A Zoloft Murder???

On November 7, 2015 · 0 Comments

The murder/suicide of actor Phil Hartman and his wife stunned the nation a year ago, and now the aftershocks are being felt. The late actor’s brother-in-law, Gregory Omdahl, is suing Pfizer and a psychiatrist, claiming that his sister was under the influence of the antidepressant drug Zoloft when she killed her husband and herself.

Hartman, 49, star of the NBC sitcom NewsRadio, was shot by Brynn Omdahl Hartman, 40, who killed herself four hours later in the early morning hours of May 28, 1998.

Gregory Omdahl, brother of Mrs. Hartman and executor of the Hartman estate and conservator for their two children, filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court on May 27, charging that Pfizer, which makes Zoloft, “had done all that it can to downplay the possibility that Zoloft causes violence or suicide in some people.”

Omdahl acknowledged that an autopsy found alcohol and cocaine in his sister’s body but said she snorted the cocaine after killing her husband.

Omdahl also sued Arthur Sorosky, M.D., the Los Angeles psychiatrist who gave Brynn Hartman samples of Zoloft.

Omdahl charged that Pfizer aggressively marketed the drug by giving to physicians samples that failed to carry warnings of side effects, according to a news report from Reuters.

The lawsuit claims that Sorosky gave Mrs. Hartman samples of Zoloft on March 26, 1998. It further alleges that, in the weeks before the shootings, Brynn Hartman told friends that the drug was having adverse effects on her and that she felt “weird . . . like she was going to jump out of her skin.” The lawsuit claims that those symptoms described a dangerous condition known as “akathisia,” which can give rise to suicide or violence.

Celeste Torello, a spokesperson for Pfizer, New York City; said, “We are extremely confident that the case will either be dismissed or we will be completely vindicated. There is just no medical or scientific evidence that shows any relationship between Zoloft and the behavior that Brynn Hartman exhibited.”

The package insert for Zoloft (sertraline hydrochloride) describes the drug as an antidepressant for oral administration “whose efficacy has been established in trials on patients diagnosed with a major depressive disorder.” Under the heading “Suicide,” the insert states: “The possibility of a suicide attempt is inherent in depression and may persist until significant remission occurs.

Close supervision of high risk patients should accompany initial drug therapy. Prescriptions for Zoloft should be written for the smallest quantity of tablets consistent with good patient management.”

Additionally, under “Information for Patients,” the insert advises physicians to discuss with patients for whom they prescribe Zoloft that “although Zoloft has not been shown in experiments with normal subjects to increase the mental and motor skill impairments caused by alcohol, the concomitant use of Zoloft and alcohol in depressed patients is not advised.”

Mrs. Hartman had spent the evening before she shot her husband drinking with a female friend.

Could a tragedy such as this have been prevented by an alert person who was able to recognize the serious nature of Brynn Hartman’s complaints? Very little clinical knowledge would have been necessary for someone to caution Hartmann that mixing alcohol and drugs can be a deadly combination. It would have been doubly obvious, meanwhile, if that person was a health professional, said John A. Cronin, a pharmacist and a lawyer who is executive director of the American Society for Pharmacy Law. “The allegations of the lawsuit illustrate the need for patients to communicate problems to their healthcare professionals – including pharmacists. Had someone who has knowledge about the effects of the drug heard her issue these complaints, something might have been done.”

At least one financial analyst for the pharmaceutical industry said that he was not surprised by Pfizer’s support of Zoloft. “Lawsuits don’t have any impact [on the industry],” said Hemant Shah, HKS & Co., Warren, NJ. “Lawsuits against Prozac didn’t impact [drug] sales.”

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