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Home / Courier Times
Canceled hearing leaves mom in limbo
By MARION CALLAHAN
Bucks County Courier Times

Kathy Woodward was finally hoping to get some answers.

Top pharmaceutical industry officials and the Food and Drug Administration were scheduled to meet Tuesday to share with Congress what they know about the risks associated with antidepressants.

Woodward, of North Wales, who believes her teenage daughter's suicide death was linked to side effects from an antidepressant, planned to be at the high-profile congressional hearing in hopes of learning why several studies critical of the drugs are kept secret.

She's still waiting for those answers.

Two days before the hearing, she learned it was canceled and that Rep. James Greenwood, R-8, the person she considered her chief advocate in getting drug companies to release these studies, was considering a job with Biotechnology Industry Organization, whose members include pharmaceutical companies.

"Everyone was completely shocked that one, he would leave without holding this meeting and, two, where he's going," she said. "We were so close to getting these pharmaceutical executives to testify before Congress. Now, it's all up in the air. It is unbelievable that he would announce his early 'retirement' forcing the postponement of this critical meeting."

Greenwood chairs the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee responsible for investigating public health issues. He was the driving force behind Tuesday's scheduled hearing, "Publication and Disclosure Issues in Anti-Depressant Pediatric Clinical Trials."

He wanted to make public a clinical study by FDA scientist Dr. Andrew Mosholder reportedly linking several antidepressants with increased rates of suicide. The hearing was expected to explore what clinical trial data the drug companies should make public and the role of the FDA.

The lineup of testifiers included representatives from pharmaceutical giants Glaxo SmithKline, Eli Lilly, Pfizer Inc. and Wyeth, all of which manufacture antidepressants and are members of BIO, the trade association Greenwood might join.

Representatives of the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and top FDA officials were also scheduled to testify.

Larry Neal, spokesman for the energy and commerce committee, said the hearing's cancellation had nothing to do with Greenwood's job status. Instead, he said, the hearing was postponed because the subcommittee's lead counsel was called out of town. Woodward, however, doesn't buy that explanation. On Sunday, she said, she was told by Greenwood's aides that the cancellation occurred because of "personal reasons."

"It doesn't make sense why this is happening," Woodward said. "Why not do this important hearing and then take the job. Why two days before?"

Woodward has worked to warn the public about possible dangers of antidepressants since her 17-year-old daughter, Julie, hanged herself in the detached garage of her home on July 22, 2003. Kathy and her husband, Tom, believe her death was linked to side effects from Zoloft, an antidepressant Julie started that week.

The risks of prescribing antidepressants for children and teenagers have come into the national spotlight this year on several fronts. While some psychiatrists believe the drugs can help in treating depression, they stress the need for careful monitoring of young patients. Woodward said she was never warned the drugs could have dangerous side effects.

Greenwood decided to investigate potential dangers for young people who use antidepressants three months after the suicide of a Bensalem woman who was participating in a clinical trial in Indianapolis for an antidepressant at the time of her death.

Greenwood said he began gathering data even before the Feb. 3 death of Traci Johnson, 19.

Last spring, Greenwood said he began investigating U.S. policies on pediatric drug testing after reading articles about the European medical community's concerns over antidepressants causing suicidal tendencies in children. At the time, he said, parents should have access to all information, even reports that did not come from the FDA or American researchers, he said.

The Courier Times was unsuccessful Wednesday in reaching Greenwood for comment.

Marion Callahan can be reached at 215-345-3166 or mcallahan@phillyBurbs.com.

July 22, 2004 5:07 AM
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