August 10, 2004
Drug leads to sonís suicide, family saysBy MEG
Had she known in May what she knows know, Wanda Custance said she
might have been able to save the life of her scholar-athlete son.
Hoping to spare other families a tragedy like their own, Wanda
and Gary Custance urge relatives to frequently check in with loved
ones who are taking anti-depressants.
"People who are prescribed these drugs, they really have to be
monitored closely," she said. "I felt I wasnít all that aware, other
than I didnít like the idea of him taking it."
Perry Custance, a 22-year-old senior at Oregon Institute of
Technology, had been a distance runner from South Medford High
School, and held the schoolís records in the 1,500- and 3,000-meter
run. He also was the all-American scholar-athlete honor at OIT in
Wanda said she knew her son was prescribed the anti-depressant
Lexapro around the first of April after he sought treatment for a
side ache and lower back pain. Perry took the medication until June.
think he stopped taking it probably around the third or fourth (of
June)," his mother said. And then it was the weekend of June 12 that
Perry died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound near his
family home outside Ruch.
"His friends had said heíd gotten really, really down about a
week before the suicide," she said, adding that his handwritten
class notes were illegible during that time.
Because Perry was an adult, his medical records are not available
to his parents. But as far as they knew, their son was not
Lexapro is approved for the treatment of anxiety and major
depression, and no other medical uses are listed on the
manufacturerís Web site. The site warns that discontinuing the
medication against a doctorís advice might worsen depression or
Newer anti-depressants such as Lexapro, known as selective
serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), have come under recent
In March, the Food and Drug Administration asked makers of SSRIs
to include warnings that children and adults might become more
depressed or suicidal while taking them, and close supervision ó
particularly at the start of treatment ó is required.
The affected drugs include Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Luvox, Celexa,
Lexapro, Wellbutrin, Effexor, Serzone and Remeron. More information
is available at http://www.fda.gov/ on the Web.
Gary Custance wishes he had known about the warning.
"I would have liked to have seen a warning label on the bottle,"
Gary Custance said his sonís May 12 prescription bottle had no
The warnings are included in the drugís package insert, according
to an Oregon Health & Sciences University specialist.
James Hancey, assistant professor of psychiatry at OHSU, said
upon hearing the familyís story, he doesnít think the medication
caused Perry to take his own life.
"Too often people will start to feel better, then decide they
donít need their medications any more, and they stop them," he said.
"Because he went off the medication, the depression returned."
Hancey said medical literature for Lexapro does not suggest any
correlation between stopping the medication, time passing, and then
a suicide occurring.
"It was more likely a return of the underlying major depressive
symptoms," he said.
He said that by and large, the anti-depressants end up saving
lives although thereís no way to track the number of prevented
But Perryís father doesnít buy it.
Gary Custance doesnít believe his son would have ended his life
had he never taken Lexapro, but once he was on it, he should have
stayed on it.
"Thereís a serious problem with coming down from this stuff," he
said, adding that his son should have had more intensive medical
supervision. "They didnít monitor it like they should have."
Wanda Custance said questions that remain unanswered make her
sonís death more painful.
"I donít want to see anybody go through this," she said.
Reach reporter Meg Landers at 776-4481 or e-mail mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org?subject=Drug
leads to sonís suicide, family says