Prozac Victim’s Parents Settle With Doctor. Martins Creek Couple Will Collect $187,500 In Case Where Their Son Died — (The Morning Call)

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The Morning Call

by LAURI RICE-MAUE, The Morning Call

April 12, 2000

The parents of a Martins Creek boy who died of Prozac poisoning have settled their lawsuit against the doctor who prescribed the medication for $187,500, according to papers filed this week in Northampton County Court.

Neil Adams-Conroy and Jayne Conroy-Adams sued three years ago over the Feb. 26, 1995, death of their 9-year-old son, Michael Christopher Adams-Conroy, whose death was caused by Prozac toxicity and classified a homicide.

Because of the ruling, the couple was the subject of a state police investigation and temporarily lost custody of their two other children.

A Northampton County judge is scheduled to approve the settlement, which must be done before it becomes final, on May 9. Claims against the pharmacies where the medication was purchased, Fay’s Corner Drug, formerly of Easton, and Rite Aid Pharmacy of Wilson, were settled previously for $27,000 and $10,000, respectively.

The couple’s attorney, Ralph Bellafatto of Palmer Township, said Tuesday that as soon as the case is concluded, he will petition the court to order county Coroner Zachary Lysek to amend the manner of death on Michael’s death certificate from homicide to accidental.

“Homicide, by its very definition, means that someone is criminally responsible for this death, and I think what will give the parents greatest peace of mind, in light of all they’ve been through, is to correct the manner of death classification,” said Bellafatto.

Michael, a third-grader at Tracy Elementary School in Palmer Township who was adopted by the couple, suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome, Tourette’s syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He was treated by Dr. L. Douglas Wilkerson of Bryn Mawr, a specialist in pediatric neurological disorders, beginning in November 1990.

Wilkerson originally prescribed the medication clonidine to control the disorders, and in the summer of 1991 added fluoxetine, which is commonly known as Prozac. As of Aug. 22, 1991, Michael’s daily medication consisted of .9 milligrams of clonidine and 10 milligrams of Prozac.

Over the next 3 years, Wilkerson increased the Prozac dosage to 100 milligrams per day, the lawsuit alleged. But according to the recommendations of the drug’s manufacturer, daily doses for an adult should not exceed 80 milligrams.

The lawsuit says a representative of Rite Aid pharmacy of Wilson contacted Wilkerson about the excessive dosage on Aug. 30, 1994, but the doctor did not change the dosage.

In the months before he died, Michael exhibited signs of toxicity to the drug, which should have alerted the doctor that the dosages were excessive. Two days before he died, Michael was bedridden with flu-like symptoms before having convulsions. He was taken to Easton Hospital on Feb. 25, 1995 and died early the next day.

The settlement papers say the parents, who charged negligent infliction of emotional distress as well as wrongful death, witnessed the deterioration in their son’s condition and suffered post-death trauma.

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The following is an excerpt from the book, “Better Than Prozac”, by Samuel H. Barondes, on pages 129 & 130 of the 2003 hard cover edition:

“When Michael Adams-Conroy, a nine-year-old boy from Martins Creek, Pennsylvania, arrived at the emergency room of a nearby hospital in February 1995, he was already dead.  As in other cases of mysterious death, the county coroner ordered an autopsy.  Based on the results, a homicide investigation was begun.  Michael’s adoptive parents were the leading suspects.”

“Homicide was considered because test of Michaels’ blood showed that he had been poisoned by Prozac, the drug he had been taking for several years as a treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Although Prozac is thought of as being very safe, because even large overdoses rarely produce fatal blood levels,  Michael had more of the drug in his blood than had ever been seen before.  The police speculated that Michael’s parents might have deliberately given him a massive overdose.”

“Pleading innocence, the Adams-Conroys sought help from experts who specialize in toxic reactions to drugs.  They immediately offered an alternative explanation:  Michael might have accumulated Prozac in his blood not because of a malicious overdose but, instead, because he lacked the enzyme that metabolizes the drug and leads to its excretion.  Such an enzyme deficiency would be particularly dangerous because Michael’s psychiatrist had been prescribing unusually large dose of Prozac – up to five times the amount Clara is taking.  The combination of large doses of the drug and the inability to metabolize it would explain Michael’s lethal blood level.”

“To evaluate Michael’s ability to metabolize Prozac, a sample of his tissue was sent to Floyd Sallee at the University of Cincinnati.  Sallee tested the tissue for an enzyme called cytochrome-P450-2D6 [also called CYP2D6 or 2D6], which converts Prozac and many other drugs to a form that leads to their excretion.  He found that Michael’s 2D6 was defective.  Together with the high doses of Prozac that Michael received, his abnormal 2D6 was responsible for the fatal buildup of the drug.”

“Based on this evidence, the homicide investigation was closed, and the Adams-Conroys filed a malpractice lawsuit against Michael’s psychiatrist.  They charged that the doctor had negligently prescribed excessive doses of Prozac and did not deal properly with signs of toxicity that culminated in the seizures that caused Michael’s death.  The case was settled out of court.”