Lawyers gather information about anti-anxiety medication — (The Naperville Sun)

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The Naperville Sun (IL)

June 19, 2002

Author: Ron Pazola

Tiffany Mayer had no idea the prescription drug she took might turn her life into a nightmare.  Suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, Mayer was prescribed the anti-anxiety drug Paxil in 1998.

“The drug helped me at first,” said Mayer, a former obstetrics nurse at Edward Hospital in Naperville.  “But I began to experience increased appetite, weight gain, a loss of energy and insomnia.

If I knew what was going to happen, I would never have taken the drug.” Mayer said her doctor downplayed the symptoms, and she continued to take Paxil until one day her blood pressure plunged and she spoke incoherently.

She was rushed to the hospital, treated and released.  When Mayer stopped taking the drug, she said her doctor assured her there would be no symptoms.

But Mayer’s body told her otherwise.

“After I quit Paxil, I had the worst week of my life,” she said.  “I had sweats, nausea, tremors and diarrhea.

I also felt like electrical shocks ran through my body.  I didn’t think they would ever end.”

They did.

But she lost trust in her physician and changed doctors.  After talking to other people who had similar symptoms with Paxil, she is convinced she did not receive enough information about the drug to make an informed choice.

Attorney Bill Brestal of Naperville law firm Dommermuth, Brestal, Cobine and West believes there may be something to that.   The firm is gathering information from people who say they have had bad experiences with Paxil.

“Sometimes the side effects of a drug don’t show up right away,” Brestal said.  The firm emphasizes it is not criticizing Paxil or the doctors who prescribe it.

Medical experts say the drug has helped many people.

According to the American Psychiatric Association in Washington, D.C., “Paxil is one of the newer antidepressant drugs that the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) say is safe in the treatment of depression and anxiety when used in an appropriate treatment plan.”

But Brestal said Paxil’s manufacturer, Great Britain-based Glaxo SmithKline, (formerly SmithKline Beecham) with offices in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, may not have given adequate warning about the side effects of Paxil.

In a civil lawsuit, a jury in Wyoming last year ordered SmithKline to pay the relatives of Donald Schell $8 million in a wrongful death case.

Schell killed himself, his wife, daughter and granddaughter in 1998, after taking two Paxil tablets given to him by his doctor.

The charges in this case were that SmithKline knew since 1990 that Paxil can produce suicidal and homicidal reactions in a small number of people and failed to provide adequate warnings to doctors or on their label about this reaction.

The charges also claimed SmithKline did not adequately test for the risk of such reactions.  Other class action lawsuits against SmithKline are pending in California and Louisiana.

SmithKline could not be reached for comment, though in previous written statements the company maintained Paxil is safe when used appropriately.  Paxil, the generic name of which is paroxetine, belongs to a class of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

The drug is used to treat depression, anxiety, panic disorder, social phobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Paxil’s effects can usually be felt within three to four weeks.

The more well-known reuptake inhibitors include Prozac and Zoloft.  Serotonin is one of hundreds of chemicals that affect brain function. Many medical professionals believe anxiety results from increased activity in certain parts of the brain.  Paxil controls that activity.

“We’re concerned about Paxil and the use of Paxil,” said Larry Wrenn, a personal injury lawyer licensed in Florida, who is researching Paxil for Dommermuth, Brestal, Cobine and West. Wrenn, who is in the process of becoming licensed in Illinois, is talking to pharmacology and medical experts to determine if there is enough evidence to show that SmithKline failed to give adequate information about the adverse effects of the drug.

According to the World Health Organization, Paxil has the highest rate of adverse withdrawal experiences of any antidepressant drug in the world.  But Dr. Paul Carvey, chairman of pharmacology at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center in Chicago, said Paxil is neither addictive nor life-threatening.

He bases that on the scientific literature he has read.  “Some drugs are addictive but do not have withdrawal symptoms, while other drugs elicit withdrawal symptoms but aren’t considered addictive,” he said.  Withdrawal symptoms may result in dizziness, sweats, tremors and disorientation.

“Because Paxil stays in the body for only a short time, withdrawal symptoms may result if the drug is terminated too quickly,” Carvey said.  “People should never stop taking Paxil without their doctors’ knowledge,” said Dr. Stephen Delisi, a psychiatrist in the western suburbs.

“If patients must discontinue the drug, they should do so gradually.”  Although some critics have linked suicide and homicide to the taking of Paxil in certain situations, Delisi said there is no scientific evidence to show such a connection.

“Paxil can be used effectively and safely if it is prescribed properly and managed properly,” he said.  Amy Lennox of Naperville believes otherwise.  In 1994, her husband took Paxil for two or three days before hanging himself in his garage.  “My husband was never suicidal,” Lennox said.  “No matter what some of the professionals say, they can’t convince me that Paxil wasn’t responsible for his death.”

Lennox has talked to Wrenn about possible legal action against SmithKline.  “We’re not saying Paxil is a bad drug,” Wrenn said.

“What we are saying is that doctors and patients should have enough information about the side effects of Paxil, so they can make an informed choice before taking the drug.”

Record Number: PFS1045985
Copyright (c) 2002 Sun Publications