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Teen Pilot's Family Sues Drug Maker

Published: Apr 17, 2002

TAMPA - Fifteen year-old student pilot Charles Bishop had ``lost touch with reality'' suffering a psychotic episode triggered by the acne drug Accutane when he stole a small airplane and crashed it into a downtown office building, his mother and grandmother claim in a lawsuit filed Monday.

The wrongful-death lawsuit alleges that Accutane caused Bishop to believe he was on a suicide mission for Osama bin Laden when he took the Cessna without permission, just before his first night-flight lesson, Jan. 5.

A suicide note expressing sympathy for bin Laden was found in the wreckage.

Bishop's mother, Julia, and grandmother, Karen Johnson, are suing Nutley, N.J.-based Roche Laboratories and Hoffmann-La Roche, Inc., manufacturers of Accutane, for $70 million - 10 percent of the product's global revenue.

Charles Bishop, an honor student who spoke of becoming a pilot, began taking Accutane - a drug prescribed for treatment of severe cases of acne - in April 2001, under the care of a physician, court documents state.

Attorneys with the Accutane Litigation Group representing the Bishop family and others claiming the drug caused serious side effects, say the drug is unsafe, and Roche negligently continued to manufacture and market the drug, downplaying dangerous side effects.

``Accutane causes spontaneous, psychotic suicide,'' said Michael Ryan, a Fort Lauderdale attorney. ``The company has known for years that this drug can cause teenagers to commit suicide without any warning.''

Authorities found a prescription for the drug during a search of the Bishops' Palm Harbor home after the suicide flight, but a toxicology report showed no detectable signs of Accutane in Bishop's system.

But Ryan said Johnson told him the boy took the drug the morning before his fatal flight.

The Accutane label warns of ``depression, psychosis and, rarely, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts and suicide. ... Discontinuation of Accutane therapy may be insufficient; further evaluation may be necessary,'' the label reads.

Ryan said that although the company warns of the drug's possible side effects, ``They fail to accept responsibility'' for them.

The drug, they claim, ``deprived Julia Bishop of her only son.''

Roche: Drug Not Linked to Suicide

Carolyn Glynn, Roche's vice president of public affairs, said claims that the drug causes unexpected psychosis and suicides are unfounded.

She said although the company warns that Accutane causes problems such as birth defects, a causal relationship between Accutane and psychosis and suicide has not been scientifically proved.

A meeting of scientists in the fall concluded more study was needed to determine such a link.

And though it is ``a very tragic situation for the family, there has not been any scientific, rational, or plausible explanation how the drug was linked to [Bishop's death],'' Glynn said.

The drug has been the subject of lawsuits around the world, some involving suicide or other violent behavior, birth defects and other side effects. Glynn said the company has had ``literally a handful'' of lawsuits linking Accutane to suicide.

In the first case against Roche to come to trial, on Thursday, an Oklahoma jury rejected a woman's claim that Accutane caused her to suffer bouts of depression.

The drug, introduced in 1982, reportedly has been prescribed for 13 million people, including 5 million Americans. The manufacturer says it brings in about $450 million a year in the U.S, $701 million globally.

The New York Times reported this year that as of December doctors had reported suicides by 140 people worldwide, 94 in the United States, among patients taking Accutane or who had stopped taking it within a few months. Another 257 were reported hospitalized with extreme depression or for attempting suicide.

Roche has been reprimanded by the Food And Drug Administration for failing to follow quality control procedures at facilities in New Jersey and Puerto Rico.

A warning letter issued in December 1999 outlined 32 problems associated with production of more than a dozen drugs, including Accutane.

As part of an agreement with the FDA, the company plans to mail about 75,000 brochures to dermatologists and other doctors at the end of the month to help them recognize signs of depression and other psychiatric disorders in teenagers and young adults.

Glynn said the brochure will contain information about depression and suicide.

Lawyers Say Warnings Insufficient

All these warnings, Ryan said, are insufficient. He said the company should make it clear that the drug can lead to unexpected suicide, even without the warning signs mentioned on the label.

``What happens when they don't have [those symptoms] and are eating like they always eat, thinking and talking about the future, and have everything to live for and without any warning commit a horrific and psychotic act?'' Ryan said.

The family had planned to celebrate Bishop's flight that Saturday night, his grandmother said Tuesday in an interview with the Today show's Katie Couric. Until that day, he had ``nothing but 15-year-olds' ups and downs.''

But Couric noted that Julia Bishop had been required to complete a form for her son's doctor indicating whether his family had any history of suicidal behavior.

She indicated there had been none though she and Charles' father had attempted suicide together years earlier.

Julia Bishop dismissed that incident in the interview, saying it had been the result of drug and alcohol use when they were young, and unrelated to her son's act.

``Julia's suicide attempt is completely irrelevant,'' Ryan said. ``If one incident before the child was even born can have that impact, then they need to pull the drug.''

Lawyers said the family will grant no further interviews.

``I lost everything when I lost my son,'' Julia Bishop told Couric. ``We've gone over everything, and the only thing we could come to is the Accutane.''

Ryan said the Bishop lawsuit aims to have Roche take the drug off the market, or make it safer.

He said it's the first suit his group has brought against Roche, and they plan to pursue it vigorously.

``The company should still be accepting responsibility,'' Ryan said. ``We'll tell them in the only language they can understand - money.''

Tribune researcher Alejandra Puesan contributed to this report. Reporter Natashia Gregoire can be reached at (727) 799-7413

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