Remembering Colin Whitfield: A Seroxat-Induced Suicide.

This article is from 2003, it is hard to believe that 10 years ago  Seroxat suicides were making mainstream news headlines and even coroners were calling on the drug to be withdrawn from sale. Yet here we are 10 years later, and Seroxat is still being prescribed, GSK still make a profit on it and the government and regulators in the UK do nothing about the Seroxat Scandal. In fact, GSK CEO Andrew Witty has been called to give a lecture to the MHRA and he also sits on the UK government business advisory council. James Murdoch, son of Rupert Murdoch, also sits on one of GSK’s business boards. The Murdoch newscorp has a stake in Sky News UK- not to mention the huge media empire it holds around the world.

A conspiracy of silence and denial?

Or am I just paranoid?

Man slashed wrists on Seroxat

A coroner has called for Britain’s biggest-selling antidepressant to be withdrawn after a retired headmaster who was prescribed the drug was found dead with slashed wrists.

Colin Whitfield, 56, died just two weeks after he began taking Seroxat.

At his inquest, Brecon Coroner Geraint Williams said he would be writing to Health Secretary Alan Milburn to demand the drug be withdrawn for further safety checks.

He said: ‘I have grave concerns that this is a dangerous drug that should be withdrawn until at least detailed national studies are undertaken.

‘I am profoundly disturbed by the effect this drug had on Colin Whitfield. It is quite clear that Seroxat has a profound effect on the thinking process of anyone who takes it.’

The inquest heard evidence from Mr Whitfield’s wife, Kathryn, that her husband of 30 years was a protective and loving father who had been prescribed Seroxat for anxiety.

A fortnight later he locked himself in his garden shed and slit his wrists.

Seroxat – also known as the ‘ antishyness pill’ – has overtaken Prozac in popularity since it was licensed in 1990. It was prescribed to 400,000 patients in Britain last year.

Some 4,000 users are threatening legal action against makers GlaxoSmithKline saying they suffered unpleasant withdrawal symptoms – including suicidal feelings – after they stopped taking it.

The Government announced a review of Seroxat’s safety last year but the drug remains available.

Mr Whitfield, of Llanfrynach, Powys, was prescribed Seroxat last summer.

His widow told the hearing there was nothing to suggest he was suicidal and he had not been suffering from depression.

She said she was certain Seroxat was to blame for his death on August 29.

‘It didn’t fit the picture of who he was and we have no doubt that it was the drug that caused him to do it,’ she said.

‘Two days before he died, on his birthday when he was opening presents, he asked, “What more can I ask for than my lovely family?” ‘

Mrs Whitfield said she was convinced her husband had not been fully conscious of what he was doing.

The Yorkshireman had been looking forward to the coming rugby season and had also written to his mother to say he hoped to see her soon.

‘What he did was so totally out of character. He was a very caring, very protective father

Safety checks: coroner
says more checks need
to be carried out

and husband,’ she said. ‘He would be hating himself for what he has done to his family.’

The coroner agreed and recorded an open verdict.

‘I have a picture of a kindly, gentle, courteous family man whose primary concern was his wife and children,’ he said.

‘But on this day he didn’t care. He did a deliberate act affected, I have no doubt, by the taking of Seroxat.’

Afterwards, Mrs Whitfield said: ‘As a result of what the coroner said in court, I really hope something big will come out of this. I hope there will be restrictions on the drug’s use because I believe it is very risky.’

Solicitor Mark Harvey, who is representing thousands of claimants, including Mrs Whitfield, in their planned legal action against the drug’s makers, said new prescriptions should cease while the drug’s safety was examined.

‘This case demonstrates our belief that anyone of note who comes across Seroxat expresses concern about what they see,’ he added.

GlaxoSmithKline, which manufactures Seroxat, offered its ‘sincere condolences’ to Mr Whitfield’s family but insisted the drug was safe.

It pointed out that those suffering from depression were more likely to commit suicide.

‘There is no valid scientific research or literature finding that Seroxat causes suicidal thoughts or acts,’ it added.

The feelgood formula

Seroxat was launched in Britain 13 years ago as a treatment for depression.

