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National Program To Discuss Pittman Case

Talk show to broadcast program about children and antidepressant medication

Dec 1, 2003 | Rock Hill Herald

Discussion of a Chester County boy facing double murder charges and a possible link to antidepressant medication as the culprit will be heard across the country tonight.

Alternative talk show "Sightings with Jeff Rense" will host a program addressing concerns of children using antidepressant medication. Local residents can listen to the program, which begins at 10 p.m., online at

For those who miss the live broadcast, all shows are archived on the Internet at

While other cases will be discussed, Lisa Van Syckel, an advocate from New Jersey who has been closely following the Chester case, will discuss how she believes antidepressants caused Christopher Pittman to kill his grandparents two years ago. Van Syckel also will announce on the program that a defense fund for the boy is being established.

"I have spoken with Chris-topher and promised to do everything in my power to help him," Van Syckel said.

Christopher has been charged with double murder and arson after investigators found the bodies of Joe Frank Pittman and Joy Roberts Pittman in their burned Slick Rock Road home Nov. 29, 2001. They both had been shot in the head while they slept. Christopher was 12 at the time. He will be tried as an adult and faces between 30 years and life in prison if convicted.

Van Syckel is a coordinator for the International Coalition for Drug Awareness. However, she said she will not be speaking as a member of the advocacy group. Instead, she will participate as a concerned parent. Van Syckel's daughter Michelle attempted to harm herself while on similar medication and was hospitalized several times. Michelle recovered once the medication was stopped and now is a college freshman in New England.

"I will be speaking on behalf of children who have lost their voices because of the adverse effects of these drugs," Van Syckel said. "It's my goal to alert the public about the adverse effects of these medicines in children."

Christopher was diagnosed as being clinically depressed in October 2001 and placed on a five-week regime of Paxil and Zoloft. Both drugs are classified as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. Neither has been federally approved to treat depression in people younger than 18. Doctors are able to prescribe medicines for other uses once it has been approved for something.

Last summer, the United Kingdom banned certain antidepressants, including Paxil, from being prescribed to children after clinical studies surfaced showing a potential link between the drugs and an increased risk of suicide. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration later warned of such a link and announced it would review the entire SSRI category. They have not banned the use of such medicines with children, however. The FDA will hold an advisory panel meeting on the issue of children and antidepressants in February.

The defense fund will be handled by the West Chester church where the Pittmans were members. Van Syckel said the goal is to raise between $25,000 and $35,000. The money would be used to possibly hire some of the top experts experienced in discussing the adverse effects of medications.

"My only wish for Christmas is to have Christopher exonerated so that Joe Frank and Joy Pittman can truly rest in peace," Van Syckel said. "I want the FDA to hear about this case and to stop being so callous."

Van Syckel does not want the drugs necessarily banned. She does want the FDA to force pharmaceutical companies to clearly list warnings of adverse effects so parents can make informed decisions about these medicines.

"The FDA needs to take responsibility here," Van Syckel said. "They need to make the pharmaceutical companies take responsibility."

Others appearing on the program include Mark Miller of Kansas City, whose 13-year-old son hung himself in 1997 within a week of taking Zoloft, and Dr. Ann Tracy, head of the International Coalition of Drug Awareness.

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