpl. Andrew White and another veteran whose name was not made public but whom The Washington Times was able to identify as Army National Guard Sgt. Eric Layne, an Iraq war veteran.

According to the Aug. 14 findings, the two combat veterans were taking three prescribed psychiatric medications:

* Paroxetine - an antidepressant that can produce panic attacks, sleeping problems and suicidal thoughts.

* Clonazepam - an anticonvulsive that should not be used with alcohol or other drugs, including narcotics or barbiturates.

* Quetiapine - an antipsychotic used to treat schizophrenia but, combined with clonazepam, can increase sedative effects.

The medical examiner found that these patients died from combined drug intoxication involving prescribed and nonprescribed medications, the report said. In the presence of PTSD, other mental health conditions, and uncertain use of medications by patients, we are unable to draw conclusions about the relationship between medication regimens and these deaths.

The report said Cpl. White died as a result of combined drug intoxication, including a nonprescribed medication that the IG declined to identify. No contributory natural diseases or physical injuries were identified, the report said.

Sgt. Layne died as a result of the VA-prescribed drugs and two unidentified nonprescribed medications, under circumstances significant for fatal over-use of prescribed paroxetine along with apparent misuse of nonprescribed medications of uncertain intentionality. …