By Dr. Mercola
After taking GlaxoSmithKline’s Paxil for just two days, retired oilman Don Schell brutally murdered his wife, daughter and 10-month-old granddaughter in the middle of the night before turning the gun on himself. The murders, which took place in 1998 in Gillette, Wyoming, shocked neighbors who couldn’t understand why Schell, who had no history of violence, appeared to have spontaneously killed the people in his life he loved the most.1
The bodies were discovered the following afternoon by Tim Tobin, the husband of Schell’s daughter Deb. After overcoming the shock of discovering such a gruesome scene, Tobin and other family members started to piece together what may have happened. The only thing that stood out was that Schell, who was a doting grandfather, had started taking Paxil just two days before the killings. At the time of the killing, he had taken just two tablets.
Could Paxil have been responsible for driving Schell to murder his family? The featured film, “The Secrets of Seroxat,” explores the dark and tormenting side-effects of Paxil (known as Seroxat in the U.K.) and GSK’s attempt to conceal the drug’s negative effects.
Paxil, the second most prescribed antidepressant next to Prozac, belongs to a class of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).2 SSRIs, mind-altering drugs designed to enhance serotonin levels in the brain, are prescribed for depression and a number of other conditions including anxiety, worry, irritability, muscle tension and fatigue.
A Craving for Antidepressants
Some say antidepressants have helped them live normal lives. Others say the drugs are nothing short of a terrible nightmare. The featured film dives into the details of Paxil, interviewing users who report horrible side effects including self-harm and unbearable withdrawal symptoms. The film also follows the landmark court case that found GSK and its antidepressant Paxil responsible for causing Schell to murder his family.
The first story is of 22-year-old Helen Kelsall, who was prescribed Paxil for panic attacks. After being on the drug for more than four years, Kelsall decided she wanted to come off it. But when she tried, she suffered intense symptoms of withdrawal including headaches, muscle cramps, nausea, sweating, trembling and feelings of electric shock in her head.
The drug’s maker, GSK, insists that withdrawal symptoms subside and that addiction to Paxil is an impossibility. In fact, that’s one of the drug’s strongest selling points. But many Paxil users, including Kelsall, disagree. In 2001, GSK was hit with a major lawsuit by plaintiffs who claimed they became chronically addicted to Paxil after being prescribed the drug for mild depression or anxiety.
The dozens of plaintiffs, among which included a website designer, bank fraud investigator and senior air force officer, say that upon trying to quit Paxil they “suffered violent and disturbing symptoms, including jolting pains in the head, vertigo, loss of coordination, abdominal discomfort, flu symptoms, agitation and confusion,” according to The Guardian.3 Like Kelsall, the plaintiffs allege they were never informed about the possibility of becoming addicted to Paxil.
The Nightmare You Cannot Wake Up From
Kelsall’s Paxil story is captured on video as the young woman documents her journey to quit the drug, videotaping her most unbearable symptoms of withdrawal. Kelsall, who during the film is in the third year of her master’s degree, says the higher education she’s worked so hard for is at risk of being ripped away due to her addiction to Paxil. “As I take each step, there’s a shock in my head that’s completely throwing me off balance,” says Kelsall.
Her withdrawal symptoms are so severe she’s forced to taper off the drug slowly rather than stop it completely. “Quitting makes me incredibly sick,” says Kelsall, who is shown cutting the potent drug in half in an effort to gradually decrease her intake. “If I knew this drug was addictive or was capable of causing the horrible side effects I now endure, I never would have taken it,” she says.
As awful as the withdrawal symptoms are, other symptoms are even more concerning, including the ones Schell is believed to have suffered before hurting his beloved family. Paxil, like other SSRIs, is also linked to self-harm and suicidal and homicidal behavior. Ed Casey was in a band and recording singles when he started taking Paxil.
Life was mostly good, except that, at times, Casey suffered from low self-esteem and bouts of depression. His doctors prescribed him Paxil, after which he began to change, becoming more introverted and moody.
After just two weeks on the drug, Casey started showing signs of self-harm. He began to mutilate himself, burning cigarettes into his arms and slicing his flesh with razor blades. The behavior was new. Casey had never hurt himself before or had thoughts of hurting himself — that is until he started taking Paxil.
