Heidi Lovett — ( 1991 FDA Hearings)

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Department Of Health And Human Services Public Health Service Food And Drug Administration

FDA Psychopharmacologic Drugs Advisory Hearings

Friday, September 20, 1991

MS. LOVETT: Good morning. My name is Heidi Lovett and I’m here this morning to present testimony on one single instance of a suicide in which I believe Prozac played a significant role. I’m referring to the suicide of my husband of 28 years, James Donald Lovett. It is not easy for me to talk about my husband’s suicide, not simply because I miss him but because I think that by focusing on the circumstances of his death it is easy to lose sight or distort the healthy, vibrant part of his character.

James was a good husband, a good father, a good brother to his sister, and a proud grandfather. His children and his grandchildren were very close to him. They enjoyed being in his company and admired him in many ways. But this hearing is not about the husband I knew, but the victim of suicide that he became.

So I must confront in this public testimony a question I face privately every day: Why did my husband take his own life?

I realize that I will never know the complete answer to this question, but I’m not completely ignorant about it, either. I’m convinced that my husband’s suicide was a complete product of two factors. Throughout his life he struggled with episodes of acute and, I can assure you, exceedingly painful depression. To ease the pain, my husband did what millions of victims of depression do; he sought professional help.

It was this treatment regimen that became the other factor in my husband’s suicide. I should like to note that I considered my husband’s willingness to seek out psychiatric treatment to be his and my greatest asset in the war against his depression. Not everyone who suffers from depression can summon the Courage it requires to acknowledge that there is a  problem and to pursue a course of treatment. Yet my husband did.

Counseling was part of his treatment and in April of 1988 Prozac was the other primary component of his therapy.

His physician psychiatrist put him on 20 mg of Prozac twice a day and that’s what he was taking up to the day of his death.

Like many victims of depression, my husband was no stranger to occasional thoughts of suicide. However, he did not hesitate to signal the fact of suicidal thoughts to me or to his sister and others close to him. Aware of his depression, we did not take these warnings lightly, but we did take some comfort in the fact that he was at least warning or signaling his problem and that he had never, in fact, even attempted to commit suicide.

This is one reason why his suicide on the eve of last Thanksgiving is so terribly vexing to me. Neither I, his children, nor anyone to whom he was close had an indication that James was suffering from suicidal tendencies. When my daughter returned home from school to find his body on the bathroom floor of our home, she thought for a few fleeting moments that he might be playing a practical joke on her. The grim truth that shocked us then shocks us still.

Partly because his suicide came so unexpectedly and partly because we have heard from media sources about a potential link between Prozac and suicide, I requested an  autopsy and toxicology on my husband. I was, to put it frankly, extremely troubled and angered by the results. The toxicology report showed that the blood Prozac quantization was at a level of 4100 ng. The reference range listed is a 2C mere 91 to 302 mg. The blood norfluoxetine quantization was 3200 ng. The reference range is at 72 to 258 ng. I am appending a copy of this toxicology report. I mentioned this Prozac level to my husband?s psychiatrist. I did not anticipate his reaction. Upon hearing the level, he said,God, how could it get that high?

I stated at the beginning that I did not understand how Prozac works, but I assumed that my husband’s psychiatrist would know. The absence of any sign of suicidal distress from my husband was uncharacteristic and I believe that Prozac played an important role in the ultimate act.

If there is a link between suicide and Prozac, and  I believe that there is, then please let us think about warning those who take Prozac and tell them about the possibility of suicide and let physicians who prescribe Prozac monitor blood levels in their patients.

DR. CASEY: Could you please conclude in the next few seconds, please? Thank you.

MS. LOVETT: If monitoring cannot be established, then I think Prozac should be taken off the market, maybe on a temporary basis, until it can be established that it can be a safe drug. It is too late for my husband, for myself, for my family: We do not have anything to gain But maybe someone else’s life can be saved.  by being here.

Thank you for this opportunity to testify.

DR. CASEY: Thank you.