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Chantix Case in Eugene Calls Attention to Mental Health Issues

Marcie Stout says if she knew then what she knows now, she would have stood in the lobby at Sacred Heart Medical Center screaming that December night until they admitted her brother, Darwin Stout, even if it meant she too would wind up on a psychiatric hold.

On Dec. 22, 2010, Marcie’s sister-in-law Lamae Stout came to her Harrisburg home to find her husband, Darwin Stout, had committed suicide — stabbing and killing himself and their 13-year-old son, Jared. The deaths happened only two nights after Marcie Stout took her brother to Sacred Heart in hopes they could help him with his growing paranoia — he thought people were stalking him and poisoning him, she says. He wasn’t sleeping. 

Four years later Lamae Stout took the issue to court because she wanted to ensure the chain of events that led to the deaths of her husband and son never happened again. Darwin Stout’s mental health breakdown and suicide had similarities to problems across the country with the prescription drug Chantix.

On Nov. 17, 2014 in a courtroom in Eugene, Lamae Stout lost the lawsuit against PeaceHealth; Matthew McLaughlin, the dentist who prescribed Chantix, a drug that helps people quit tobacco; and Eugene Emergency Physicians. A jury found the defendants not guilty of medical negligence in the $2.2 million case. 

Marcie Stout says that the jury has made its decision and she’s fine with that: “Darwin and Jared got heard in court and that means something to me.” She says the reasons for filing the lawsuit were to ensure people knew the dangers of Chantix, which is linked to depression and suicidal urges, and also so people would know what to do if a loved one needs psychiatric help.

“I was entirely too trusting,” Marcie Stout says. “I pushed back,” she says, after the hospital held Darwin for only an hour and 45 minutes before releasing him. “I should have pushed harder.”

She says, “We’re like everybody else, no different from any other family that works and pays the bills.” And the average family doesn’t necessarily know what to do if a loved one suddenly becomes paranoid and manic. “Darwin had a history of being a difficult person,” she says. “He was difficult, not crazy.” 

“My brother was so smart, so rational, for him to have a break like that …” she trails off. “Just a clear break from reality.” 

McLaughlin prescribed Chantix (varenicline) to Darwin Stout to help him stop chewing tobacco — or overprescribed, the case alleges. In October of this year, an expert panel of the Federal Drug Administration voted not to remove the boldface warning label that says Chantix has been linked to serious neuropsychiatric events, including suicidal thoughts and behavior and aggressive and irrational behavior. 

Chantix manufacturer Pfizer cited studies showing the drug was safe, but FDA staff scientists had “concerns about the validity of the findings from Pfizer’s meta-analyses and published observational studies.”

Also in October, Pfizer settled 2,900 Chantix-related lawsuits for $300 million.

Marcie Stout says reading about the recent case of Myron May, the attorney who began hearing voices and shot three people at the Florida State University library, was troubling in its similarities to what happened to her brother. May was shot and killed by police and in the time leading up to the shootings he also became paranoid and thought people were targeting him. 

Stout says that families often don’t know how to get help or, when told to take their loved one home, as she was, that they need to push back harder, be an advocate, ask questions, make demands. 

EW asked PeaceHealth for comment on the case, and if the lawsuit has led to any changes in the way the hospital deals with psychiatric holds. 

PeaceHealth responded in a statement: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Stout family, who have experienced a tragic loss. PeaceHealth remains committed to providing comprehensive, compassionate care to all community members. Criteria for patient holds are dictated by Oregon law, not by individual facilities.”

According to Oregon state law, a hospital can release a person brought in for a mental health evaluation if the physician “determines that the person no longer is dangerous to self or others.”