When the Cure Is Worse Than the Original Complaint
Other Paxil users, including healthy people with no history of depression, have experienced similar feelings of mental turmoil — a worrisome symptom GSK not only knew about, but declined to reveal. After the death of his wife and child, Tobin sued GSK, alleging that Paxil led Schell to kill his family. The drug company placed blame on Schell’s depression, denying any link between Paxil, aggressive behavior and homicidal tendencies.
The lawsuit brought documents to light that GSK had kept secret for 15 years. A trove of archived files of clinical trial results was hidden away in Essex, a county east of England. The files detailed clinical trial results of Paxil on healthy people, in other words, individuals with no history of anxiety or depression.
Dr. David Healy, an expert on SSRIs and director at North Wales Department of Psychological Medicine, was called in to review the files. Healy had been involved in another study looking at adverse effects of an SSRI similar to Paxil on healthy people.
The study was conducted on healthy volunteers, which included general practitioners, senior nurses and consultant psychiatrists working in the North Wales Department of Psychological Medicine. What he observed is that when people were given the wrong drug, they went through a state of mental turmoil, ultimately becoming suicidal. Healy wondered if Paxil could have similar effects.
Guilty of Murder
The warehouse of archived files — some of which were missing — contained more than 250,000 sheets of paper. The task of learning what was in those files proved overwhelming. Still, in just two days, Healy read all of the documents outlining the effects of Paxil on healthy people. Some who went on the drug had no problems while others ended up in a state of mental turmoil; 1 in 4 suffered these side effects, even on normal doses and when taken for only a few days.
Healy learned healthy people also suffered withdrawal symptoms when quitting Paxil — and GSK was well aware of it. Up to 85 percent of volunteers taking the drug for a matter of weeks suffered withdrawal, the documents showed. Healy’s conclusion? It wasn’t depression that made Schell murder his family. It was Paxil. The jurors agreed.
To his surprise, Tobin won his lawsuit against GSK and was awarded $6.4 million in damages. It wasn’t the money Tobin was after, but rather the clearing of his stepfather’s name, and hope that the verdict would protect others from falling victim to the same fate of his family. Tobin said:
“I really just did want to win, to say, OK, the drugs did do it — what's everyone going to do now? And of course, there's been nothing. I honestly believe until it's somebody of importance it will be very difficult to get any changes. Here I am, a simple man from Montana. I'm not exceptionally rich or famous or anything. Who's going to listen to me?”
Despite Guilty Verdict, It’s Business as Usual
Despite losing the case, GSK maintains that there’s no evidence Paxil causes violence, aggression or homicide. Representatives for GSK are more concerned about the company than the welfare of people going on their drug, says the film’s narrator. After the verdict, GSK added a warning to the patient leaflets in Britain. However, the label avoided any mention of the link between Paxil and suicidal thoughts. Instead it read:
“Occasionally, the symptoms of depression may include thoughts of harming yourself or committing suicide. Until the full antidepressant effect of your medicine becomes apparent, these symptoms may increase in the first few weeks of treatment.”
Today, it’s business as usual for GSK, which filled some 15 million prescriptions for Paxil and paroxetine (a generic version of the drug) in the U.S. last year. One in 10 adolescents and adults aged 12 and over has filled a prescription for an antidepressant, and 1 in 7 adults over the age of 40 has done the same.4
GSK has paid out more than $1 billion to settle more than 800 different lawsuits related to Paxil, in addition to a $3 billion settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice for the illegal marketing of Paxil and other drugs. Yet Paxil has remained a “staple” in the psychiatrist’s arsenal.
Offering Kids Candy to Take Antidepressants?
Rather than address the issues associated with Paxil, GSK is looking to expand its prescription base, eying children as its newest customer. Children are being recruited right here in the U.S. to serve as test subjects for dangerous antidepressants and SSRI medications. The film features a private clinic in Texas called Bayou City Research, which conducts pharmaceutical research and trials on children and adolescents.
Bayou City Research advertises for children through ads in the local newspaper, offering free cookies, travel reimbursements and, of course, free psychotropic drugs. In 2001, American child psychiatrist, Dr. Neal D. Ryan completed a GSK-funded study known as “Study 329,” on kids using Paxil.5 The good news, he said, is that depressed children did better on Paxil than an older drug and those who took sugar pills.
