A GRIEVING mum whose 14 year-son shot himself six weeks after being placed on Prozac, has taken her fight for clearer warnings on the drug to the Seanad.
Stephanie McGill-Lynch met with senators in the hope they will help push through proposals for a ‘black label’ warning on the suicidal side effects of the antidepressant, similar to the US.
The Clondalkin woman also hopes to gain support for a change in the law surrounding parental consent on prescription medication for children under the age of 18.
‘Jake‘s Amendment’ also seeks for the Coroner’s Act to be changed to allow a verdict of iatrogenic, or medically induced suicide, where suitable, in death inquests here.
It follows the Dublin family’s own horrific experience of losing their son, whose cause of death was recorded as an open verdict in 2015.
Following a lengthy inquest Dr Brian Farrell rejected a suicide verdict in Jake‘s death after evidence showed the 14 year-old had not been suicidal prior to taking Prozac.
The inquest was also told how new findings in the past two years showed that children on the autistic spectrum were at increased risk of suicide while taking the drug.
The highly intelligent teen, who had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, was prescribed the drug to treat anxiety issues, despite suicide ideation being a known side effect.
At the time Stephanie and Jake‘s father John told how neither were informed the drug he was prescribed was Prozac, or of its possible serious side effects.
Speaking about her law-changing plans this week, Stephanie said: “I am not anti-medication, I am not against Prozac.
“There are people out there who need it to get them through the day. But my child was not one of those people.
“And I don’t want what happened to him – to us – to happen to another family.”
Jake died at Tallaght Hospital on March 20th, 2013, hours after shooting himself in the head with Stephanie’s legally held rifle at their Woodford Terrace home.
Before his death, Jake was seeing a psychologist at Clondalkin Linn Dara Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) after being diagnosed with asperger’s syndrome.
He was referred to a psychiatrist in January 2013 following concerns that his anxiety was increasing due to his upcoming Junior Cert.
It was then he was prescribed Prozac to help with his anxiety and started taking the medication 46 days before his death.
“All the guidelines were broken in regards to placing Jake on Prozac,” Stephanie told the Sunday World.
“For a start we weren’t told what it was. We were told it was medication for anxiety, but it had been given off label, meaning that although it was an antidepressant, it could also be given to treat other conditions, such as anxiety.
“The name Prozac was never mentioned to us, it wasn’t even on Jake‘s prescription.
“Instead it was the medical name Fluoxetine, so unless you are in the know, you won’t know what that drug was. We didn’t know.
“We were most certainly not told about the side effects, and we were never given a patient information leaflet.
“It was a month long prescription that had to be broken down weekly.
“Jake couldn’t swallow a tablet so it was in liquid form, so a seven days supply is only a small amount taken from the original bottle into a small plastic bottle.
“He had his first reaction after six days, he walked out of his mock exam which was unheard of.
“He came home that night and cried for three hours, which was unheard of. But because he’d started his mock exam we thought it was pressure. I actually said to him, ‘Jake, did you take your medication?’
“On day seven I went back to the pharmacy to get the next week supply. I didn’t know that the dosage had actually doubled.”
The next time that Jake and his mum met with health professionals, Stephanie told them of her concerns surrounding Jake‘s behaviour.
“I was told not to worry, and that the effects would wear off in four to six weeks,” she said.
On March 19th, 2013, as his mum and dad were downstairs, Jake went to his room and fatally wounded himself.
“That was my gun,” she said. “We’d both used it at a local gun club. I took my eye off the ball and left the ammunition and the gun together, which I never do. And that haunts me.
“I still have flashbacks of that night…my husband had to work on his own child.
“Jake did not die instantly. We got him to the operating theatre and he bled to death.”
It was only in the aftermath of her son’s death that Stephanie found out that her son had been taking Prozac, and its side effects.
Stephanie added: “I feel like my child has been murdered because it was so preventable. That’s why I want to change things, so that no-one will go through what we have went through.”
During the schoolboys inquest the coroner heard from a number of experts including consultant child psychiatrist Dr Maria Migone, who prescribed the Prozac for Jake’s anxiety.
She said new findings that had emerged in the past number of years showed that children on the autistic spectrum were at increased risk of suicide
Another consultant, paediatric psychiatrist Dr Brian Houlihan, also gave evidence in relation to the possible link between Prozac and suicidal ideation.
He said Prozac can lead to increased suicidal ideation in some patients, but not to increased instances of suicide.
Stephanie said: “My aim now is three things, and Jake‘s Amendment is the last chapter.
“If the black label warning is there it means that parents have to give informed consent. That is not in legislation that parents have to give informed consent for medication, it is just common law.
“Common law is a hell of a lot different than legislation. You need parents’ permission for kids to have contraception under 16, it is illegal for children to have sex under the age of 16 and it is illegal to buy cigarettes under the age of 18, but at 14 my child was allowed to have a mid altering drug without his parents’ knowledge.
“There was no accountability for Jake‘s loss. If you had a look at his medcial file you would read it and think, how did this happen?”
Asked how life is now over four years since losing her youngest son, Stephanie said: “I don’t know because in my head Jake is in his room playing his Xbox because other than that, I wouldn’t be able to function.
“I go to visit Jake daily and I stand looking at his headstone with his photograph on it, and I am stunned still, to this very day.
“He has an older brother, and a nephew who keeps asking, ‘when is Jake going to come down from his room? He’s been up there an awful long time’.
“I don’t celebrate anything. I don’t put up a Christmas tree, and it’s not that I am the mother of sorrows walking around.
“I have what is left of Jake around my neck. Inside a locket on a little bit of muslin I have a drop of Jake‘s blood from vial which I asked for after the inquest.
“It just means that wherever I go, he comes with me. And I know he walks the earth with me everyday.”