An unnecessary death – A brief overview
An evening in mid-October 2011, 20-year-old Danilo was in his room at the Maritime college in Frederikshavn, Denmark and felt uncomfortable. He felt exhausted and unable to find peace. He had no family nearby, they were all at “Sjælland” – more than a five-hour train ride away from Frederikshavn. Danilo felt so bad that he went to the Emergency Medical Service in Frederikshavn for help. The doctor prescribed an antipsychotic pill for Danilo, after a superficial examination, sent him back to the college and advised him to contact a General Practitioner to get psychological treatment and/or further examination. Danilo did as he was told, and early the day after he called a General practitioner in Frederikshavn. But there was no help to get there. The Practitioner did not suggest a consultation, as Danilo had hoped for. Instead, he referred him to his usual doctor – in Hellerup 400 km away.
Happy Pills over the phone
Danilo, who still needed help, immediately called his own General Practotopner, Ole Knudsen, but here too Danilo was not invited to a personal consultation, so the doctor could evaluate him. Instead, the doctor spoke with Danilo eight minutes on the phone. Then he printed a prescription for antidepressants, commonly known as “happy pills”, of the brand Sertraline – and left Danilo to himself. In the following 11 days, Danilo followed the doctor’s recommendations about how many pills he should take, and after seven days, he doubled his dose, as he had been told, despite the fact that research has shown how dangerous high doses of Sertralin can be to young people. Meanwhile he got worse and worse. He complained of extreme headache, could not concentrate or sleep and had nausea.
On October 25, 11 days after Danilo had begun his recommended treatment with “happy pills”, he hanged himself from a crane on the Maritime College. Family and friends were shocked. Danilo had no history of mental illness, he had never before been on antidepressants and that he could kill himself, came as a shock to all who knew Danilo.
In the period after Danilo’s death the Terrida family started to realize that the rules for examination and prescription of antidepressants had been severely violated in the treatment of Danilo, as he was never called for a personal study.
He was given medicine without a proper diagnosis, he was never given information about the disease and about its effectiveness and side effects, and at no time, there was a follow-up to the treatment, despite the fact that it was a known fact that Sertralin could have serious side effects to young people. This means that Danilo was left to himself without any knowledge about the dangerous side effects these pills could have.
Fraud in the Halth Records
As the case unfolded, it became clear to Danilo’s parents, that the General Practitioner, Ole Knudsen, six months after Danilo’s death – against all rules – had been modifying and adding to Danilo’s health record. It was also clear that the Danish National Board of Health since 2003 had been aware that the medicine Sertraline gave an increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior among children and adolescents up to 25 years, but still did not change the guidelines for who were allowed to prescribe the medication to young people between 18 and 25 years. Additionally the Terrida family discovered that general practitioners neither then, nor today are trained to treat adolescents with antidepressants.
Criticism of General Practitioners
After three years of legal fighting with the various health authorities and review entities, it has now resulted in criticism of the two general practitioners who had contact with Danilo before he started on antidepressants. However, the family is amazed, that the criticism is not directed at the prescription of the medicine, that sent Danilo completely out of mental balance. Instead, it is only criticized that the medication was prescribed over the phone without any agreed follow-up and without informed consent. Further, the family Terrida is astonished that the practotopmers are not criticized for prescribing the medication, as they are fully convinced that Danilo should not have recieved antidepressants due to the absence of any diagnosis that justified the medicine. Danilo’s parents are also frustrated that the police and prosecutors have not taken legal action against the doctor despite the fact that the death has been recognized as a direct result of his treatment.
Avoid multiple deaths
Hoping to change the guidelines for the prescription of antidepressants to young people, the family Terrida has gone to the Parliamentary Ombudsman to get answers to some key questions from the Board of Helth. The information that could have saved Danilo’s life is in fact available, and can and should in the future be part of the way in which young people between 18 and 25 are treated with antidepressants. Only then, further suicide attempts and deaths can be avoided. This has also been submitted, by the Terrida family, to the Minister of Health, but without getting any real answers.
The Terrida family is still struggling to uncover the truth about Danilo’s death, so that those responsible can be held accountable.