The bad news? Ten out of the 93 children studied suffered serious psychiatric problems within weeks of going on the drug — and most of them had to be hospitalized. Five of the 93 children had suicidal thoughts and gestures, while another five had serious psychiatric side effects. Despite such findings, rather than warn doctors about side effects such as suicide, GSK has encouraged them to prescribed Paxil to teens and children, citing their own research showing the drug is safe and effective for teens.
Industry Research Refuted by New Study
Reanalysis of the original data in Study 329 found that Paxil was neither safe nor effective for teens. In fact, its effectiveness, both clinically and statistically, was right on par with placebo. It also found that serious side effects such as suicidal tendencies were mislabeled and misrepresented. As it turns out, the elevated risk for suicidal ideation was only gleaned by digging into the actual patient files, where the exact nature of the behavior was recorded.
In terms of harms, the difference between Paxil and placebo was “striking,” according to the researchers. Severe adverse events were 260 percent more frequent on Paxil compared to placebo, psychiatric adverse events were 400 percent more frequent, and suicide was 10,300 percent more frequent. During the eight-week-long study, 11 individuals in the Paxil group engaged in suicidal behavior, compared to just one in the placebo group.
Despite evidence of harm in children and adolescents, preschoolers and children 18 and younger are the fastest growing group on antidepressants.6 As for adults, 1 in 6 Americans is prescribed some type of psychiatric drug; the majority of which are on the drugs for the long term.7
Natural Options for Treating Depression
Fortunately, there are many other ways to deal with anxiety and depression that do not involve unsafe drugs. There's a growing acceptance that the mind-body connection is very real, and that maintaining good physical health can significantly lower your risk of developing depression in the first place. Here are several strategies that have been shown to be helpful:
Dramatically decrease your consumption of sugar (particularly fructose), grains and processed foods. (In addition to being high in sugar and grains, processed foods also contain a variety of additives that can affect your brain function and mental state, especially MSG and artificial sweeteners such as aspartame.)
There's a great book on this subject, “Sugar Blues,” written by American writer and news desk assistant editor William Dufty more than 30 years ago, that delves into the topic of sugar and mental health in great detail.
Increase consumption of probiotic foods such as fermented vegetables and kefir made from raw, grass fed milk, to promote healthy gut flora. Mounting evidence tells us that having a healthy gut is profoundly important for both physical and mental health, and the latter can be severely impacted by an imbalance of intestinal bacteria.
Avoiding sugar will also help toward this end. This is especially important during pregnancy, because if mother's flora is abnormal, her baby's flora will also be abnormal.
Get adequate vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 deficiency can contribute to depression and affects 1 in 4 people.
Optimize your vitamin D level, ideally through regular sun exposure. Vitamin D is very important for your mood. In one study, people with the lowest levels of vitamin D were found to be 11 times more prone to depression than those who had normal levels.
Get plenty of animal-based omega-3 fats. DHA and EPA are crucial for good brain function and mental health. Unfortunately, most people don't get enough from diet alone. If you do not regularly eat wild-caught salmon, sardines or anchovies, consider taking a high-quality animal-based omega-3 fat such as krill oil.
Dr. Andrew L. Stoll, a Harvard psychiatrist, was one of the early leaders in compiling the evidence supporting the use of animal based omega-3 fats for the treatment of depression. He wrote an excellent book that details his experience in this area called "The Omega-3 Connection: The Groundbreaking Antidepression Diet and Brain Program."
Evaluate your salt intake. Sodium deficiency actually creates symptoms that are very much like those of depression. Make sure you do not use processed salt (regular table salt), however. You'll want to use an all-natural, unprocessed salt like Himalayan salt, which contains more than 80 different micronutrients.
Get adequate daily exercise, including high-intensity exercise, which is one of the most effective strategies for preventing and overcoming depression. Studies on exercise as a treatment for depression have shown there is a strong correlation between improved mood and aerobic capacity.
Get adequate amounts of sleep. You can have the best diet and exercise program possible, but if you aren't sleeping well you can easily become depressed. Sleep and depression are so intimately linked that a sleep disorder is actually part of the definition of the symptom complex that gives the label depression.