Lawsuit: Drug caused son’s suicide — (NYI Times)

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NYI Times

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

BY JOE CARLSON,  jcarlson@nwitimes.com    219.662.5339

VALPARAISO | Six years ago, Scott Randall Cunningham was a typical eighth-grader with all the concerns that physicians and parents might expect to see in a 14-year-old.

He talked to his mom about girls, got caught smoking, had an active social life and yearned to work at Taco Bell, where his favorite food was served, mother Cheryl Cunningham said.

Still, the Valparaiso teen told his counselor that the stresses of life were getting to him, and received a prescription for the antidepressant Paxil. Six weeks later, he died as a result of trying to commit suicide.

In 2005, four years after the death, international drug company GlaxoSmithKline began printing a disclaimer with Paxil warning that the drug “increased the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior” in some adolescent users of the drug.

“I’d like to say to GlaxoSmithKline, how do you sleep at night with all this blood on your hands?” Cheryl Cunningham said. “The warnings should have been implemented before it was ever put on the market, and then it could have been our choice.”

The Cunninghams have joined the dozens of other families across the nation suing the international drug industry. They contend the drug industry hid the dangers that they say antidepressants pose for a small number of adolescents who take them.

Filed last year in Pennsylvania, the Cunningham’s case was transferred to U.S. District Court in Hammond earlier this month. The lawsuit alleges fraud and negligence and seeks undisclosed monetary damages for the family.

Andrew Bayman, attorney for GlaxoSmithKline, said Scott Cunningham’s death was caused by a pre-existing depression, not the drug.

“The depression overtook him before the drug had an opportunity to have a therapeutic effect,” Bayman said. “We strongly believe the suicide was not caused by Paxil. It’s a good drug that helps millions of people everyday.”

Karen Barth Menzies, the Cunningham’s Los Angeles attorney, said that defense is common in these cases.

“They have very successfully blamed the disease instead of the drug,” Menzies said. “It’s been a very well-hidden secret, not just the drugs, but the lawsuits.”

Menzies said her firm has been suing the makers of SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, for more than 15 years over concerns that the drugs increase suicidal urges in about 3 to 5 percent of the drugs’ users.

Unlike the withdrawn and sullen behavior often associated with suicidal behavior, SSRI are known to cause some teens to go into “hypermania.” Cheryl Cunningham said her son could not sit still after going on Paxil and would get up in the middle of the night to take a hot bath.

She said her son was not depressed before the drug, but rather was prescribed it “to take the edge off.”

Bayman said Scott Cunningham was diagnosed with depression, based on his doctor’s notes, and had been having behavior problems at school.

“I think unfortunately this young man was very troubled and had a lot of things weighing on him in school, both academic and behavioral problems, Bayman said.