medical group has taken a shot at what likely will be the defense of
a Chester County boy charged with double murder by claiming
antidepressants do not increase suicide risk in children.
The statement comes from the American College of
Neuropsychopharmacology. After reviewing clinical trials of more
than 2,000 youth, an ACNP task force said it found no statistically
significant increases in suicide attempts, suicidal thoughts or
self-harm caused by antidepressants classified as selective
serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs.
The task force cautioned its findings are preliminary. A full
report will not be released until spring or summer.
Other researchers are adamant that a link exists between SSRIs
and suicide. Some have said the trigger causing suicide attempts can
lead to violent behavior. They say these side effects are not
experienced by all SSRI patients, just a small number believed to be
less than 5 percent.
Family and supporters of Christopher Pittman claim adverse
effects of Paxil and Zoloft led him to kill his grandparents and
burn their house down when he was 12. The bodies of Joe Frank
Pittman and Joy Roberts Pittman were found in the rubble of the
rural Chester County home on Nov. 29, 2001. Christopher, now 14,
faces charges as an adult and could spend life in prison if
Many in the legal and medical fields fired back at the task
force. They claim the findings come from scientists closely tied to
a drug industry bent on warping public perception before a Food and
Drug Admin-istration hearing on the effects of antidepressants in
children. A FDA advisory panel will meet Feb. 2 in Bethesda, Md.
Last year, U.S. and United Kingdom drug regulatory agencies began
looking into a possible link between children on SSRIs and suicide
when British drug giant GlaxoSmithKline, maker of Paxil, published
summaries of nine clinical trials. The studies showed children given
Paxil were about three times more likely to consider or attempt
suicide than those given a placebo.
ACNP task force co-chair Dr. J. John Mann called evidence linking
SSRIs to suicide "weak."
In addition to Paxil and Zoloft, SSRIs include Celexa, Effexor,
Lexapro, Luvox and Prozac. They work by blocking cells from
reabsorbing serotonin, a mood-altering chemical, once released in
the brain. In Decem-ber, the British government all but banned
doctors from prescribing SSRIs to depressed children because of
concerns about the possible SSRI/suicide link. The lone exception
was Prozac, the only FDA-approved SSRI for treating depression in
patients younger than 18. All SSRIs, however, are widely prescribed
Dr. Graham Emslie, task force co-chair and a psychiatry professor
at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, claimed the
potential benefits of SSRIs outweigh their risk.
"The most likely explanation for the episodes of attempted
suicide while taking SSRIs is the underlying depression, not the
SSRIs," he stated in the release.
In a New York Times article published in August, however, he said
he knew of negative SSRI studies involving children that have been
withheld by drug companies. Emslie himself was a researcher in four
Mann, a psychiatry professor at New York's Columbia University
medical school, served as a medical expert for Glaxo in a Wyoming
wrongful death suit. Glaxo settled an appeal in 2001 after a jury
blamed Paxil for 80 percent of a murder/suicide and awarded the
family $6.4 million.
Neither Emslie nor Mann could be reached for comment.
Of the 10 doctors on the ACNP task force, six have direct
affiliations with drug manufacturers. Two task force members were
added last week to the FDA's psychopharmacologic drugs advisory
Last year, task force member Dr. Karen Wagner published the
findings of a Zoloft study funded by drug maker Pfizer. Wagner has
been criticized for failing to include data on patients who dropped
out of the study. Even with that, the results showed Zoloft to be
only 10 percent more effective than a sugar pill.
Dr. David Healy, director of the U.K.'s North Wales department of
psychological medicine, criticized the task force for including
scientists who've conducted favorable SSRI studies paid for by drug
"This is likely to be one of the most infamous articles of all
time," Healy said of the report. "I'd say many of this panel have
quite a bit to feel awkward about."
Attorneys with Baum Hedlund, a Los Angeles law firm that
specializes in cases against drug companies, referred to the task
force -- which admitted that it has not gained access to a
"substantial amount of data" from the FDA and drug companies -- as
"drug company hacks."
"They admit they don't have access to all the data, but they're
making these broad statements," said attorney Karen Barth Menzies.
"It's like a measure of damage control in advance. Their timing is
Ann Tracy, head of the International Coalition for Drug
Awareness, said the timing was an attempt to make the FDA hearing
"seem like a waste of time."
"This is just business as usual, even while people are dying.
What happened to Christopher Pittman is happening all over the
nation," Tracy said.
Dr. Joseph Glenmullen, a psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical
School, said there's no question that SSRIs can drive some patients
to attempt or think about suicide. He said the ACNP is "trotting out
"I don't think it makes much sense for the ACNP to make these
statements," Glenmullen said. "I find them useless and
The nonprofit ACNP gets some revenue from unrestricted
educational grants from the drug industry, though it stated that no
financial support from that industry went to the task force.
Contact Jason Cato at 329-4071 or mailto:email@example.com