Paxil is the drug of choice for many doctors seeking to help people beat their depression, but a lawsuit charges that the medication is addictive and that some people sink into a deeper depression while on it.
In 1997, Vickie McCarthy says she was going through a tough time in her life. Her doctor suggested the prescription drug Paxil.
“He said, ‘When things calm down in your life and you’re feeling better, you can stop taking it,’” McCarthy said.
She took the antidepressant and felt the side effects.
“I had headaches, and these little electrical zaps, like you’ve just touched an open electrical wire,” McCarthy said.
It got worse when she tried to quit.
“I couldn’t stand any sounds whatsoever. Everything seemed magnified. I was dizzy, confused, and very restless. I couldn’t sit still,” she said.
Since then, she’s tried to quit three times and says her overwhelming desperation even drove her to attempt suicide. She’s constantly irritable, nervous and edgy.
“I hate it. I really hate the fact that this drug has control of my life,” she said.
McCarthy isn’t alone. She’s one of 4,000 plaintiffs who have joined a class-action lawsuit against GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of Paxil. They say they’re hooked on the drug and unable to quit.
“The drug company has a duty to warn the medical community,” said attorney Karen Barth Menzies. “Clearly, they have failed that duty.”
The suit claims the drug company has been aware all along that Paxil is dangerous.
“Not only does the drug, in fact, cause dependence and withdrawal symptoms - which they’re now reluctantly having to admit - the drug companies have known about that for years. Instead of informing the medical profession, they hid those risks,” Menzies said.
“For the few people that claim these drugs hurt them, there’s 99 percent of patients who have done wonderfully with these drugs,” said psychiatrist Dr. James Margolis.
Margolis is director of the Sutter Center for Psychiatry. He said the lawsuit is absolutely wrong, and that there’s no evidence that one can become addicted or dependent on antidepressants.
He said he has seen patients who think they’re addicted, when really, they have a different condition that’s aggravated by Paxil.
“We have a lot of emotionally disturbed people who may not have depression. They may have personality disorders or other things, and they haven’t done well with these medications. We wouldn’t expect them to,” Margolis said.
McCarthy still takes 20 milligrams of Paxil each day. She’s joined a support group online and hopes to quit Paxil once and for all.
GlaxoSmithKline said Paxil has been used “to treat tens of millions of patients, helping them to lead fuller, more productive lives.”
Revision date: June 18, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD