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By Julie-Anne Davies
March 20, 2008
A WOMAN has launched an unprecedented lawsuit against her 16-year-old daughter’s doctor, claiming her child became suicidal after being prescribed antidepressant drug Zoloft.
The case, believed to be the first of its kind in Australia, begins today in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
In her application to the tribunal, Nicola Mulcahy states that her daughter Hannah made two major suicide attempts, slashed her arms and became violent as a result of a severe adverse reaction to Zoloft last year.
Ms Mulcahy alleges that Vanessa Heler, of the Peninsula Women’s Health group, deliberately misrepresented and falsely promoted Zoloft as the drug of choice for teenagers with depressive symptoms.
She also claims she did not give informed consent because the serious side-effects associated with the drug were not explained.
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, of which Zoloft and Prozac are the best known, are not approved for use in the treatment of depression in children or adolescents aged under 18 in Australia because they carry an elevated risk of suicidal thinking and self-harm.
The TGA told The Australian it is in the process of strengthening its SSRI warning to include 18 to 24-year-olds because of these same concerns in this age group.
“My daughter was stressed, had a hormone imbalance and had trouble sleeping so I took her to a doctor,” Ms Mulcahy said.
“She was on Zoloft for four days then on the fifth, she had a complete mental breakdown.”
Also expected to come under scrutiny is the conduct of Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital, where Hannah spent more than five weeks in the adolescent psychiatric unit last September after her initial suicide attempts.
According to Ms Mulcahy, her daughter’s condition deteriorated during her hospital admission and she continued to try to take her own life.
“The doctors switched Hannah from Zoloft to Prozac and also gave her the sleeping pill Stilnox without my knowledge and absolutely refused to consider that she might be sick because of the so-called cure.”
The RCH’s patient information on Prozac and Zoloft, published on its website, fails to warn of the most serious side-effects associated with these drugs – suicidal thoughts and self-harm. It does list less serious side-effects.
The hospital has conducted its own internal investigation into Hannah’s treatment.
The RCH refused to comment on the case but has vigorously defended its care of the 16-year-old in a confidential review of her treatment seen by The Australian.
It has conceded that a review of its practices in providing information to parents will be carried out. The hospital has also agreed to perform plastic surgery to help improve the scarring on Hannah’s arms, the result of several arm-slashing episodes that occurred while she was a patient.
More than 224,000 scripts for SSRI antidepressants were issued “off-label” to children and teenagers last year, according to figures prepared exclusively for The Australian by the Department of Health and Ageing.
This is not illegal but the Therapeutic Goods Administration, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and drug companies warn against it.
The lawyer acting for Dr Heler declined to comment on the case.