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Family of Man Involved in Murder-Suicide Wins $6.4 Million From Paxil Manufacturer

Posted by Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 01, 2001 12:00 AM EST
Category: Major Medical
Tags: Defective Drugs, Antidepressants and Other Psychiatric Drugs, Paxil, Paroxetine Hydrochloride

A Cheyenne, Wyoming Federal jury found pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, formerly SmithKline Beecham, liable for David Schnell's actions stemming from his use of Paxil, an antidepressant. Schnell, 60, took the drug only 48 hours before he shot and killed his wife, daughter, granddaughter and then himself. The jury awarded Schnell's relatives $6.4 million.

This is the first time a pharmaceutical company has been found liable for a patient's actions while taking an antidepressant. Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed against the makers of the three leading antidepressants, Paxil, Prozac, and Zoloft.

Paxil, Prozac, and Zoloft are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, commonly known as SSRIs. They work by decreasing the brain's absorption of the chemical serotonin, which controls appetite, sleep and mood. For years, plaintiff's attorneys have argued that these drugs have a dark side, one the manufacturers do not want patients and doctors to know about.

The lawyer representing Schnell's family believes this is a landmark decision and will pave the way for future suits involving all three SSRIs. The focus of the case involved internal documents establishing that the manufacturer knew the drug could cause violent, agitated behavior. The jury found the company liable since GlaxoSmithKline failed to warn patients of the potential for such violent reactions.

The internal documents included results from a survey in which 2,000 Paxil users were asked whether they had any adverse reactions to the drug. The survey established that the otherwise healthy volunteers experienced severe side effects including nightmares and hallucinations. In fact, two survey participants attempted suicide after less than three weeks on the drug.

GlaxoSmithKline's attorneys vigorously defended Paxil, claiming that the drug helps millions of people. In addition, leading psychiatrists testified that Paxil is effective in treating depression. However, Glaxo's experts did admit that there was a possibility that some patients might become violent and suicidal while taking the drug.

Other lawyers have similar internal documentation involving the makers of Zoloft and Prozac. The documents demonstrate that these manufacturers also knew of the potential for their drugs to cause violent behavior.


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