Anti-depressant drugs - Investigate claimed link to suicides

When an autopsy expert with 30 years of experience suspects a possible link between suicide and the use of powerful anti-depressant drugs, it becomes a matter of the utmost concern and one that warrants immediate investigation.

The grave doubts expressed by former assistant state pathologist Dr Declan Gilsenan lend considerable weight to calls for action on this controversial issue. The authorities would be failing in their duty of care to the public if they do not heed his concerns over the number of suicide cases where he had carried out autopsies on victims who had recently started taking the anti-depressants in question.

Known collectively as SSRIs, they include popular drugs such as Prozac, Zoloft, Lexapro, Paxil, and Celexa, which are available on prescription from a GP. Significantly, fears about a suspected connection between suicides and this family of drugs arise at a time when a frightening number of young Irish men are taking their own lives. This fully justifies his call for doctors to be more careful about prescribing and for people to be monitored more carefully.

Dr Gilsenan, who retired last year, says he has seen “too many suicides” among people who had started taking the drugs. In his considered view the evidence was “more than anecdotal” and he now hopes to raise the matter with Kathleen Lynch, minister of state with responsibility for mental health.

An urgent meeting with the minister is being sought by a delegation organised by campaigner Leonie Fennell, whose son took his own life after killing a friend, having just started a course of anti-depressants. He is believed to have taken more than the prescribed amount. Since her son’s death, Ms Fennell has campaigned tirelessly to raise awareness about the potential dangers of anti-depressants.

This controversy is further complicated by the claims and counterclaims of a long-running row between doctors and psychiatrists over the use of such drugs. According to Prof David Healy, the pharmaceutical industry is being protected by psychiatry. He accuses psychiatrists of coming out in defence of the drugs being used, and of regularly offering apologies for industry.

If Dr Gilsenan is right, there can be no denying that in the public interest, action is required to resolve this controversy once and for all. It should be easy enough to establish if statistical grounds exist to corroborate his assertion of possible connections between suicide and the use of powerful anti-depressants.

There is an onus on the minister to meet the proposed delegation sooner rather than later. Nor should she hesitate to take action to resolve this controversy and put people’s minds at ease. With lives possibly at stake, it is imperative to examine the concerns voiced by Dr Gilsenan without fear or favour.

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