Drug label alert after man took his own life

Reporter: Lewis Jones
Date published: 30 March 2011

THERE are worries over the labelling of prescription drug side effects after an Oldham man killed himself while taking anti-depressants.

Coroner Simon Nelson has warned against the dangers of “baffling” amounts of small print that accompany prescription drugs — which sometimes mean users miss vital information.

Former British Aerospace inspector Peter Needham hanged himself at his home in Springhead last November. An inquest at Oldham Coroners Court yesterday heard how his body was discovered by his father, David.

Described as a sociable and popular man, 40-year-old Peter had been diagnosed with diabetes last March and prescribed a drug to deal with a tingling sensation in his foot. But the medication, Duloxetine, is also used as an anti-depressant and has been linked with suicidal thoughts.

After voicing concerns about feeling down he was prescribed a different anti-depressant, Sertraline, five days before his death.

It was discovered that only two days after taking the drug — which also lists suicidal thoughts as a side-effect — he had visited several websites on how to take his own life.

At the time Mr Needham was recovering from a split with his girl friend, but his family said they did not think he intended to kill himself.

Coroner Simon Nelson recorded a narrative verdict that he had taken his own life while the balance of his mind was disturbed. But he said it was “difficult to ignore” the link between him taking the medication and his death.

The coroner is to write to the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and British Medical Association to raise his concerns about prescription-medicine labelling.

Holding up a page filled with small-print instructions, he said: “To the untrained eye and in particular the first-time user this would be completely off-putting.

“To discover those warnings half way down the small print is wholly inappropriate.

“The manner in which these warnings are brought to the attention of users has to be reconsidered.”

A request for a verdict of accidental death from the family was turned down.

David Needham said: “All those that knew him know him as a very normal, happy, sociable lovely guy. He was a beautiful son.

“He described taking the pills as like a pendulum effect, he would feel happy at first but then the total opposite.

“In the sense of a crusade I am pleased the recommendation will be made and I wish it well and hope something comes of it.”