TODAY | February 07, 2013
who think like you do: a lot of talk in recent years about adhd and drugs that help people cope. this morning a heartbreaking story about a family in virginia who lost their son after his struggles with a pill prescribed for that disorder. they thought their son was on a path to success.
>> he planned on doing some great things.
>> richard fee was an athlete with a full scholarship to college, college class president and an honors graduate trying to get into medical school .
>> he was your normal, every day kid, active. good grades in school. it just all came easy to him.
>> but when he moved back home after college in 2009 , his family discovered he was taking medication for adhd .
>> when he told me, i said, you don't have adhd . why are you taking it? he said, well, it helps me study.
>> these medications do enhance your ability to focus, be attentive, have a little bit more energy, be able to sustain your attention and study for a longer period of time and that's something a lot of kids desire.
>> after low scores on the medical college admission test , his parents said he began taking much higher doses of adderall then prescribed and having mood swings. they barely recognized their son. he was suffering from dilutions and paranoia.
>> it was tough to watch, watch him go through that.
>> so the the fees complained to the doctors who prescribed the drugs.
>> it was having drastic effects. we went to these doctors to get it stopped. they wouldn't listen to us.
>> the fees grew scared of their own son, locking their bedroom door at night. in late 2011 , richard fee hanged himself in his bedroom closet.
>> i believe the doctors share in the responsibility.
>> "new york times" reporter allen schwartz first reported the story.
>> it wasn't the medication that did the harm here. it was the people in charge of the medication.
>> two of the psychiatrists who prescribed adderall to richard fee would not talk on camera. the doctor who works at this virginia beach clinic who said, i am saddened, not as much as they are, by the death. he was a wonderful young man. he told "new york times," he was pitching me very well. i was asking him very specific questions and he was very good at telling me the answers in a very specific way. and quote, i do feel partially responsible for what happened to this kid.
>> richard 's family joins us now. his parents rick and kathy and his younger sister . dr. nancy snyderman , nbc's chief medical editor. my condolences on your loss. when richard came home in 2009 and you learned he had been taking medication for adhd , did you know how long he had been taking it?
>> we didn't know. he like many kids got adderall from fellow kids in college.
>> was it years, two years he had been taking it? did you ever figure that out?
>> he started getting prescriptions in 2008 .
>> at least a year.
>> at least a year.
>> just to be clear, he had never, ever been diagnosed with adhd ? had there been problems in school earlier? teachers, administrators saying he had some kind of learning problem?
>> he never showed any signs. from the research i had done, when it shows up in adults, there's usually signs through early childhood. no signs through elementary school , middle school .
>> you tell the story he really started to have problems when he started taking higher doses. you confronted the doctors. something you said in that spot, they would not listen to you. you're concerned parents, concerned for the safety and healthy of your son and you couldn't get information?
>> we couldn't get any information from the doctor prescribing. he basically wouldn't speak to us on any level. not as a doctor speaking to a parent or a human being .
>> privacy reasons?
>> he stated he had talked to a previous family and he got sued. he was worried about himself.
>> this is hipaa.
>> this is downside of patient privacy where doctors have to have some common sense, when they see a child in crisis -- even though we're talking about a young adult , still a child, abusing prescription drugs , underlying psychiatric problems and it's time to loop the family.
>> from the company who makes adderall , here is a statement. a schedule 2 controlled substance, the package soeshs risks with incorrect dosage, abuse and recommends doctors properly monitor patients. this is not recommended for patients with a history of drug abuse . adderall is one of many prescription drugs subject to abuse. do you have any doubt your son was addicted physically and emotionally to this drug?
>> i have no doubt at all, absolutely none. it's a very dangerous drug . it changed him from the person that he was to what he became. we just could not get any help from the doctors, as much as we pleaded with them and told them what was going on.
>> rare, extreme? are we looking at one case that is not representative of the total?
>> yes. but one kid dead is too many. so we have to remember that when properly diagnosed, that means with testing, locate a child's history, and the lowest dose necessary, it can be a great drug. but 50, 60, 70, 80 milligrams, a child exhausting a month's supply in 14 days, those are huge warning signs and psychosis and paranoia that comes with it, it's a real crash and burn scenario.
>> one doctor charles parker talking about prescribing the drug said he was pitching me very well. i was asking him specific questions. he was very good at telling me answers in a very specific way, making it sound like your son knew exactly what he was doing in trying to continue his use, because he was addicted.
>> correct. that's correct. at the same time before we saw dr. parker, he was seeing a therapist. i actually sat down and talked to her and told her the issues and what was going on. you know, she was trying to work with us. but still the next month richard went back and they increased the dosage of the adderall . that's what we don't understand.
>> the helplessness you felt as a family, as parents, i want you to bring you in at the end. you're a student.
>> is this something you hear a lot about at school? clearly your family has a cautionary tale. is this something you hear and see about?
>> everyone is joking, exams come up and they say i need an adderall to stay up all night. i hear it in the library.
>> it's a reminder, the face of drug addiction is white suburban kids that can get their hands on medication. it doesn't mean you have to be down and out.
>> properly used.
>> properly used fine. when you gain the system, these kids know what to say to doctors. when you can buy something for $5 or $10 bucks from your roommate, we're in a crisis.
>> in case there are other richards out there, i think it's great you're coming forward sharing this story, and i know how painful it is.