Requiem for the Paxilated

“Prozac was introduced by Eli Lilly to the US market in January 1988. Zoloft and Paxil followed in 1991 and 1992, respectively. Some 45,000 reports of adverse reactions to Prozac have been filed with the FDA. These include reports of about 2500 deaths, with the large majority linked to suicide or violence.”

— Class Action America

On Tuesday, July 10th, Zheng Xiaoyu was executed in China. The former head of the State Food and Drug Administration was sentenced to death because of his agency’s approval of unsafe medicines and food products and his role in those approvals. According to the New York Times he “became the first ministerial-level official put to death since 2000 and the fourth …[in] 30 years…” The Times continued, “The official Xinhua news agency announced the execution, but did not say how Mr. Zheng was killed. In most cases, the court police execute prisoners by shooting them in the back of the head, though recently the police have also used lethal injections.”

Reports indicate that the death toll from Zheng’s bureaucratic streamlining numbered “dozens” in Panama who fell to a cough syrup tainted with diethylene glycol (imported from China) and mis-labeled as glycerin (NYT). The AP recalled “at least 10 people” who died from a suspect antibiotic. Most famously, many US pets fell to Big Box retailed food and treats containing melamine-laced Chinese wheat gluten.

It all just goes to show what a backward nation China really is. Killing a perfectly useful official is such a waste. We in the civilized world don’t do such things. Hell, such folks don’t even go to country-club prison over here. We believe in the rule of Law—-the Law that says jails and executioners are for working people with drowsy lawyers, or for famous young women who drive poorly, or famous older women who cook judiciously but invest rashly. Karla Faye Tucker (1959-98), Paris Hilton, Martha Stewart—these dangers to national probity and the public order must be dealt with sternly. Meanwhile, Irving “Scooter” Libby walks in the sun, along with Colin Powell, Henry Kissenger, Bill Clinton, Bush 41, and Bush 43.

But leaving genocidal war criminals aside for the moment, let’s ponder the state of drug administration in the USA, where FDA chiefs are safe from the policeman’s round or even a wrist-slapping, and drug company execs never even have to say they’re sorry for killing tens of thousands. Since the advent of a class of so-called “anti-depressant” drugs about 20 years ago, the courts and independent scientists have had lots of work. These “selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors” (SSRIs in the trade) work by boosting the amount of serotonin in the patient’s brains. Problem is that in some people, this chemical’s increase leads to “akathisia”—a profound agitation often leading to violence and suicide.

The drug companies apparently knew about this effect. Prozac’s developer, Eli Lilly noticed early that something was seemingly going on. Class Action America reports that, “Lilly’s own figures indicate that one in every 100 previously non-suicidal patients who took the drug in early clinical trials developed akathisia, causing them to attempt or commit suicide.” Dr. David Healy, a serotonin wonk and director of the North Wales department of Psychological Medicine at the University of Wales has estimated that, “probably 50,000 people have committed suicide on Prozac since its launch, over and above the number of those who would have done so if left untreated.”

Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported in 2003 on the testimony of coroner Geraint Williams. It seems that Colin Whitfield, a 56 year-old retired headteacher committed suicide soon after ingesting the SSRI, paroxetine or “Paxil”. Williams told the court of inquiry, ” I have grave concerns that this is a dangerous drug that should be withdrawn until at least detailed national studies are undertaken…I am profoundly disturbed by the effect this drug had on Colin Whitfield.” The Guardian also reported the verdict of a Cheyenne, Wyoming federal jury two years earlier. In that case, GlaxoKlineBeecham (now GlaxoSmithKline) “was ordered… to pay …[$6.4 million ] to the family of Donald Schell who killed his wife, daughter, baby granddaughter and then himself after two days on [Paxil].”

The report continued, “…evidence was given by British psychopharmacologist , David Healy…(see above) who was granted access to GlaxoSmithKline’s archives. He found that a small number of volunteers in perfect health, who took part in early trials of the drug, had become very agitated or suicidal.” Glaxo et al were the subject of a class action suit over past damage from Paxil. They settled the case for a cool $63.8 million. You probably didn’t hear much about that one. Though the papers and distractionist electronic media are full of personal violence stories, they don’t go near the tale of profit-based murder or the union of corporate greed and revolving door regulators who sponsor it.

You won’t hear about Matthew Miller, a boy of 13 who committed suicide after less than a week of Zoloft swallowing; or the sad 1993 case of William Forsyth who, in a fit of akathisia, stabbed his wife 15 times as she lay in bed and then laid on the knife himself; or British teacher Reginald Payne, 63, who after 11 days of Prozac suffocated his wife and then threw himself off a cliff. You won’t read the details of Colin Whitfield’s death—-a man who only days before had been talking about the future—locking himself in a garden shed and opening his wrists while his daughter slept only feet away.

Those stories aren’t good for business, so they can’t be told. And the people responsible for those thousands of deaths won’t, like that backward Chinese bureaucrat, have their brains spattered or their hearts chemically arrested. No, this is a civilized country, a beacon to the world, where the little people pay and bleed and the powerful …. Prevail.

RICHARD RHAMES is a dirt-farmer in Biddeford, Maine whose place is just north of the Kennebunkport town line. When the swaggering cod-piece king is in town one dreams of Paris. He can be reached at:




Richard Rhames is a dirt-farmer in Biddeford, Maine (just north of the Kennebunkport town line). He can be reached at: