The man who killed his son launches drug awareness campaign in 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 he was in a psychotic state brought on by the side effect of his prescribed use of antidepressant known as Paxil.

Carmichael is now touring across Canada to inspire people to be more aware of the prescription drugs they take.

“You need to ask your doctor. I think that’s really important,” Carmichael, 53, said ahead of his address at Canterbury College on the University of Windsor campus on Thursday.

“You should question, research and report suspected adverse drug reactions.”

“There’s a lot of work people should be doing, and that’s why I’m really trying to speak to the general population, who never thought there might be issues with their prescription drugs. “

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David Carmichael, 53, of Toronto, before his speech at Canterbury College at the University of Windsor on May 19, 2022.
David Carmichael, 53, of Toronto, before his speech 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 participated in the Know Your Drugs campaign, which was developed by the drug awareness website RxISK.org.

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

“I would say (the general public) has a poor understanding of the medications that are being prescribed to them,” Carmichael said. “Plus, they have a poor understanding of drug interactions.”

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

A stock image of a bottle of the anti-depressant pill Paxil.
A stock image of a bottle of the anti-depressant 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 drugs. 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’m not against prescription drugs. I’m talking about informed consent,” Carmichael explained.

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

After Carmichael was cleared of responsibility for his son’s death, he tried to sue GlaxoSmithKline, the pharmaceutical company that made and marketed Paxil.

Although the lawsuit was unsuccessful, Carmichael still believes companies will sometimes hide or disguise some of the more harmful side effects of the drugs they are trying to bring to market.

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

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

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“They’ve been amazing,” Carmichael said. “As a family, we stayed together.”

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

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

Part of the reason Carmichael is now taking the campaign to an in-person level is that he believes there has been an increase in antidepressant use as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are also seeing the economic fallout now. I think there will be a lot of people with increased distress.

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

dchen@postmedia.com

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