Editorial Note: The post is by David Carmichael, who has coined the terms “Prescripticide” for a death that is caused by an adverse reaction to a prescription drug.
In October and November 2015, Julie Wood published a 5-part RxISK.org series of blog posts about SSRI antidepressants and violence. It was based on the biomedical model developed to explain how someone can experience antidepressant-induced akathisia, emotional blunting and delirium-psychosis that can lead to violence, including suicide and homicide – explained in Part 3 of Julie Wood’s series.
What I experienced in 2004 is well aligned with this biomedical model, and I believe it may be very important for people to know my story. So I am writing this blog post, in detail, for the first time, about my own Paxil-induced homicide.
In late November, I talked about Ms. Wood’s posts with American filmmaker and news correspondent Charles Tudor in Virginia Beach. I was meeting with Charles and Anelia Sutton, the mother of a young woman named Lorita Aiken who attempted to take the life of her 2 children and herself in November 2013 in a state of delirium-psychosis 15 days after starting the SSRI Celexa while she was already on Wellbutrin, Ativan and Ambien. In June 2015, Lorita was found not guilty of the attempted murders by reason of insanity and sent to Central State Hospital in Petersburg, Virginia.
When I was meeting with Charles and Anelia, I told Charles that adverse reactions to SSRIs are causing people to commit suicide and homicide, and, in fact, adverse reactions to prescription drugs are the 4th leading cause of death in Canada after cancer, heart disease and stroke. He asked me to come up with a word, just a single word, to explain what is happening. The word I came up with was “prescripticide.”
On July 31, 2004, in Canada, my 11-year-old son Ian died from prescripticide. Over a 3-week period, I changed completely from being a loving, caring and nurturing father of 2 beautiful children to taking the life of my beloved son Ian, in a calm, organized state of delirium-psychosis. I was charged with first degree murder. It all started with what I now describe as my nervous breakdown in early July.
At the beginning of July 2004, I was sleep deprived and exhausted from contract work, particularly from my job as director of a Toronto summer day camp. With no real warning, I started shaking in the shower. Soon after, I broke down in a nervous system collapse. I had little energy, couldn’t eat and was having serious difficulty concentrating. I had a full prescription of Paxil from a similar experience a year before, diagnosed by my family doctor as depression, which I had stopped taking a few months earlier.
So on July 8, I put myself back on 40mg a day. That was the beginning of the end of Ian’s life, and to the end of our family as we knew it.
Almost immediately after starting to take Paxil again, I became agitated and irritated. I remember having to get up and walk because I couldn’t sit still without my legs trembling. I started feeling anxious and incredibly negative thoughts began to race through my mind – which I didn’t have before I started Paxil. I didn’t realize I was experiencing akathisia, a side-effect of Paxil. I thought my depression was getting worse.
I put a mattress on the floor of my home office in the basement. I could hardly get out of bed to shower in the morning and was pacing the floor in the middle of the night because of the anxiety. The pacing did nothing to calm me down. In fact, my anxiety, agitation and level of irritation grew worse.
Although I was able to stay away from the summer camp for a few days, I decided to go to work again the next week. By the middle of the week, I was thinking seriously about committing suicide while I was watching children play in the gym.
The suicidal thoughts became intense. I went from thinking about it to looking for a place where I could commit suicide. There were climbing ropes behind the curtains in the gym. I thought it might be possible for me to hang myself from a rope without anyone knowing.
I knew there was something wrong with my thinking, but I assumed that it was because my depression was getting worse. On July 16, my 46th birthday, I increased my daily dosage of Paxil from 40 to 60mg to try and help myself. I knew my family doctor had prescribed that dose to other patients, and the 60 mg dose was listed as the maximum recommended dosage in the Guide to Drugs in Canada, published by the Canadian Pharmacists Association.
I believed that taking the maximum dosage would help me recover more quickly, just like taking 2 aspirin instead of 1 to get rid of a headache.
My akathisia got worse over the July 17-18 weekend, but by Monday things seemed to be settling down. I was feeling a little less shaky and more energetic, but tragically, my suicidal thoughts, which got more intense after increasing the dosage of Paxil to 60mg, now seemed perfectly logical to me.
When I got out of bed on Monday morning, I decided that this was going to be the day that I would end my life. I put my plan together in the shower. I was going to leave home, drive to a family friend’s house where I thought the garage would be empty, drive my car into the garage, attach a garden hose to the exhaust pipe of my car with duct tape, put the other end of the hose through my car window and seal it with duct tape, and then sit inside my running car until it was over.
I wasn’t anxious while I was planning my suicide. I was looking forward to the outcome as relief. My distorted mind was thinking that my family would be better off without me. I knew that it would surprise my wife Elizabeth, daughter Gillian and Ian but, unbelievably, I was not worried about them or their future – something completely and incredibly uncharacteristic of me.
I put a hose and duct tape inside my car, drove to the house and waited on the road, but our family friend’s vehicle didn’t leave the garage. My plan was ruined and I couldn’t think of another place where I could discreetly run a hose into my car because if I was going to commit suicide, I didn’t want to fail. So I went home, put the hose and duct tape away and went back into my basement office, which had become my bedroom.
