IT is the most commonly used antidepressant
in Australia and was yesterday blamed for causing one man to kill
his wife of 50 years.
"I am satisfied that but for the Zoloft
he had taken, he would not have strangled his wife," NSW Supreme
Court Justice Barry O'Keefe said, ordering the release of confessed
killer David John Hawkins, 76, on July 31.
Hawkins, who has since recovered from depression, was sentenced
to three years' jail with a two-year non-parole period, but he has
already served nearly two years on remand.
The case was "a tragic reminder to medical practitioners and the
community of the possible serious – even dangerous – side effects
that can be produced by Zoloft", Justice O'Keefe said in his
Hawkins confessed to strangling his wife Margaret, 70, at their
hobby farm near Tumbarumba, in southern NSW, on August 1, 1999.
The retired mechanic, who suffered from depression, had taken
five 50 milligram tablets of Zoloft – a medication similar to Prozac
– during the night of July 31 because he was unable to sleep. The
amount was five times the dose prescribed for him by his doctor.
About 7am, he had got out of bed to get wood for the fire, but
suddenly found himself with his hands around his wife's neck.
"I just went absolutely berserk. I can remember shouting and
screaming . . . I have never done it before," he told the court.
The case could spark a rush of defendants trying to dodge murder
charges on the grounds they were using antidepressants, barrister
Stephen Odgers SC, a criminal law specialist, said last night.
"While it's possible that there will be a number of defendants
who try to rely on this kind of defence in the future, it cannot be
assumed the prosecutors or judges or juries will naively accept such
a defence," he said.
Pfizer, the manufacturers of Zoloft, said yesterday Justice
O'Keefe's comments about its drug were "extraordinary".
"We have a myriad of information available, but that was simply
not presented in this case," Pfizer medical director Bill Ketelbey
said. "There was evidence presented (for the) defence, but there was
never the opportunity for contrary evidence to be presented . . . we
feel it is very, very unfair that Zoloft has been labelled as it has
Psychiatric experts told the court Zoloft had been linked with 29
cases of aggression and 40 cases of manic reaction in patients.
David Healy of the University of Wales gave evidence that Zoloft
can cause a rise in suicidal or homicidal feelings.
But psychiatrists and depression experts defended the drug
Professor of psychiatry at the University of NSW, Philip
Mitchell, said the case was a very uncommon event. "The community
should not be afraid of these medications," he said.
Hawkins will live with his daughter in Wagga Wagga when he is
Justice O'Keefe has put the spotlight on
the after affects of Zoloft, and possibly other anti-depressants.
Doctors are relying too heavily on "wonderdrugs" and the
pharmaceutical industry. Companies like Pfizer are coercing Doctors
to use their products by incentive based marketing. The person that
suffers is the patient because they are not made aware of the
alternatives available to them other than drug regimes. The
pharmaceutical industry has its own interests at heart driven by
multimillion dollar profits. David Hawkins will forever bear the
scars of Zoloft's after affects, and so will others.