Suicide By Kids Sparks HearingAug 5, 2004 | Modesto Bee
Doctors told Dominique Slater's parents that their teenage daughter might become nauseated or gain weight from pills prescribed to battle depression.
But the 14-year-old Newman girl became irritable, hostile and aggressive side effects of anti-depressant drugs that her parents now say led to her suicide.
After Dominique's body was found April 14, 2003, in the Delta Mendota Canal in Patterson, her family was motivated to raise awareness about the potentially lethal link between anti-depressant drugs and teen suicide.
"Our obligation is to speak out so another family doesn't have to go through this nightmare," Lorraine Slater, Dominique's mother, said before a hearing Wednesday at the state Capitol.
She also testified before a federal Food and Drug Administration hearing in February. A month later, the FDA issued a warning that 10 anti-depressant drugs might worsen depression or suicidal tendencies. Dominique had taken three of the 10 drugs cited in the advisory.
Wednesday, as Dominique's brother Jonathan, 14, held framed family photos, her father, Robert, said anti-depressant drugs have not been proven safe for adolescents, who are being used as a "test market."
"I'm focusing on what we can do to avoid tragedies," said Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, who called for the hearing before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. His 21-year-old niece committed suicide earlier this year shortly after taking an anti-depressant drug.
"The FDA's warning came out a week after her suicide," Torlakson said.
Although England in December effectively banned six of the same drugs from use by children, no one on the panel Wednesday called for a similar ban, instead focusing efforts on more research to find out short-term and long-term effects of the drugs.
There also is a push to require patients to sign a waiver that explains the potential side effects, something already done for the drug Accutane, used to treat acne but linked to causing depression among teens. The drug is also notorious for a long list of other severe Accutane side effects it can cause.
"Family doctors now write 70 percent of prescriptions for anti-depressants and know little or nothing about this side effect," said Dr. Joseph Glenmullen, clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School and author of "Prozac Backlash," who spoke at the hearing.
He said doctors mistakenly think depression is getting worse and increase the dosage of the drug, possibly doing more damage.
Glenmullen added that drug companies have been dishonest about their research. He compared the industry with Big Tobacco, which he said spent years denying side effects, discrediting doctors, funding "junk science" by industry-friendly doctors and blocking needed research.
In June, New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer filed a lawsuit against GlaxoSmithKline, maker of the anti-depressant Paxil, for concealing unpublished data.
The company had denied the charge.
In July, GlaxoSmithKline sent a letter to doctors advising that the drug not be used to treat children because of a "possible risk of suicide." In August, the maker of Effexor, Wyeth, sent a similar letter to physicians.
Drug company representatives were not included at Wednesday's hearing. But Carlo Michelotti, chief executive officer of the California Pharmacists' Association, told lawmakers that anti-depressant drugs are growing in popularity "because they work."