Antidepressant Caused Coach’s Suicide, Jury Finds

Posted December 6, 2012 in Jury Awards Medical Malpractice by

Over three years after the death of a beloved Syracuse, N.Y. high school basketball coach, Joseph Mazella, a jury decided that a doctor who prescribed Paxil and other antidepressants to him over the phone must pay $1.5 million to Mazella’s widow.

Since 2007, the makers of Paxil and other antidepressants were ordered by the Food and Drug Administration to add warnings that the drugs increase suicidal thinking.

Janice Mazella had just gotten out of the shower one morning when she found her husband’s body in the garage.

While he gave no hint he was suicidal, Mazella had been prescribed anti-depressants and had complained of side effects, telling his wife that he felt like his head was on fire.

Dr. William Beals had been prescribing Paxil to Mazella for a decade by filling prescriptions over the phone whenever Mazella called to say he was running low on his medications.

Once, after Mazella had an anxiety attack, Beals doubled his dosage of Paxil and prescribed Zyprexa over the phone. When Mazella went to the hospital with heart problems, another doctor put him on a lower dose of Paxil. Soon after, the Mazellas had an office visit with Dr. Beals for the first time in 10 years. According to Janice, Dr. Beals was furious that they had gone to the hospital and “exposed his treatment,” and told them to leave.

Beals is on probation with the state health department for filling prescriptions without seeing his patients and for abusing drugs and alcohol himself.

When Mazella was hospitalized, a third doctor switched him from Paxil to three other medications but never followed up.

“When he got out of the hospital, that’s when it got worse, when his head was burning,” Janice said. “He said it felt like he had hot poison going through his veins. It felt so awful from the inside.”

Her attorney, Ernest DelDuchetto, argued that Beals was negligent in prescribing Paxil without seeing his patient, for not warning the Mazellas about the suicidal side effects and for abandoning Mazella without any follow-up.

Attorney Ernest DelDuchetto

A jury found Beals to blame for causing Mazella’s suicide and awarded Janice and their three children $1.5 million.

“It was comforting to see a jury agree with our proposition that these drugs are not panaceas for all sadness,” DelDuchetto said.

Janice said she hopes the verdict will help others who are prescribed antidepressants.

“It’s just what the medical community does – medicate, medicate, medicate,” she said. “I hope through this that people are aware, so they can step it up and question and do more than I did and Joe did, so this doesn’t happen to them. If this can save another person, that’s what I want to happen.”

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