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Did Effexor Birth Defects Cause Newborn's Death?

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Kamloops, BCThe family of a baby who died two hours after birth says Effexor side effects may have played a role in the death. Meanwhile, the mother of another baby who died unexpectedly after being exposed to Effexor also wonders whether Effexor side effects played a role in her son's death.

The family of Matthew Schultz says Matthew was exposed to Effexor, known generically as venlafaxine, prior to birth after his mother was prescribed the medication. According to Kamloops This Week (10/10/11), Matthew died only two hours after birth on February 21, 2009, at a local hospital. The Schultz family requested that the BC Coroners Service order an inquest into the death, but that request was denied.

Although the Coroners Service is not conducting an inquest into the death, information about the situation has been reported to Health Canada and the case will be reviewed by a child death review unit. An autopsy was performed on the infant. That autopsy showed no anatomic cause of death, but the original coroner's report did raise the possibility that Effexor exposure was a contributing factor. "Since there was venlafaxine [Effexor] exposure, this is a consideration as a contributor to death," the report states.

Despite that mention of Effexor, the report concluded that it was not clear what significance Effexor exposure may have played in Matthew's death. A report by the CBC (09/20/11) indicates Matthew was blue at birth and stopped breathing while being held by his father. According to the same CBC article, Effexor is not approved for use in Canada during pregnancy, so its use in pregnant women is considered off-label.

Effexor is among the drugs listed in a 2004 Health Canada warning that advises newborns may be adversely affected when exposed to those drugs prior to birth. The Schultz family, however, says they were never told about the potential risks of taking the medication while pregnant. The agency's reported adverse reactions database has received reports of five infant deaths attributed to antidepressant use during pregnancy since 2005, according to the CBC.

Matthew's death was the first of two unexplained deaths potentially linked to Effexor in Kamloops in recent years. Earlier in 2011, seven-week old Greyson Rawkins died unexpectedly in his sleep. His mother was taking twice the recommended dosage of Effexor during her pregnancy and while nursing. After Greyson was born, he was taken to intensive care so he could be monitored while suffering withdrawal from Effexor. He was exposed to the drug again, however, when he was nursing.

The doctor for Matthew Schultz's family told the CBC that he is now more hesitant to prescribe antidepressants to pregnant woman. "There is enough reason to be suspicious," Dr. Duncan Ross said.

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