Canada

Man who killed son brings drug awareness campaign to Windsor

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In July 2004, David Carmichael of Toronto strangled his 11-year-old son to death.

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Although Carmichael was charged with first-degree murder, the courts did not find him criminally responsible: He killed his son while in a psychotic state brought on as a side effect of his prescribed use of the anti-depressant known as Paxil.

Now Carmichael is on a cross-Canada tour to urge people to be more aware of the prescription drugs they consume.

“You’ve got to question your doctor. I think that’s really important,” said Carmichael, 53, before his speaking engagement at Canterbury College on the University of Windsor campus on Thursday.

“You’ve got to question, research, and report suspected adverse drug reactions.”

“There is a lot of work that people should do, and that’s why I’m really trying to talk to the broader population, who have never thought there may be some issues about their prescription drugs.”

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David Carmichael, 53, of Toronto, before his speaking engagement at Canterbury College at the University of Windsor on May 19, 2022.
David Carmichael, 53, of Toronto, before his speaking engagement at Canterbury College at the University of Windsor on May 19, 2022. Photo by Dax Melmer /Windsor Star

For the past six years, Carmichael has been involved in the Know Your Drugs campaign, which was developed by the drug awareness website RxISK.org.

The campaign also involves the charitable organization Canadians for Vanessa’s Law, which successfully advocated for new legislation — the Protecting Canadians From Unsafe Drugs Act — to improve reporting of serious adverse drug reactions.

“I would say (the general public) has a poor understanding of the drugs they’re prescribed,” Carmichael said. “Plus, they have a poor understanding of drug interactions.”

“The average 65-year-old is on five prescription drugs.”

A file image of a bottle of the antidepressant pill Paxil.
A file image of a bottle of the antidepressant pill Paxil. Photo by Getty Images /Windsor Star

Carmichael said that before the most tragic episode of his life, he had little knowledge of prescription medication. When his doctor prescribed him paroxetine to deal with his feelings of distress and anxiety, he was not made aware of its potential side effects.

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“I am not against prescription drugs. I’m about informed consent,” Carmichael explained.

“I was like most people: I blindly trusted my doctor — that if he prescribed a drug, he would know all about it … I just assumed it was safe.”

After Carmichael was cleared of responsibility in the death of his son, he tried to sue GlaxoSmithKline, the pharmaceutical company that manufactured and marketed Paxil.

Although the suit failed, Carmichael still believes companies will sometimes conceal or disguise some of the most harmful side effects of the drugs they are attempting to put on the market.

“In 2003, when I started taking Paxil, there were no warnings out,” Carmichael noted.

Throughout his ordeal in the courts, and to this day, Carmichael’s surviving family members — his wife and his daughter — have stood by him.

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“They have been incredible,” Carmichael said. “As a family, we have stuck together.”

“Our goal in sharing all this is to prevent family tragedies like ours.”

Carmichael’s speaking tour began in mid-April in Halifax. His schedule will take him into western Canada in June.

Part of the reason Carmichael is bringing the campaign to an in-person level now is that he believes there has been a rise in antidepressant usage in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re also seeing the economic fallout now. I think there are going to be a lot of people with increased distress.”

Learn more about the Know Your Drugs campaign by visiting knowyourdrugs.org. Read about potential side effects of prescription drugs on RxISK.org.

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