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Suit: Drug behind suicide flight

The teen who piloted a plane into a Tampa bank tower was ''poisoned'' by the acne medication Accutane, his family claims.

By ROBERT FARLEY, Times Staff Writer
St. Petersburg Times
published April 17, 2002

The family of 15-year-old Charles Bishop has filed a $70-million lawsuit against the maker of acne medication Accutane, saying nothing else explains the teenager's suicidal flight into a downtown Tampa high-rise.

"This child was a happy, well-balanced, forward-thinking child who had a great deal to live for," Bishop's mother, Julia Bishop, told the Today show Tuesday in her first interview. "This is psychotic. And the only conclusion that we've been able to draw is the Accutane poisoned him."

Accutane's manufacturer, Hoffmann-La Roche Inc., declined to discuss the lawsuit, filed Monday in Hillsborough County Circuit Court. The company said scientists have not tied Accutane to depression or suicide.

"There is no scientific rationale to think there would be a link between the two," company spokeswoman Carolyn Glynn said.

Attorneys for the Bishop family say jurors need only see the stark contrast between two samples of Bishop's writing: an October journalism class assignment at East Lake High School and his Jan. 5 suicide note.

In October, writing about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Bishop stated, "I am still shocked that some people could do such a thing. Osama bin Laden's and the Taliban's days are numbered. I will feel a lot safer when they are no longer around."

Compare that to the venomous suicide note in which Bishop claimed to have been recruited by al-Qaida, said attorney Michael J. Ryan. In that, Bishop wrote, "Osama bin Laden is absolutely justified in the terror he has caused on 9-11. . . . You will pay -- God help you -- and I will make you pay!"

On Tuesday, Julia Bishop described her son as compassionate child "determined to make the world a better place."

His behavior provided no warning of what was to come on Jan. 5, she said.

"This wasn't a Columbine kid," she told NBC.

The lawsuit contends that Accutane's "horrible effect . . . caused Charles Bishop to become severely psychotic where he lost touch with reality."

Bishop had taken a daily Accutane pill since April 2001. He saw his dermatologist, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday, two days before Jan. 5. He had taken a 60-milligram dose the morning before the suicide flight, said Ryan, whose Fort Lauderdale law firm is one of three working on the case. The other firms, which specialize in pharmaceutical negligence litigation, are from Texas and California.

This is not the first time Accutane has come under fire. In 2000, U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., claimed Accutane was to blame for his 17-year-old son commiting suicide by shooting himself.

Stupak told the St. Petersburg Times he immediately thought of Accutane after Bishop's fateful flight.

"I said to my wife, 'Did you hear about that kid in the plane in Tampa? I wonder if that was related to Accutane?' " he said.

Stupak wants Accutane off the market "until we know what's going on."

Hoffmann-La Roche, which acknowledges that Accutane can cause serious birth defects, says that since 1982, 13-million people have taken the drug and about 150 have committed suicide, Glynn said

That's much lower than the suicide rate among the general population ages 15 to 24, the age at which most people use Accutane, she said.

But there have been enough reports of depression and suicidal tendencies that the FDA requires Accutane patients to sign a detailed consent form.

The consent form, signed by both Charles and Julia Bishop, states, "I understand that some patients, while taking Accutane or soon after stopping Accutane, have become depressed or . . . have had thoughts about hurting themselves or putting an end to their lives (suicidal thoughts). . . . There were reports that some of these people did not appear depressed. No one knows if Accutane caused these behaviors or if they would have happened even if the person did not take Accutane."

Ryan claims the company has known about the medication's risks but downplayed them.

"That's unacceptable," he said.

It is particularly frightening, he said, because Bishop showed no warning signs such as sleeplessness or irritability. His last report card was all A's and B's.

Another part of the consent form required the Bishops to agree to tell their physician "if anyone in the family has ever had symptoms of depression, been psychotic, attempted suicide, or had any other serious mental problems."

Julia Bishop, however, did not reveal that in 1984, she and Charles' estranged father failed in a bloody suicide pact during which she stabbed him with a 12-inch butcher knife.

In her television interview Tuesday, she said the pact was "an act of drug and alcohol abuse" rather than mental illness.

"What we did as teenagers, it was stupid," she said. "It was foolish. It's just irrelevant to Charles."

The Hillsborough Medical Examiner's Office found no trace of Accutane in Charles Bishop's blood. But that doesn't necessarily mean there was none in his system, said Dr. Wayne Duer, chief toxicologist with the Medical Examiner's office.

The violence of the crash left no brain tissue for the medical examiner to test, Duer said. It is possible there were such small amounts of Accutane in Bishop's blood that they did not register on the tests administered.

Dr. Daniel Buffington, a clinical pharmacologist in Tampa, said even if Accutane were not found in his bloodstream, if Bishop had taken Accutane 10 to 15 days prior, "it's very plausible the symptoms could have been attributable to the medication."

Some doctors have noted in medical literature that patients have related psychological complications up to 30 days after they stopped taking Accutane, he said.

-- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

The history of Accutane


Accutane introduced. More than 13-million people worldwide have taken it.

October 1995

A University of Alberta student sues Accutane's manufacturer, Hoffman-La Roche Inc., for $10-million, contending that the drug caused her depression and suicidal thoughts. The case has been resolved and the terms of the resolution are confidential.


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires Accutane users to receive a stronger warning about the drug's risks.


Attorneys and parents in England and Ireland contend that Accutane, sold under the name Roaccutane, contributed to several suicides.


Through May 2000, the FDA had received reports of 37 U.S. Accutane patients who committed suicide, 24 while on the drug and 13 after stopping the drug. It also received reports of 110 U.S. Accutane users hospitalized for depression, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts, and of 284 Accutane users with non-hospitalized depression.

December 2000

The FDA tells Congress it plans to require that doctors make their patients sign a warning brochure outlining side effects, including a possible link to suicide.

January 2001

The parents of an Oregon teenager who committed suicide sue a dermatologist and Hoffmann-La Roche. The case was dismissed in July 2001 because the plaintiffs had not done anything beyond file the suit.

April 2001

Charles Bishop of East Lake begins taking Accutane.

Jan. 5, 2002

Bishop flies a stolen airplane into a downtown Tampa high-rise, killing himself.

April 15, 2002

Bishop's mother and grandmother sue Hoffman-La Roche for $70-million.

April 16, 2002

Hoffmann-La Roche announces that, in the first case of its kind to go to trial, an Oklahoma jury rejected a woman's claims that Accutane caused her depression. She had sought $3-million in damages.

-- Compiled by researcher Kitty Bennett and staff writer Richard Danielson.

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