Findings on drug risk welcomed — (The Nelson Mail)

SSRI Ed note: When a respected businessman commits suicide shortly after starting paroxetine (Aropax/ Paxil), N.Z. coroner recommends all prescribing doctors should warn.

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The Nelson Mail

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

The family of a Nelson businessman who committed suicide has welcomed a coroner’s recommendation that health professionals fully advise patients and their families of the risks of certain antidepressant drugs.

Nelson coroner Ian Smith has released his findings into the death of real estate agent Peter Michael Noonan, 53.

Mr Noonan was prescribed the selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (SSRI) anti-depressant drug Aropax days before his death on July 27 last year.

His wife Gaile Noonan told the Nelson Mail on Tuesday that she hoped Mr Smith’s findings would be taken on board by the medical profession.

“We would like to think someone else could be protected from having these things happen.”

She said she believed her husband could have concealed information about his condition and medication, to protect her.

“Perhaps caregivers should be there when they go to the doctor.”

Mrs Noonan said the family had received an “enormous” amount of ongoing support, but her husband’s death had left a big gap in the family’s life.

Mr Smith last year began investigating a possible link between SSRIs and the effects on people suffering mental illness, particularly an increase in suicidal thinking and behaviour.

Mr Smith said Mr Noonan was a “respected businessman” but his life began to “go awry” after he decided to change jobs from property valuation to real estate.

He began withdrawing from normal social activities, and concerned family and friends urged him to seek help.

Mr Noonan visited general practitioner Hamish Neill on May 5, 2006 about his anxiety and depression, and was referred to psychotherapist Burke Hunter, whom he saw on May 9.

Mr Noonan saw Mr Hunter seven times, before Mr Hunter left on a six-week overseas trip.

Mr Smith said that while Mr Hunter had suggested the name of another counsellor who could be consulted in his absence, it appeared that no active steps were taken to set up an alternative therapist.

In July, Mr Smith recommended that Medsafe introduce a “black box”-type warning for SSRIs, with information about potential risks. Mr Smith said no information about Mr Noonan’s thoughts of suicide or a referral to a psychiatrist was discussed with Mrs Noonan.

“It would appear that neither Mr Noonan nor his family was aware of the possible side effects of this medication.”

Mr Smith said he was pleased to see that warning information was now available from Medsafe, but it was important that prescribers disclosed it to patients and caregivers where applicable.

Mr Smith said all people concerned with the care of someone, including family, should understand the process.

“Unfortunately, many doctors still think `Privacy Act – can’t disclose’, which is not correct,” he said.

Help available: DHB Mental Health Crisis Services (03) 546 1800; Victim Support (03) 546 3847; Youthline 0800 376 633, text 027 4YOUTHS or cellphone (call free) 0800 211 211; Lifeline (03) 546 8899 or 0800 423 743.