A father who has lost two sons to war told The Daily Caller that the U.S. Central Command’s policy of allowing troops to deploy with a 180-day supply of the antipsychotic Seroquel has contributed to the deaths of troops and veterans. Seroquel, he said, has tragic side effects that military leaders have ignored in their quest to combat insomnia and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among fighting men and women.
The father, West Virginia school principal Stan White, said there are better ways to treat troops and veterans who suffer from PTSD. But because the maker of Seroquel, London-based AstraZeneca, has so much influence over Congress and the military, he insisted, that peer counseling and other treatment options are being shoved aside in favor of low doses of the drug.
White’s suspicions are slowly being validated by a series of studies, legal settlements, and military rulings — including a recommendation from the Department of Defense’s own advisory body on pharmaceuticals.
“I think AstraZeneca is so strong and has so much power that no one can speak out,” said White, who has remained stoic despite his losses. “Money talks. I truly believe AstraZeneca and other big pharma companies have control over Congress.”
His first son, Army Sgt. Robert White, died in combat in Iraq. When Robert’s younger brother Andrew returned from his own tour in the Middle Eastern country, a Veterans Administration doctor prescribed a combination of Seroquel and antidepressants for his PTSD.
Andrew died at home, and the state of West Virginia ruled that an accidental medication overdose was to blame.
But his father believes the “dangerous” pill cocktail killed him. And he told TheDC that he has identified 300 other soldiers and veterans who died from sudden cardiac arrest while taking Seroquel and antidepressants in combination.
Seroquel has been on the market since 1997, and in that time doctors have widely experimented with prescribing it for “off-label” purposes that the FDA has not approved. The drug, a mood stabilizer, is approved to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, but it has also been used to treat insomnia in Parkinson’s disease patients, dementia in adults of all ages, and a variety of disorders in children.
Evidence supporting his theory has continued to accumulate, including a September 2011 study from the European Society of Cardiology which linked the “combined use of antipsychotic and antidepressant drugs” with an increased risk of sudden heart attacks.
Doctors have free rein to prescribe medications for off-label uses, and the FDA’s ever-growing avalanche of advisories sometimes makes it difficult for physicians to know what has been approved and what has not.
A 2009 University of Chicago national survey of physicians, for instance, found that one in eight doctors thought Seroquel was approved for treating dementia, even though the FDA had issued a specific warning against it.
Drug marketers, however, are forbidden to promote their products for any purpose not approved by the FDA.
In April 2010 AstraZeneca conceded that it had crossed that line, agreeing to pay the U.S. government $520 million to settle claims related to its illegal promotion of Seroquel for off-label uses.
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