Like its well-known rival Prozac, it works by enhancing the brain’s levels of seratonin, a naturallyoccurring ‘feelgood’ chemical.

There have already been several cases in the U.S. against makers GlaxoSmithKline. Nearly two years ago a jury in Wyoming ordered the company to pay £4million to the relatives of Donald Schell.

The 60-year-old, who had been taking the drug for just two days, killed his wife, daughter and granddaughter before turning a gun on himself.

Read more:

Seroxat, the world’s biggest-selling antidepressant, should be withdrawn while its safety is fully investigated, advises a coroner who recorded an open verdict on a man who killed himself within a fortnight of starting a course of the drug.

The Brecon coroner, Geraint Williams, said he would be writing to the Department of Health about his finding that Seroxat led to Colin Whitfield, 56, a retired headteacher, taking his own life.

“I have grave concerns that this is a dangerous drug that should be withdrawn until at least detailed national studies are undertaken,” he told the court on Tuesday.

“It is my intention to write to the Department of Health and to the secretary of state to ask him to hold an urgent inquiry into Seroxat and consider whether it should be withdrawn from sale in the UK.

“I am profoundly disturbed by the effect this drug had on Colin Whitfield.”

Evidence indicated that Mr Whitfield suffered a change of personality after starting to take the drug.

Seroxat, whose generic name is paroxetine, is in the class of drugs, with Prozac, termed SSRI or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. It has overtaken Prozac in sales. Both drugs are prescribed mainly by GPs. There have been several strongly contested legal cases in the US against makers of SSRIs after suicides among those taking the drugs over a couple of weeks, or even days.

Almost two years ago, the former SmithKline Beecham (now GlaxoSmithKline) was ordered by a Wyoming jury to pay £4.7m to the family of Donald Schell, who killed his wife, daughter, baby grand daughter and then himself after two days on Seroxat – known as Paxil in the US.

In that case, evidence was given by a British psychopharmacologist, David Healy, the director of the North Wales department of psychological medicine, who was granted access to GlaxoSmithKline’s archives. He found that a small number of volunteers in perfect health, who took part in early trials of the drug, had become very agitated or suicidal.

Dr Healy has given evidence to a number of coroners’ inquests in the UK, including that over Mr Whitfield’s death.

“A lot of people going into the inquest just know the person would not have committed suicide in the normal course of events. You get a sense of their utter bewilderment,” he said.

Most coroners did not know about the controversy. Dr Healy wrote to 148 coroners in England and Wales, and also to the review of coroner services, which was set up after the Harold Shipman case.

Dr Healy advises that statistics on deaths of people on SSRIs be centrally collected.

He has also pointed out that suicide verdicts – which could be wrong in cases concerning the antidepressant – deprive relatives of insurance payouts.

GlaxoSmithKline insists the drug is safe, saying its experience with Seroxat involves “thousands of physicians, millions of patients and over 10 years of experience world-wide”. It states that there is “no valid scientific research finding that Seroxat causes suicidal thoughts or acts”.

Last year, the medicines control agency announced a review of Seroxat after growing concern about withdrawal symptoms and side effects.

Colin Whitfield, 56, was a retired headmaster. His wife Kathryn told Brecon coroner’s court that he had never shown any inclination towards suicide.

He was prescribed Seroxat for anxiety, not depression. If his GP had thought he might be a suicide risk, it is likely he would have referred him to a hospital psychiatrist.

She said he was a loving father who would never have wanted to distress his family. Yet last autumn he locked himself in the garden shed and cut both wrists, while one of his daughters was sleeping not far away.

“I don’t believe this was a conscious decision, I don’t think it was an intentional act. There was no way he was in his right mind when he did that,” she said.

“There was no note and no intent. Two days before he died, on his birthday when he was opening presents, he asked, ‘What more can I ask for than my lovely family?’ And on the night before he died he did and said three things that indicated he was planning ahead.”

The suicide “didn’t fit the picture of who he was, and we have no doubt that it was the drug that caused him to do it. He was a very caring, very protective father and husband. He would be hating himself for what he has done to his family.”


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