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Metro West Daily News
By Miryam Wiley
Saturday, October 23, 2004
Only this week, I bumped into three different friends with similar complaints: they can’t sleep well.
My impetus was to say: stop your anti-depressants. Of course I wouldn’t talk quite like that, but the conversation led, in two of those instances, to what was in my mind.
We talked some about the effects of Selective Seratonin Reuptake Inhibitors, or SSRIs, and how they disturb sleep, among many other functions of the body. One of my friends was aware of these side effects, the other was very surprised. Stories about SSRIs and their adverse effects have been on TV and newspapers, but not nearly enough to cover the basics.
If you had access to my personal e-mail, you would have to begin paying attention. Each week I get dozens of stories reprinted from newspapers around the country and abroad and they are not about disturbances of sleep. They are about violent crimes, another side effect of SSRIs.
My interest in these meds, as I have revealed in this column, started because my daughter has been one of their victims. Like many other parents, I was one who looked up to doctors and their expertise, until last spring, when my daughter had five full weeks of an excruciating and mysterious pain.
It was finally connected to the medication Paxil, according to her own psychiatrist. We wondered why this conclusion took so long, and also, why all the other doctors we saw, in many exams and procedures, including several in the emergency room, seemed to be unaware these medications can cause pain.
My search in despair to help my daughter led me to the International Coalition for Drug Awareness (www.drugawareness.org) and its executive director, Dr. Ann Blake Tracy, the researcher from Utah who has given the last 15 years of her life to bringing awareness to all about the dangers of SSRIs.
I bought her book “Prozac, Panacea or Pandora, Our Seratonin Nightmare,” and I have helped my daughter to navigate the difficult waters of slow weaning to avoid withdrawal effects.
Still, I encounter almost daily a need to educate someone or to look the other way, as I realize that a lot needs to be done in the communities to raise awareness about these drugs and what they do.
“Before these drugs, how often did you see entire families wiped out?” asked Tracy in a phone interview. “We did see domestic violence, but we didn’t see those people kill their families and their dogs.”
Remember the case of Andrea Yates, the woman who drowned her five children? She was taking these medications and according to Dr. Tracy, “she was acting her worst nightmare.”
As the drugs disturb people’s REM sleep, they cause sleep-induced behaviors. While Yates is no longer big news, she continues to be treated with the same kinds of drugs, Tracy said.
This past week a story on TV commented openly about how colleges are beginning to give more support to people who suffer from depression, but it didn’t touch upon the controversy over these medications, which are available and will be used. I found that surprising, especially now that the FDA has ordered the black label on them, a direct result of pressure from parents and doctors after the hearings in Washington D.C. last month.
Too many people I know take these drugs, all following doctor’s orders. I can’t stop thinking of a father I met in Washington, D.C., Tod Shivak, of Michigan, whose son, 10, was diagnosed with depression and told to take Paxil. Like any child, he could have been given other options, but drugs were the first suggestion.
“We were against the medication, that’s what I keep kicking myself about, and the doctor convinced us,” said Shivak.
His son became violent and had several incidents at school and at home, serious enough to involve the police and become the family’s worst nightmare. Now that he is free of drugs, he is unaware of what he did, like many other survivors around the country, some of whom have been incarcerated.
Shivak had tears in his eyes when he said, “We keep telling our kids to say ‘no’ to drugs, but at the first opportunity we get we say ‘yes.’ My advice to parents is to say ‘no’ to the doctors. There is not enough information available to doctors to know what the drugs really do to help.”
In these times of presidential campaigns and open conversations about many subjects, I find it hard to believe that the connections between legal drugs and violence seem to get so little attention, despite the many stories and testimonies.
“Every week we lose as many people to properly prescribed prescription drugs as we lost in the 9-11 attacks,” said Dr. Tracy. “In Washington, Mark Taylor, from Columbine High School (who was shot), said these drug companies are terrorists and they are. Why are we talking so much about this war when the loss of life is so much greater in this country with prescription drugs?”
We better pay attention and start talking because the data is there and it is indeed, enough to lose some sleep over.
To reach Miryam Wiley, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or write to 33 New York Ave., Framingham, MA 01702)