For the next few days, I was able to get into a routine. I would get up, shower, get dressed and go to the day camp I was directing for part of the day. My behavior was probably seen by the camp staff as returning to normal. I was able to function again, physically. But my mind was getting even more distorted and I stopped caring and worrying about things in my life. I became unemotional.
By the end of the week, my mind was filled with distorted thoughts that made sense to me. I hardly needed to sleep so my mind kept racing. I had talked with Ian a few times during the week and decided that instead of just me committing suicide, I should take Ian’s life as well because of the incredibly difficult time which I perceived he was going through.
Of course, this wasn’t true. Several months earlier, Ian was diagnosed with mild epilepsy and he had a minor learning disability. Both of these things were of little concern to me until I started becoming delirious and psychotic on Paxil. Ian was a late developing child but was very successful at things that he enjoyed, particularly riding his BMX bike. But in my delusional mind, I believed Ian was in living hell because he used to get teased every so often by other children and I thought he had permanent brain damage because of his epilepsy. So I planned my own death and my son’s.
My plan was that at our family cottage on the weekend of July 24-25, I was going to take Ian out in our small boat, tie a rope around both of us with the anchor attached and throw it overboard, drowning us. Gillian was at a residential summer camp so all I had to do was wait for Elizabeth to go for a run. On Sunday morning, while Elizabeth was running, I asked Ian to put on his bathing suit so we could go for a boat ride and I went to get my bathing suit on. It was not in my bag. I had forgotten to pack it. Instead of putting on a pair of shorts, my mind darkened and I began to think that my missing bathing suit was a message to me from God that I was not supposed to die, that only Ian was supposed to die.
My delusions became even more intense over the next few days and at the same time my outward behavior was returning to normal. I was calm and began to be able to communicate effectively with people again. But in my mind I was now on a mission from God to put Ian in a better place, heaven.
When I returned to camp on Monday, I could hardly think about anything other than Ian. He was a camper this week so I watched his behavior closely. I saw him playing rough with a few other boys in the gym that morning so I removed him from the camp and we spent Monday afternoon together.
We talked for almost 2 hours in our van in a mall parking lot, mostly about how he was feeling about himself. Even though I now look back at several of his comments as those of a normal fun loving child, I became obsessed with a few sad things that he shared with me. By Monday evening, I was even more convinced in my delusional mind that Ian would be better off in heaven because he was in living hell, that he had permanent brain damage, he was going to kill Gillian, he was going to cause Elizabeth to have a nervous breakdown, and he was going to hurt other children. I started building my plan to end Ian’s life.
I decided that the best way for me to take Ian’s life was to poison him, so I calmly started planning a trip to a popular indoor BMX park close to London, Ontario for Saturday. I thought that I could poison him and he would die in his sleep. So on July 27, I purchased a box of over-the-counter sleeping medication from a local drug store, went home and poured the liquid from each capsule into a vial.
On July 28, I dropped into camp but spent most of the day at home. I researched, again calmly, how much time I would be spending in prison for first degree murder and what prison life was going to be like. I wasn’t worried. I knew, in my wildly distorted thinking, that taking Ian’s life was the right thing to do and that God didn’t want me to die with him.
When Ian got home from camp on July 30, I told him about our trip to the indoor BMX park on Saturday and asked him to pack his bag. He was very excited. We were going to the same hotel in London that we had stayed at before. When our bags were packed and in the van, Elizabeth said goodbye. I told Ian to tell his mom that he loved her. He did, and Elizabeth said it back. And then I calmly drove off.
My behavior had returned to normal. I was calm and Elizabeth would have had no reason to be concerned without knowing what I was thinking and planning, which I didn’t share with her. In my delusional state, I was convinced that I was saving Ian from living hell, saving Gillian and Elizabeth and saving other children. I thought I was protecting them and as a loving father who did the right thing, I would sacrifice my life by spending the next 25 years in prison.
We checked into the hotel around 8pm. After we settled in, we ordered room service. Since I thought of this as Ian’s Last Supper, in a biblical sense, we had his favorite foods. After dinner, I ordered a movie that he really liked. Just after 10pm, I poured the vial of sleeping medication into a glass of orange juice, along with Ian’s epilepsy medication, and he drank it.
The sleeping medication didn’t put Ian to sleep. He started to visually hallucinate. After the movie was over, we watched television and Ian kept talking about seeing things. We were both wide awake and bouncing from bed to bed, laughing and talking about his hallucinations until close to 3am when, in a calm, psychotic state, I strangled my only son.
I moved Ian’s lifeless body to the center of the bed, put his hands across his chest, kissed him on the lips and told him that “I love you, I’m really going to miss you, but you’re in a better place now.”
I turned on the television in the sitting area and watched it with no emotion for almost 6 hours. After showering, packing up our bags and putting them into the van, I calmly called 911 at 9am and told the dispatcher I was reporting a homicide. I was arrested and charged with first degree murder.
It wasn’t until 2 weeks later, when I was on suicide watch in jail and had been off Paxil since my arrest that I began to clearly understand what had happened – the reality of my son’s loss of life. As I became less psychotic and no longer emotionally blunted, I cried uncontrollably, unable to stop for three days, knowing that Ian was gone forever and our family was destroyed. The tears and pain are still with me, and will be forever.