Prozac “may or may not have contributed” to the death of Wendy Hay, who killed herself last September while taking the drug for depression, a coroner said yesterday in a verdict which has significance for an official inquiry taking place into the side-effects of this class of antidepressants.
David Hinchliff, the West Yorkshire coroner, took the unusual step of recording a narrative verdict at the end of a two-day inquest in Leeds -an account of the circumstances of the death without coming to conclusions. “There was evidence during the inquest that in a minority of patients who take this drug it may have adverse side effects,” he said. “This drug may or may not have contributed to Wendy Hay’s action.”
Mrs Hay’s husband, Alastair, who is professor of environmental toxicology at Leeds University and one of the country’s leading experts on chemical weapons, urged Eli Lilly, which manufactures Prozac, and the UK’s regulatory authorities to look at the evidence on bad reactions to the drug.
“This was not a trial about Prozac and I would not want to see anybody who is on the drug stop taking it,” said Professor Hay. “That is something everybody needs to discuss with their doctor.
“The concern I have is of course with the death of my wife. It has been devastating and if this inquiry has done any thing, it might have indicated that some people like her may be at risk of suicide through taking their medication.”
After his wife’s death, Professor Hay investigated the build-up of the drug in the body of those who take it. Evidence was given at the inquest by Alexander Forest, professor of forensic toxicology at Sheffield University, that the single 20mg dose handed out to patients by GPs was not necessarily suitable for all.
The inquest heard from David Healy, director of the North Wales department of psychological medicine and an expert on antidepressant drugs, that a small number of people can become suicidal on Prozac and other drugs in the same class – the SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors). He re ferred to case studies of healthy volunteers with no history of depression who had taken SSRIs and become suicidal. He said he believed Mrs Hay would not have taken her life if she had not been on Prozac.
Eli Lilly, which was legally represented during the inquest, maintains that Prozac cannot cause people to become suicidal and that any suicidal thoughts are the result of the depression, not the drug.
The committee on the safety of medicines, which advises government, has launched a review into alleged problems with the SSRIs, including suicide and also serious side-effects when people try to stop taking them.