Not all overdoses of prescription drugs are recreational; some are quite intentional. Here’s the story of my son’s suicide.
Julian was 20 when he died. He’d battled depression since the onset of puberty. He’d been in and out of treatment several times. He was on various prescribed anti-depressants at any given time. As a young man, ashamed about his condition, he fought the idea of having to be medicated, even though – when he complied with his doctor’s instructions, and took his meds regularly (i.e., every day at the prescribed dosage without combining with alcohol) – his symptoms abated, and his life felt a little more under control. His father and I repeatedly encouraged him to stay on his meds because we saw the difference it could make in his ability to get through the day.
But have you ever read the informational sheets that come with some of these drugs? Have you ever noticed that one of the dangers of these drugs is an INCREASED RISK OF SUICIDE? How does this make sense? Why would a drug (ostensibly created and designed for the purpose of treating depression) that presents such a risk even be on the market, or available to depressed patients in amounts exceeding a fatal dosage? Why put in the hands of a distressed and often desperate young (or even old) person a 30-day supply of a drug that could kill him or her if taken all at once? Does it make sense for a patient to walk into a doctor’s office, say “I’m depressed and sometimes I think about killing myself”, and prescribing for this patient enough of a drug to overdose on? This is what happened to my son.
He was visiting a brand new psychiatrist who was not very familiar with Julian’s mental health history. Really, all she knew about him was what he was willing to reveal in that first appointment with him. And he had done his research before arriving at her office. He knew which anti-depressants were most sedating, and this is the type of drug he requested she prescribe for him. She readily complied. When she asked him about his thoughts of suicide – which hopefully, she did – he probably lied to her. He wanted to die. And she, despite all the capital letters after her name, was not a mind reader. With prescription in hand, my son then forged it (I don’t know how) to indicate he could refill the prescription once. He went to CVS and filled the prescription – a 30-day supply. He then went to CVS the following day – I’m not making this up – and got an additional 30-day supply on the forged refill.
Why the pharmacy gave him a refill the NEXT day is a mystery. Maybe Julian lied to them about why he needed the refill so soon. But he was paying cash, so there was no insurance company to limit his ability to get more than 30 days’ worth. With a 60-day supply of a very sedating anti-depressant, my son committed suicide. Thankfully, he fell asleep and at some point in the middle of the night, he just stopped breathing.
I have some training in the field of mental health, so I realize that medicating conditions such as depression is a very complicated and delicate process. I recognize that the same drug at the same dosage in two different people’s brains can have very different effects; psychology is a “soft” science because there are countless variables, just from one person to the next. And I know that anti-depressants do offer relief to many. I’m not advocating that we stop giving depressed people drugs, as some have advocated. It’s just not that black or white an issue.
But here’s what I want to propose…when psychiatrists (or whoever in your state is licensed to prescribe psycho-pharmaceuticals) are meeting a patient for the first time, don’t be so quick to write that prescription. If you are prescribing a drug that runs ANY chance of increasing the risk of suicide (either by taking too much of it, OR by suddenly ceasing to take it), then prescribe 5 days’ worth and have the patient come back for a refill. At least then, you’re getting a second chance to observe the patient, and you’re not sending them home with a lethal dose right off the bat.
Additionally, pharmaceutical companies should not rush to market with drugs that are supposed to treat depression but which run the risk of causing DEATH when put in the hands of depressed people! I mean, how is that logical? And the FDA? Wake up people and do your jobs! Of course, I’m not naive enough to think that the pharmaceutical industry would consider decreasing its profits just to save some lives.
But hey…a person can dream. I dream of my son being alive. Graduating from college. Getting married. Having a child or ten. Being happy – even if it means a daily dose of some non-lethal anti-depressant. This is my dream.