After being silent for more than six years, two women who say their doctor husbands died from undisclosed Neurontin risks have decided to speak out.
What began as "something deeply personal and private" in their lives has become their call for social justice, awareness and "protecting the health and safety of our loved ones," say Debbie Alsberge of Seattle and Robin Briggs of Charlotte, NC.
Adverse reactions to Neurontin have been greatly underestimated and unreported Debbie Alsberge says she believes, harming unsuspecting families and their physicians. "We must have the full and accurate facts about a drug's risks to make good decisions when family members consider treatment, especially with psychoactive drugs. We cannot do that if pharmaceutical companies are allowed to taint the outcome of clinical trials and bury the harmful evidence."
Growing up in northern California, the son of a surgeon, Dr. Doug Alsberge practiced occupational medicine near Seattle. A devoted father of two sons, he enjoyed hiking, sailing, swimming and golf and liked to write and play his acoustic guitar, says Debbie.
But when back pain from a pre-existing condition began to interfere with being able to stand for prolonged periods at work, Doug sought treatment from a pain specialist he sent his own patients to, says Debbie. The doctor gave him a narcotic analgesic and the recently approved Neurontin which was heavily marketed for pain, though only FDA approved for use in epilepsy. "There was nothing in the medical literature to alert his physicians that it might not be effective, or worse, cause further harm," says Debbie.
Though off the narcotics, Doug's entire demeanor continued to change on Neurontin. He was agitated, couldn't concentrate, couldn't sleep and had tremors says Debbie. The Alsberges attributed the symptoms to Doug's bipolar disorder, diagnosed in the 1990's. But whereas it had always stabilized with treatment before, this time, Doug went into a psychological free fall which began to affect his ability to work. His appearance degenerated, he stopped eating normally and police had to be called to the house for his emotional volatility.
"We didn't know his extreme internal restlessness was akathesia, which is linked to suicide in medical journals, or that it was from Neurontin," says Debbie. In his last, dark days, Doug drove for miles "searching for a knife to end his life," buying one at a nearby hardware store and another at a culinary store hours away. On Palm Sunday, April 13, 2003, in an apartment he had rented away from his family, Doug died of multiple, self-inflicted stab wounds to the chest. He was 52.
The death was "surreal, bizarre and horrific," says Debbie. But it was only after she saw an article about Neurontin suicide links that she requested Doug's pharmacy records and realized the increases in drug dosages correlated with his symptoms and personality change says Debbie. "I just stood there in the parking lot outside of the pharmacy holding the documents in stunned disbelief," she remembers.