Doting dad Peter Hearn was
prescribed the anti-depressant drug Prozac when he went to his GP
suffering from sleepless nights - within eight days he took his own
In the first of a series of
articles, Journal reporter Megan Bolam investigates new fears over
the safety of the 'wonder drug' and the spiralling use of
Peter Hearn was a dedicated family man
who lived life to the full and, as a devoted husband and father, he
had everything to live for.
At the age of 51, father-of-two, Mr
Hearn was as fit as some men half his age and in May last year had
just completed his third consecutive London Marathon.
In late August, he contacted his GP
because he was suffering from sleepless nights and had lost his
But eight days later he tragically
took his own life, days after his doctor had prescribed him with the
anti-depressant drug, Prozac.
Mr Hearn is just one of what is
believed to be around 15,190 people in Northumberland and Tyne and
Wear who have been prescribed Fluozetine/Prozac during the last
This makes up almost one third of the
47,092 people who are believed to have taken one of the six types of
anti-depressant drugs, Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors
(SSRIs), between April 2003 and March this year.
An investigation by The Journal
reveals doctors in Northumberland and Tyne and Wear handed out
565,106 prescriptions for SSRIs, including Fluoxetine, Citalopram,
Fluvoxamine, Paroxetine, Ser traline and Escitalopram over the past
year. Of these, 182,286 were for Fluoxetine/Prozac alone. The SSRI
figures represent a staggering increase of 96,206 on the 468,900
prescriptions dished out in 2002/03 and an extra 43,500 on the
425,400 prescribed in 2001/02.
In Durham and Teesside, the
prescription figure for 2002/03 was 362,700, compared to 321,500 the
previous year - a rise of 41,200.
Overall, the number of prescriptions
for SSRIs have increased by 198,906 in the past three years.
And with GPs claiming the average
prescription lasts for four weeks, it is estimated a massive 47,092
people in Northumberland and Tyne and Wear took SSRIs last year -
compared to 39,075 in 2002/03.
Health experts last night put the rise
down to the ease with which the drugs are available.
Mr Hearn's wife Anne, 50, convinced a
coroner to hold a second inquest into her husband's death last week
and overturn his initial verdict of suicide to "death by
Mrs Hearn claims her husband would
never have taken his own life, had the drugs not triggered suicidal
thoughts, ultimately leading to his death.
Anti-drug campaigners last night said
Mr Hearn's case was an all-too-common occurrence with doctors
prescribing medication for depression when other options could be
Mrs Hearn, a secretary, said Peter was
unaware of the side effects of the drugs, which included
sleeplessness and suicidal tendencies, and she is now demanding
answers from doctors and drug companies.
Mrs Hearn, of McNamara Road, Wallsend,
said: "Peter was too full of life and looking forward to the future
too much to have deliberately ended his own life. He was a good
person with a wonderful personality, who was strong physically and
in mental attitude.
"We were never told suicidal
tendencies were an initial side effect of the Fluoxetine and people
should be aware of this."
Mrs Hearn said her husband's life took
a downturn in May last year when his workplace of 23 years,
Precision Hydraulics Cylinders, Cramlington, burned down and he was
The former maintenance engineer tried
his hand at several jobs before securing a position as an engineer
with Lloyds British to start last September.
But on August 28, he visited his GP,
complaining of sleeplessness and an upset stomach.
He was diagnosed with depression and
prescribed a six-month course of Prozac.
He initially hesitated to take the
medication, but Mrs Hearn says her husband had been on the drugs no
more than a day before his personality changed completely. Then, on
September 4, he hanged himself in his own garage.
She said: "From the first day, he took
the medication, Peter was unsure and unable to cope, which was
completely out of character.
"He was not sleeping at all and he
returned to the doctor four days later and asked for something to
help him sleep, but he was refused because he was already on the
"When we first saw the doctor, he was
offered counselling but then we were told there was nobody
available. Then he was prescribed the Prozac, which I think should
be a last resort - not the first option.
"I think the doctors could have done
more because I don't think Peter was severely depressed, he was just
on a downer."
Allan Young, professor of psychiatry
at Newcastle University, said research shows people taking SSRI's
are at an increased risk of harming themselves in the early
He said: "Since anti-depressants came
out in the 1950s, it is understood that in the early stages of
treatment there can be an increased risk of self-harm compared to
"This is due to the fact that
anti-depressants may agitate people early on and may increase the
risk of trying to harm themselves. But that has never clearly been
Prozac is the most widely prescribed
ant-depressant in history. Since its introduction in 1986, its
makers Eli Lilly and Co, claim more than 40 million people across
the globe have taken the drug.
A spokesman for Eli Lilly said: "Our
view is that there is no credible scientific evidence that
establishes a link between Prozac and suicidal behaviour.
"In fact, several studies suggest
Prozac actually reduces aggressive and suicidal thoughts and
"Prozac is one of the most widely
studied medicines in use today. Lilly stands by the efficacy and
tolerability of Prozac - a medication that has helped tens of
millions of people around the world."
But worldwide expert on
anti-depressants Shirley Trinkett said last night that Mr Hearn's
story is an all-too-common scenario.
A former prescription drug counsellor,
Mrs Trinkett, of Sunderland, has been campaigning against the use of
anti-depressants for 10 years and has published a number of books on
the subject. Her latest work on Prozac and similar anti-depressants
is due to be published next year.
She said: "This is a terrible story,
but unfortunately it is an everyday story for me. Young women, young
men, barristers, road sweepers - this can happen to anybody who is
put on the medication. What this man needed was a sedative to help
him sleep and counselling to find out what was worrying him.
"But unfortunately it is a lot easier
for doctors to pull out a prescription pad and write Prozac on
"Sometimes the homicidal and suicidal
feelings come immediately when people start taking Prozac."
Journal: Today's Voice of the North
Page 2: Doctors too quick to hand
out prescriptions - expert