An article in The Telegraph last month was accompanied by the headline “Antidepressants during pregnancy doubles the risk of autism”. The information had been taken for the most part from a Canadian study which concluded: “Use of antidepressants, specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, during the second and/or third trimester, increases the risk of ASD in children, even after considering maternal depression.”
Yesterday’s Sunday Express included a powerful interview which highlighted another way in which SSRI antidepressants like Citalopram can cause tragic consequences for the unborn child through severe birth defects and miscarriages.
Cheryl Buchanan (top), from Glasgow, was forced to take the heart-breaking decision to terminate her pregnancy after doctors discovered her unborn baby had virtually no chance of survival.
She had been told by her GP that it was safe to continue taking Citalopram throughout her pregnancy. However, after losing her first child, a daughter, at 23 weeks, she discovered that a consultant had flagged up her case as a “suspected adverse drug reaction“.
Cheryl was suffering from anxiety after being badly bullied at high school and had been taking antidepressants for around a decade when she became pregnant. Cheryl said: “By the time I was expecting Taylor I was completely oblivious to the damage I was about to do to my baby. I was so excited when we headed for the 12-week scan, I had no idea things could go wrong.
“The sonographer pointed out my daughter’s heart and head and so on but then stopped all of a sudden and went quiet. She excused herself to get a consultant who told me my baby was very ill with a series of anomalies. They recommended a termination but I was adamant to give my child a chance until it became obvious she would have no quality of life if she even survived.”
Two years ago, Cheryl told author and activist Bob Fiddaman (right): “The scan, and subsequent scans, detected a series of anomalies. The most severe of which included suspected diaphragmatic hernia or eventration, long bone immobility (I had never felt her move but as this was my first pregnancy I didn’t know, I had nothing to compare it to), a cystic hygroma, unilateral cleft hand and microgynathia. I was also told that she might have brain damage which would explain the fact she didn’t (or possibly couldn’t) move.
“The post mortem revealed half of my daughter’s diaphragm was absent, her lungs were very small, some of her organs had moved up into the thoracic region. Her neck had webbing, nose was small, chin recessed. No one could tell me why this had happened, my consultant tried his best, geneticists looked at my files but no one had a reason why my baby’s development had gone so catastrophically wrong. I was thoroughly reassured Citalopram was not to blame.”
In June 2004, little Taylor was cremated and Ms Buchanan was told there were no remains. It wasn’t until after the Baby Ashes Scandal broke two years ago that she discovered from her medical notes that her consultant had contacted the MHRA about her case.
Cheryl said: “It was a Yellow Card Warning advising them of the outcome of my pregnancy and that I had taken Citalopram. I was devastated. When I searched the web for Citalopram and birth defects I was horrified to find there were 385,000 results. My blood was boiling.”
She has since been in touch with Lundbeck, the Danish pharmaceutical company which makes the drug, and asked them to investigate her case.
Cheryl added: “To me, it is blatantly obvious that Citalopram killed my baby, but I can’t find a lawyer to help me fight my corner. I genuinely believe that any expectant mother still on Citalopram should come off it.”
Cheryl stopped taking the drug as soon as she discovered she was expecting her second child and went on to have a healthy daughter, Charlotte, now nine.
In the UK, Lundbeck’s Medical Director is Dr Andrew Jones. Having been shown in the past copies of letters written by Dr Jones, I would think that his mission statement may be “first admit no harm”, and his job description to deny that his paymasters’ products are in any way responsible for damage done.
Dr Jones told the Express journalist that there was “considerable evidence” to show that women who stop taking antidepressants during pregnancy are more likely to suffer a recurrence with “greater risks to the woman and her unborn child than the potential risks of exposure to the medication“. What he didn’t say was that the risks would be those that are linked to the horrendous withdrawal symptoms that can arise after sudden cessation of the drug at any time, not just during pregnancy.
He also told the journalist: “We are familiar with Ms Buchanan and have supported her with the information she has requested.”
The extent of Dr Jones’s “support” can be seen by what he wrote to Cheryl when she asked if Citalopram could cause birth defects. His reply was: “...there is no evidence to indicate that usage of Citalopram in pregnancy increases the risk of birth defects over the background risk in general population.”
We’ll take that as a “yes”, then.
Far from being defeated by her experiences and the treatment she has received from Lundbeck et al, Cheryl Buchanan has emerged with a determination to right some of the wrongs that affected her. She is now urging all expectant mothers to come off Citalopram, saying: “If I can save one woman the agony of miscarriage and one baby’s life by going public it’s been worth it.”
Cheryl said in an interview last year: “I will not be a hypocrite and blindly continue taking a medication I don’t need. I’m not ‘depressed’. I’m sad, of course, and extremely angry, but these emotions are what make me human, and I have a right to feel sad at the loss of my child and everything that has come along with it.
“I also have a right to be angry, knowing that, had psychiatry and Big Pharma not wormed their way into my life at such a young age, I would not be in this position just now. But I cannot change the past; only use what has happened to me to try to help others.
“I think that’s what my daughter would have wanted.”
”Lundbeck: Contradiction in Terms” (Bob Fiddaman)