Over the last twenty years, the use of antidepressants and other psychiatric medications has exploded. It is now estimated that 1 in 5 adults will take mental health drugs. Once a person goes on a mental health medication, the usage often becomes long term. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 62% of Americans age 12 and over who take antidepressants have been taking the medication for two years or longer.
Whether a patient is on a psychiatric medication one year, five year or ten years, the standard of care requires that the ordering physician follow up with the patient. After all, many psychiatric medications have potentially serious side effects which can include an increased risk of suicide. Widow Janice Mazella lost her husband, Jose Mazella, three years ago to suicide after he had been taking antidepressant medication for over ten years without any follow up visits scheduled by his ordering physician. Just recently, a jury found the physician responsible for Jose Mazella's death following a three week medical malpractice trial.
High School basketball Jose Mazella was on the antidepressant, Paxil, for over ten years. He had been prescribed the mediation by his physician, Dr. William Beals. During those ten years, Dr. Beals simply continued to fill Mazella's medication over the phone without ever seeing him to assess how he was doing. According to his wife Janice, Jose would complain "he felt like his head was on fire." He would sometimes say "I wish I could just open my head up and hose it off and close it back up again. Then I'd feel OK."
In August 2009, Dr. Beals doubled Mazella's dosage of Paxil and put him on another antidepressant after Mazella said he was experiencing anxiety attacks. Shortly thereafter, Mazella went to the hospital with, what he thought, was a heart attack. After this was ruled out, Mazella went to see Dr. Beals for his first office visit in ten years. According to Janice, Dr. Beals was so angry that Mazella went to the hospital and disclosed that Dr. Beals had been prescribing medications without any follow up visits that he threw Mazella out of his office. Soon thereafter, Mazella was seen by a new psychiatrist, Dr. Elisabeth Mashinic, who switched Mazella from Paxil to three other antidepressant medications. However, Dr. Maschnic never scheduled a follow up examination, herself, to evaluate how Mazella was doing with the new medication regiment. For the next three weeks, Mazella was experiencing severe side effects. He complained his head was "burning" and he felt like "hot poison was going through his veins." Soon thereafter, Janice found her husband dead in their garage. He had committed suicide.
It took the jury two days of deliberation before finding Dr. Beals responsible for Jose Mazella's death. Although the jury also found Dr. Mashnic committed medical malpractice by failing to order a follow up visit with Mazella, they found that her negligence did not cause Mazella's death. Instead, they found that Dr. Beals was 100% responsible for Mazella's death by, among other things, prescribing psychiatric medication to his patient for over ten years without ever seeing the patient.
As this case illustrates, psychiatric medications can cause serious side effects, including an increased risk of suicide. Physicians who prescribe these medications must follow up with their patients. Blindly prescribing psychiatric medications for years without ever seeing the patient is a deviation from the standard of care. If this deviation from the standard of care results in a patient's death, the physician is guilty of medical malpractice and should be held responsible.
Time Magazine, Report: 1 In 5 Adult Take Mental Health Drugs, November 16, 2011.
Wall Street Journal, The Medication Generation, June 29, 2012.
The Post-Standards, Widow Of Former Henninger High Coach Jose Mazella Wins $1.5M In Lawsuit Over Suicide, November 21, 2012.