Why Did Vanessa Die?

Canadian Terence Young has been on a mission. He wants to know how it is possible his 15-year-old daughter dropped dead in front of him March 19, 2000. Oakville’s MP believes the answer is a medication that their family doctor prescribed.
Prepulsid is used to aid digestion. It has been linked to irregular heartbeats, heart attacks and sudden death. Most of those that have died from heart related issues have been taking other medications or have underlying risk conditions.

The coroner’s inquest said that Vanessa died from cardiac arrhythmia followed by cardiac arrest, resulting from the effects of bulimia nervosa in combination with Cisapride toxicity and perhaps an unknown condition like a congenital heart defect.

In July 2000 Janssen Pharmaceutica stopped making Prepulsid voluntarily. In August Health Canada pulled the drug from drug store shelves following a decision “founded on the association of the drug with serious cardiac arrhythmias … and sudden cardiac deaths.”

There were about one million prescriptions written for the drug each year prior to 2000 in Canada.

Young founded the advocacy group Drug Safety Canada. In January 2007 an Ontario judge certified a $100 million class-action lawsuit, initiated by Young, against the drug’s maker, Johnson & Johnson and its Canadian subsidiary, Janssen-Ortho Inc., which marketed Prepulsid in this country.

This week Young’s book Death By Prescription will hit book store shelves.

His life changed that March night when his daughter collapsed.

The Toronto Star quotes Young:

“She fell back, like a giant hand pushed her – whack – onto the floor,” Young recalls.

As his daughter died his family changed. He changed. His brother Scott Denton said that it is hard to know who he truly was prior to Vanessa’s death. The family knows now. Young is a tiger who will not stop when a wrong has been done.

Had someone apologized for Vanessa’s death Young may have never fought as hard. No one though, not the doctor, not the drug company, the government, would say it was their fault. Vanessa was a statistic, nothing more, nothing less.

Young reached out to the media in his quest for an answer. He studied texts, called drug companies, exchanged emails with experts. He pushed to have the coroner’s inquest for his daughter.

To the powers that be Vanessa may have been a statistic, but her father would not sit back and allow her death to go in vain.

The jury listened for 16 days about Vanessa. She had been diagnosed with bulimia nervosa, one of the conditions that Prepulsid is not recommended for. One that the drug comany said that Canadian doctors had been sent a warning about two months prior to Vanessa’s death.

Last week a statement was sent to Toronto Star from the manufacturer Janssen-Orthro Inc.:

“ongoing litigation limits our ability to comment on specific issues related to this matter.” Calling Vanessa’s death “a tragedy,” it said: “Following efforts by the Company to ensure that Prepulsid was being prescribed and used appropriately, in the summer of 2000 the sale of Prepulsid was discontinued. “Janssen-Ortho believes that Prepulsid is a safe and effective medicine when prescribed appropriately. Patient safety is a priority for our company. We conduct ourselves in a way that meets or exceeds regulatory requirements.”

That statement though differs from the research that Young has worked on while writing Death By Prescription. He claims that drug companies will do everything they can to keep a drug on the shelves.

Doctors in his opinion rely to heavily on the information that the drug companies give them about their wares. They remain silent far too often about the side effects.

Young also has contended that the government closes their eyes to the problems. He wants to change that for all Canadians.

The Oakville Beaver quotes Young:

“The overall goal is to reduce the number of injuries and deaths related to prescription drugs, which are the fourth leading cause of death in our society,” said Young.

“These deaths are mostly covered up and hidden. We want to shine a light on the risks so patients and families can make themselves safer when using prescription drugs.”

Young believes that his book will save lives. The knowledge that you need to know about the medications you put into your body may be one of the most important life lessons a person can learn.

Over 750,000 people in the United States die every year from the drugs that their doctors prescribe to them. The high stakes that drug companies play to keep money pouring in can put people at risk. Side effects are not often discussed when a doctor prescribes a new medication. Often the doctor is not even aware of some of those side effects. Patients have to become their own advocate when it comes to their prescription medications and take the time to research if the side effects are a potential danger. One way is to talk to the pharmacist about each medication you are on and ask what are the risks and side effects to be aware of.


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