By VICKIE CHACHERE
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - A 15-year-old student pilot who killed himself by crashing an airplane into a skyscraper was prescribed an acne medication whose links to suicide and depression have been the subject of federal inquiries, law enforcement officials said Tuesday.
A prescription for Accutane, used to treat severe acne, was found at the home of Charles J. Bishop, Pinellas County Sheriff's Maj. Sam Lynn said. ``We are aware that he had a prescription,'' Tampa police spokeswoman Katie Hughes said. ``We don't know if he was taking it, how long ... We don't know those details.'' Calls to Bishop's family were not returned Tuesday.
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. There has yet to be any conclusive evidence, however, that the drug causes depression or suicide, and the manufacturer maintains it is safe.
Toxicology tests that will determine if any drugs were in Bishop's system will be completed in about two weeks, said Lee Miller, an associate medical examiner with the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office. Bishop, a freshman at East Lake High School, stole an airplane from a flight school at the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport on Saturday and crashed it into the 28th floor of the Bank of America Plaza in downtown Tampa.
A note expressing sympathy for Osama bin Laden and support of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks was found in his pocket. Police describe Bishop as a troubled loner. But the youth's family, teachers and flight instructors said he never showed any signs of depression and that his actions Saturday were out of character. His family and teachers have described him as an intelligent, friendly young man who was not isolated from others. Hughes said Tuesday that the FBI has found no evidence worth pursuing on the computer hard drives taken from the homes of Bishop and his grandmother. The FBI has subpoenaed Bishop's e-mail in the search for more clues. Police have said that Bishop had no history of psychological problems or illegal drug use.
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 committed suicide while taking the drug. More hearings are scheduled 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. Since last year, doctors prescribing Accutane have been asked to have patients read and sign an informed consent form warning that some people have developed mental problems while taking the drug.
The makers of the drug, Hoffman-La Roche, have agreed to conduct a study looking at the link between the drug's use and depression, which will begin later this year, company spokeswoman Carolyn Glynn said. The company denies the drug can cause people to become depressed or suicidal, and said the number of suicides by Accutane users is lower than the general population. Accutane has been marketed as an acne drug since 1982 and an estimated 12 million patients have used it. The first reports of its connection to suicide and depression came in 1985.
Accutane also has been linked to birth defects and carries strong warnings for women who use it. Stupak, who has reviewed more than 50 suicides in his investigation of the drug, said there was no explanation for many of the teen-agers involved taking their own lives. In some instances in which suicide notes were left behind, the notes made no sense to survivors, he said. No one interviewed about Bishop could remember him expressing support for the Sept. 11 attacks before the plane crash. ``Charles and his family have always fully supported our United States' war on terrorism and Osama Bin Laden,'' his family said in a statement released earlier this week.
AP-NY-01-08-02 1825EST Copyright 2001 The Associated Press