Mother of Tampa suicide pilot sues acne drug maker

Tuesday, April 16, 2002

Associated Press WriterTAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- The family of a 15-year-old boy who crashed a stolen plane into a Tampa high-rise is suing the maker of the acne drug Accutane for $70 million, accusing the medicine of prompting her son's suicide.

The lawsuit filed Monday in Hillsborough County Circuit Court accuses the drug of causing severe psychosis in Charles Bishop, who died Jan. 5 after slamming a Cessna into one of Tampa's tallest buildings. He left a note expressing sympathy for Osama bin Laden and supporting the Sept. 11 attacks on America.

The lawsuit names only drug maker Hoffmann-La Roche Inc. and asks that the drug be removed from the market. Accutane carries a warning about suicide and has been the subject of Congressional investigations.

"This child was a happy, well-balanced, forward-thinking child who had great deal to live for," Julia Bishop told NBC's "Today" show Tuesday in her first interview since her son's death.

"This was psychotic and the only conclusion we have been able to draw is the Accutane poisoned him."

A Hoffmann-La Roche spokeswoman said the company was unaware of the lawsuit and had not been served. The company has maintained that the drug is safe and points to higher suicide rates among teens and those with severe acne than in the general population.

"We continue, as do the experts, to believe there is no link," said company spokeswoman Carolyn Glynn.

Mike Ryan, a Fort Lauderdale attorney who is representing the Bishop family, said there is no other explanation for Charles Bishop's suicide. The high school freshman was not depressed, had good grades and plans for his future, Ryan said.

Ryan said the $70 million figure represents 10 percent of the $700 million a year Hoffmann-La Roche makes from the drug.

Charles Bishop had been taking a daily Accutane pill since April 2001. He had taken a 60 mg dose the morning before the suicide flight, said Ryan, who with attorneys in Texas and California have filed a series of lawsuits for other families who also blame Accutane for their teen's deaths or suicide attempts.

"It (the drug) caused a psychotic break from reality in a child who had no warning signs," Ryan said of Charles Bishop. "We categorize this as a spontaneous suicide -- a phenomenon we are seeing more with Accutane."

Ryan said the Bishop family was told when the teen was prescribed the drug there was only anecdotal evidence of a link between Accutane and suicide. They were told to look for warning signs such as loss of appetite and irritability, often normal teen behavior.

His mother signed a consent form warning patients to alert their doctors if they began feeling depressed or suicidal, but she said there was never any signs of trouble in her son.

Even so, Charles Bishop acted normally the day of his death, folding his laundry, doing chores and having lunch with his grandmother before she took him to the Clearwater flight school for a lesson, Ryan said.

The Food and Drug Administration says 147 people taking Accutane, which affects the body's central nervous system, either committed suicide or were hospitalized for suicide attempts from 1982 to May 2000.

The company says about 13 million people have taken Accutane since the drug's debut in 1982.

Accutane's link to suicide has been the subject of a congressional investigation, spearheaded by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Michigan, whose 17-year-old son killed himself while taking the drug. More hearings are set for this spring.

Depression has been listed as a possible side effect on Accutane's label since 1986, and the FDA in 1998 strengthened the warning to say suicide, too, was possible.

There has yet to be any conclusive evidence, however, that the drug causes depression or suicide.

Documents released by both the Tampa Police and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement have shed no light on what might have prompted Charles Bishop's suicide.

"This wasn't a Columbine kid," Julie Bishop said in the interview. "... He was determined to make the world a better place."

When she signed the consent form, she didn't disclose to the prescribing dermatologist, as recommended, her own suicide attempt years before her son was born. She and the boy's father forged a suicide pact when they were teen-agers, but the pact wasn't carried through.

Julie Bishop said in the interview that the plot was brought on by drug and alcohol abuse, not mental illness. She said her son, who had never had much contact with his father, did not know of her pact with his dad.

An autopsy found no trace of Accutane in Bishop's blood, but Ryan said so much blood was lost and there was so much damage to the boy's body in the crash that the sensitive test needed to detect the drug might not have been useful.

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