Paragraph 6 reads: "A child psychiatrist diagnosed Forrest with severe depression and prescribed Effexor-XR, an antidepressant. The drug was approved for use in adults, but not for children. Eriksson didn?t know that. She also did not know that some medical reports were suggesting an increased risk of suicidal thinking in children taking anti-depressants . . . including Effexor."
May 17, 2004 9:00 pm US/Central
By Investigator Ginger Allen and
Producer/Photojournalist Dave Manoucheri
Medicating children to control behavior has become a trend of\ver the last decade, but now drug manufacturers and even the U.S. government are in the hot seat, questioned about a potentially deadly side-effect of what is supposed to be a life-saver.
Dawna Eriksson had her son?s room remodeled. ?We had to change everything around?, says Dawna. In August of 2002, she went to the movies with her older son, Theron. Her son Forrest stayed home with his older sister.
?We got home and Theron ran in? says Dawna. ?The bedroom light was off, but the light was on in the closet . . . Theron opened the closet door and found him hanging.?
Ten-year-old Forrest Hotchkiss died that night. He hanged himself with the belt to his brand new housecoat.
Forrest had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, by the time he was in first grade. By age nine . . . he was having trouble in school, and his parents were divorcing. ?I had to do something? says Forrest?s Mom.
A child psychiatrist diagnosed Forrest with sever depression and prescribed Effexor-XR, an antidepressant. The drug was approved for use in adults, but not for children. Eriksson didn?t know that. She also did not know that some medical reports were suggesting an increased risk of suicidal thinking in children taking anti-depressants . . . including Effexor. Dawna Eriksson says if she had known that ?he wouldn?t have been on it. I would have said no.?
A year and a half after Forrest?s death, the warnings are out there. In late March of this year, the FDA reported that it?s become ?unclear? whether some drugs are causing suicidal thinking. Because of a number of conflicting studies, the FDA is asking manufacturers to change the labels of ten anti-depressant drugs to include stronger warnings.
The warnings have stirred a controversy. The pharmaceutical companies have been accused of trying to hide a decade?s worth of studies suggesting suicidal tendencies, and the FDA has been questioned about being party to the potential cover-up.
Earlier this year, Congressman Joe Barton from Arlington asked the FDA why it decided NOT to let it?s top expert on anti-depressant drugs report findings of ?an association between the use of antidepressants and suicidality in children.?
CBS-11 obtained the FDA?s response. In it, the FDA calls its own expert?s finding a ?premature conclusion? that needed more research.
As far as the drug makers, no law requires them to publish all information on a drug.
Dallas psychiatrist Graham Emslie heads a task force that works with the FDA. He says negative studies tend not to get published, but adds that the negative studies, in these cases, just mean the drugs failed to prove effective. He says there is no evidence that the drugs cause suicide. ?There is no data for that. It probably decreased suicide in the general sense,? says Emslie. He says more kids could die without the medication.
But parents like Eriksson say their personal experiences with the drugs prove otherwise, and they?re filing lawsuits. Eriksson?s attorney, Marcellene Malouf says Effexor had an obligation to let parents know the risks, and the FDA?s warning is not enough. ?I believe that if people were told all the risks of these medications, they?d probably not take them? says Malouf.
As for Forrest?s mother, she wants her tragedy to prevent this from happening to others. ?I don?t want any more kids to die,? says Eriksson. ?I don?t want any other moms to feel the way I feel?.
A spokesperson for the maker of Effexor, Wyeth, could not comment on the case involving Forrest, but says Effexor has never been approved for children and that Wyeth has made that clear since the early 1990s.
The FDA is now researching the possible link between anti-depressant drugs and has promised to have answers sometime this summer.
For more information on this issue, you can log on to www.fda.gov