Personal tragedies and scientific evidence are combining to call
into question the use of powerful antidepressant drugs on children
Pressure has been building for months to ban or curtail their
use. Recent scientific studies have found a link between the use of
these drugs and suicidal tendencies among children. In December,
Britain banned the use of some antidepressants on patients under 18.
The fallout from a hearing called by the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) this week is ratcheting up the pressure for
some kind of action on this side of the Atlantic.
"Until I went to the conference, I felt I would be out of step
with my colleagues not to" prescribe these drugs, said Lawrence
Diller, a pediatrician from Walnut Creek, Calif., in a telephone
interview after the hearing. Parents and even children themselves
expect to be given a pill today, he says. But "I think pediatricians
are going to be much more careful after hearing about this," by
either writing fewer prescriptions or monitoring the children more
Dr. Diller - author of the book "Should I Medicate My Child?" -
was one of several physicians and researchers who testified at the
hearing outside Washington Monday. The advisory panel also heard
from numerous grieving parents and relatives whose children had
either killed or injured themselves or others while taking
prescription antidepressant medications. Meanwhile, one presentation
from researchers showed the drugs to have little or no more
effectiveness than placebos - sugar pills.
The FDA had been planning to issue a report on the drugs next
summer. But the advisory panel urged the FDA to act now to warn
doctors and parents. While the warning wouldn't place a ban on
prescribing such drugs, it would caution both physicians and parents
to watch for signs that the drugs might be having a harmful effect.
"Our sense is that we would like, in the interim, the FDA to go
ahead and issue stronger warning indications to clinicians regarding
possible risks of these medicines," said Dr. Matthew Rudorfer, a
scientist at the National Institute of Mental Health and the
chairman of the FDA advisory committee. "We think such warnings are
required to elevate the level of concern and attention that
practitioners use in prescribing them.... We want to put a speed
bump in the road."
About 40 relatives of children who had taken antidepressant drugs
testified at the hearing that they believed the prescribed drugs had
had tragic consequences.
Parent Sara Bostock, said that after two weeks of taking Paxil
her daughter fatally stabbed herself with a kitchen knife. "To die
in this violent and unusual fashion ... led me to believe Paxil must
have put her over the edge," Ms. Bostock said.
Another parent, Mark Miller of Kansas City, Mo., said his 13-
year-old son, Matt, hanged himself after taking seven Zoloft pills.
"You have an obligation today ... [to prevent] this tragic story
from being repeated over and over again," he said.
Two parents testified that they thought the drugs had helped
their children and urged the FDA not to ban them.
Diller and others are also concerned that scientific studies
about the drugs have either been suppressed or misinterpreted.
Diller says he spoke in his testimony about his "loss of faith in
my academic colleagues to generate accurate information and opinions
that I feel I can trust because of the extremely intimate link
between researchers and the drug industry. …