Mrs. Frederic Richardson — (1991 FDA Hearings)

SSRI Ed note: Young man, Wharton grad, takes Prozac, seems to do well at first, then becomes suicidal and kills himself. Devastated mother asks GP to take patients off med.

To view complete hearing transcript click here

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

FDA Psychopharmacologic Drugs Advisory Hearings

Friday, September 20, 1991

DR. CASEY: Mrs. Frederic Richardson 

RICHARDSON: My son, age 17, his student years were happy years. He was a great source of joy to his parents. He had a thirst for life. His life is remembered as a series of vignettes. He climbed the Great Wall of China, riding camel to the pyramids of Pizzo, watching with eager fascination the animals of Serengeti. He skied during winter months and he spent summers with his parents in the south of France. It was his summer home.

He was very popular and disarming. It was an irresistible love of life. His curiosity and enthusiasm, the ease with which he made friends had always taken him off the beaten path. Once we took him with us to a Chamber of Commerce trip to the Soviet Union at a time when the stringent security measures were still in force. He went off on his own, met young people, enjoyed amenities of Russian life, all this to the amazement of nervous security people. The group heard with utter fascination as he regaled them with stories of his side adventures.

My son graduated from Wharton. He explained to us that he wanted to have more studies in humanities. As he put it to his dad, “I am too mellow in nature to climb the corporate ladder.” My son spent a year in Paris. He studied everything and anything he wanted. He loved Paris and felt fulfilled.

In his letters and telephone calls he often expressed the feeling that he has been blessed with good fortune of being born to a good home with loving parents. My son came home from his year in Paris brim-full of ideas on what he wanted to do with his life. He was happy to be home, happy with his year in Paris. As always, he was bursting with energy and life.

Home one week he woke one morning feeling dreadful~sick. When his illness persisted and he was given a series of tests by his doctor, the result of each came back negative, and finally he was examined by Dr. Levy, a research scientist at U.C. Medical Center. He diagnosed his illness as called chronic fatigue syndrome, a debilitating disease, but one that is not fatal and eventually he gets well.

For the next two years my son spent time at home but he never gave up planning his future nor was he wasteful of time. He worked on a book, composed music, read a lot, played piano. He spoke of his new life and he said he wanted to marry and have a lot of children. He promised us many grandchildren.

Early in 1989 his condition began to improve and he gave thought for his future. His father bought him a multi-million dollar hotel to provide his son with an opportunity to work in a surrounding that had great appeal to him while he could also pursue his artistic and creative talent. My son cherished his father.

As an example of his love for his dad he once wrote, “Dad, you are a masterpiece of a father.” When his father died, he was a great comfort in pulling me through my sudden loss.  In August, 1990, my son felt well and joined me for vacation in our usual summer place in France. He flew in, putting his Harley-Davidson on the plane with him. After an enjoyable summer, he decided to stay a few more months and work on his recordings. He was ecstatic about a one-week engagement opportunity to sing and perform with a band his own composition in the latter part of February.   Last Christmas my son came home for a visit. At that time he saw his physician. He thought that he had improved greatly except for  some residual effects that had remained, such as headache and periodic low energy.

The doctor prescribed Prozac.

Of course, my son was completely unaware that Prozac was an antidepressant. He had a fear of any form of sedatives, dreaded the toxic effect of it. After my son returned to France, excited about his upcoming performance, I read an article in The Wall Street Journal and I sent it to him. When I talked to him on the phone, I asked him if he had read the article. He said yes. He assured me that he had achieved full recovery. Indeed, he had read the article. He answered with these words, “Mom, don’t worry about what depressed and crazy people do. Not only do I not feel violent, on the contrary, I have never felt happier and more full of love. I love you and I love the world.”

My son had contacts with home on an almost every-day basis. I did not hear from him for four days. I was apprehensive. I called a musician friend of his to check on him. They said that the cleaning woman had knocked at the door and he was singing opera. He didn’t have an operatic voice and he didn’t open the door and he was talking nonsense

This report alarmed me. I sent him a telegram to call home immediately. One additional day I called back and demanded that they break into his apartment.

DR. CASEY: Would you please conclude in the next few seconds?

MS. RICHARDSON: At 3:00 a.m. I received a telephone call that my son’s  body was found with another young lady in his apartment. This person he had befriended the summer before was going to the Riviera to visit him. He had told everyone how much he looked forward to her visit and how much he liked it. While waiting for my flight in the lounge of the airport I struggled to make sense of what little information I had. The Wall Street Journal on Prozac came to mind. I placed a call to Dr. Levy and asked to call my son’s doctor and have her call all her patients and have her call all her patients and have them taken off the Prozac.

Dr. Levy was devastated. He had come to love my son and his gentle quality, and repeated disbelief, saying that “your son wouldn’t harm anyone, wouldn’t take his life

I know him.  It must be the work of a third person.”

Upon my arrival with the investigators, they were baffled by the scene. The woman had died instantly. My son had sliced himself. His hand was completely severed on the bed. There was a knife wound on his neck, punctured his thorax, cuts all over his body, the last blow was through eye socket that had pierced his brain. He died on the floor with the kitchen knife beside him.

The investigators had searched the apartment, questioned everyone who knew him. They already had concluded that my son lived a clean life. He did not drink or smoke nor did he take drugs.  They had overruled a newspaper account that it was a cult or a  prowler or a crime of passion. Their findings made them more  mystified.

When I mentioned The Wall Street Journal, the group revealed that, indeed, the autopsy had shown Prozac in his system. They immediately accepted that the bizarre behavior must have been the side effect of the Prozac. They gave the press the finding the following day. Crime was not committed.

My son and his friend were victims of an American drug prescribed by an American doctor.  Earlier my son had excitedly reported home that his Christmas present, a red new car, finally had arrived and he had picked it up from the customs. He had dropped it to a garage for a minor adjustment. He expressed how much he looked forward to driving it.

DR. CASEY: Thank you.