(Angela Bischoff speaking with David Carmichael) Photo by Deanna Grant
A father has turned his personal tragedy into an initiative to spread awareness about the dangers of prescription drug misuse.
David Carmichael, who is the communications director for a group that offers information and help for prescription drug misuse, spoke about his experience at Ossington House in Toronto last Tuesday.
After misusing an antidepressant called Paxil in 2004, Carmichael killed his 11-year-old son, Ian. The court found Carmichael not criminally responsible for his son’s death.
“Absolutely no question, the drug made me manic,” says Carmichael.
In 2004, Carmichael was diagnosed with major depression and prescribed Paxil. Within months, he forgot to take his medicine for a few days and, feeling better, decided to wean himself off of the drug. After being off drugs for eight months, Carmichael experienced the same symptoms he felt the first time he was diagnosed. This time, he self-medicated with the highest dose allowed which led to a state that would later be diagnosed as psychosis. He hatched a “murder-suicide” plan to drown both he and his son. In the end, however, Carmichael did not follow through on the suicide.
After calling the police on himself, Carmichael was arrested. He was given multiple psychiatric assessments before he was put on trial. Diagnosed as psychotic, Carmichael was found not criminally responsible for killing his son. Since then, Carmichael made his work to help others who are dealing with prescription drug misuse by focusing on raising awareness.
Today, he is the communications director at Rxisk.org which is a website that tells the adverse effects of prescription drugs with testimonies. The information is written by users of the drugs and provides specific details about what people experience while taking the drug.
Carmichael argues that we need to have potential adverse effects of prescription drugs on labels as well as prescription sheets themselves.
“We have the right to know what we are consuming,” says Carmichael.
In 2013, Conservative Oakville MP Terence Young tabled a bill called Vanessa’s Law. The bill is named after his daughter Vanessa, 15, who died in 2000 from drug complications. If passed, Vanessa’s law would make it mandatory for all adverse drug effects to be made available to consumers.
The new law would also allow federal government to recall unsafe drugs, as well as impose new penalties for unsafe drugs—including jail time for drug company executives.
Carmichael says Canadians need to support Vanessa’s Law.
According to the Expert Working Group on Narcotic Addiction, “there was almost a 250 per cent increase in the number of emergency room visits related to narcotics withdrawal, overdose, intoxication, psychosis, harmful use and other related diagnoses” in Ontario between 2005 and 2010.
Carmichael was joined on stage by Angela Bischoff, organizer of the monthly ‘Oss Talks’, and an activist with a personal connection with what she calls the “anti-drug movement.” In 2004, her partner, activist and former Toronto mayoralty candidate Tooker Gomberg committed suicide while taking anti-depressants.
Larry Sasich, a pharmacist who attended Carmichael’s speech Tuesday, said there is a lack of accessible information about drugs in Canada.
“We don’t know the risks of these drugs. This is a very common misconception on the part of patients and a lot of health care professionals,” says Sasich.