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Parents believe antidepressant Lexapro caused both sons to kill themselves 17 months apart
By TRACEY WHEELER, Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal
July 26, 2006
In the span of 17 months, Mark and Lucy Bibbee lost two sons — their only children — to suicide. David Bibbee, who had been battling bipolar disorder, was 27 when he took his own life on Feb. 23, 2003, in his father’s Stow home. Brian Bibbee, who sought medical help for attention deficit disorder, was 24 when he died on July 24, 2004, in his mother’s Cuyahoga Falls home.
In addition to being brothers, the two men had something else in common: Both were taking Lexapro, an antidepressant that has been linked to an increased risk of suicide. Last week, David and Brian Bibbee’s father, Mark, filed suit in Summit County Common Pleas Court against the drug’s manufacturer, New York-based Forest Laboratories Inc.
The lawsuit claims that Forest Laboratories knew of the increased risk of suicide in a small subset of patients, yet failed to conduct tests to see how often the problem developed. The lawsuit also claims that the company failed to properly warn doctors, pharmacists and patients of the risk or provide ways to reduce the risk.
Mark and Lucy Bibbee “believe this drug was the cause of both of their sons’ deaths,” said attorney Charles E. Grisi. “They’re pursuing this… in hopes no other family will have to experience this tragedy.” Lexapro is an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) drug. According to Forest Laboratories, it is used to treat both depression and generalized anxiety disorder in more than 12 million U.S. adults.
In 2005, Lexapro sales accounted for $1.87 billion of Forest Laboratories’ $2.96 billion in revenues.
According to the lawsuit, a link between SSRIs and suicide was first noted in 1990 by Harvard psychiatrists. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration didn’t issue a public health warning until March 2004 — more than a year after David’s death and about four months before Brian’s. “Strong warnings and instructions, coupled with reasonable effort to
`get the word out’ could still have saved Brian Bibbee’s life,” the lawsuit says. “Unfortunately, Forest took the path of least resistance and greatest profits by doing only the minimum amount that the FDA urged it to do. Therefore, this warning was `too little, too late’ for David and Brian Bibbee. The lawsuit contends that Forest could have strengthened the FDA warning — as drug-maker Wyeth did in drawing attention to suicide risks in children taking Effexor — but chose not to. “Forest could and should have done the same about the risk of Lexapro-induced adult suicidality, long before David and Brian Bibbee began taking Lexapro,” the suit says. Phone messages left with Forest Laboratories on Tuesday afternoon were not returned. Despite the FDA warning in 2004, the medical literature has been unclear on the question of SSRIs and suicide.
An article in the January issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry found that “available data do not indicate a significant increase in the risk of suicide or serious suicide attempt after starting treatment with newer antidepressant drugs.”
However, an article in the July 21, 2004, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association found the risk of suicidal behavior increased in the first month after starting antidepressants, especially during the first nine days.
An FDA patient information sheet says: “Persons taking Lexapro may be more likely to think about killing themselves or actually try to do so, especially when Lexapro is first started or the dose is changed. People close to persons taking Lexapro can help by paying attention to changes in user’s moods or actions. Contact your health-care professional right away if someone using Lexapro talks about or shows signs of killing him or herself. If you are taking Lexapro yourself and you start thinking about killing yourself, tell your health-care professional about this side effect right away.”
Tracy Wheeler can be reached at 330-996-3721 or firstname.lastname@example.org