Vickie McCarthy was going through a rough emotional patch, and her doctor thought an antidepressant drug might help her out of it.
“He said, ‘When things calm down in your life and you’re feeling better, you can stop taking it,’” she told Keith Hernandez, of Action 7 News.
The drug was Paxil, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline. It helped her depression, but she was not expecting the drug’s side effects.
“I had headaches, and these little electrical zaps, like you’ve just touched an open electrical wire,” she said.
When she quit using the drug, she said she felt even worse.
“I couldn’t stand any sounds whatsoever. Everything seemed magnified,” McCarthy said. “I was dizzy, confused, and very restless. I couldn’t sit still.”
After trying to quit three times, she attempted suicide. Now she describes herself as constantly irritable, nervous and edgy.
“I hate it,” she said, wiping away tears. “I really hate the fact that this drug has control of my life.”
McCarthy is now one of 4,000 plaintiffs who have filed a class action lawsuit against GlaxoSmithKline, claiming they are addicted to the drug.
The lawsuit stems from the claim that the drug company should have warned health care providers that their product is dangerous.
“The drug company has a duty to warn the medical community,” said Karen Barth Menzies, an attorney involved in the suit. “Clearly, they have failed that duty,” she said.
“Not only does the drug, in fact, cause dependence and withdrawal symptoms, which they’re now reluctantly having to admit,” Menzies said. “The drug companies have known about that for years. Instead of informing the medical profession, they hid those risks.”
But James Margolis, a psychiatrist, said there’s no scientific evidence that a person can become addicted to antidepressant drugs. He’s seen patients who think they are addicted, but who have other medical conditions.
“We have a lot of emotionally disturbed people who may not have depression,” Margolis said. “They may have personality disorders or other things, and they haven’t done well with these medications. We wouldn’t expect them to.”
And Paxil is effective for a lot of depression sufferers, he said.
“For the few people that claim these drugs hurt them, there’s 99 percent of patients who have done wonderfully with these drugs.”
GlaxoSmithKline has issued a formal statement that says, in part, “Paxil has been used to treat tens of millions of patients, helping them to lead fuller and more productive lives.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a formal advisory in the spring on Paxil, however, alerting doctors to monitor patients on Paxil for signs of suicide.
Experts also advise patients to ask a lot of questions if they are prescribed Paxil, and to seek a second opinion if they have any doubts or concerns about the drug.
McCarthy said she still takes 20 milligrams of Paxil every day, as she has for the past seven years. But she wants to stop, she said.
“I know I’m going to try again. I know that I want to get off of the drug. I’m going to try it again, definitely,” McCarthy said.
Revision date: June 21, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD