Father says drugs prescribed to son to treat ADHD turned him into a ‘zombie’

Junior doctor who prescribed drugs reportedly says he does not regret decisions made

Maurice O’Connell with his son Jason from Cahersiveen, Co Kerry. Jason was given a ‘cocktail of drugs’ to treat his ADHD, Mr O’Connell says. Photograph:  Alan Landers

Maurice O’Connell with his son Jason from Cahersiveen, Co Kerry. Jason was given a ‘cocktail of drugs’ to treat his ADHD, Mr O’Connell says. Photograph: Alan Landers

 

A father has spoken of his immense pain and anger after his 14-year-old son transformed from a happy, bubbly child into a “zombie” after he was prescribed a “cocktail of drugs” to treat his ADHD by a junior doctor in Kerry CAHMS.

Jason O’Connell from Cahirciveen was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of six. When he was 11, or so, he was referred to Dr David Kromer in the South Kerry child and adolescent mental health services (CAHMS).

In an interview with The Irish Times on Tuesday, his father, Maurice O’Connell, said he was knowledgeable about his son’s condition and that he had done his best to advocate for his son.

Dr Kromer expressed the view that Mr O’Connell’s son’s medication was not working and he changed him to two other drugs: “He said one was a slow release and one was a fast release,” Mr O’Connell told The Irish Times.

“Fast release in the morning and then in the afternoon the other tablet would click in with the slow release. So I said okay. Even though I never knew anyone to be on both of these tablets. It seemed a lot but he gave an explanation.”

Six months later, he said he was shocked when Dr Kromer suggested that his son was autistic. Sceptical, he asked to see a specialist. In the meantime, his son was placed on a third drug.

“He was on .5mg in the morning, a half a .5mg in the afternoon and a .5mg at night, which was a big dosage. I asked when are we going to see the multi-disciplinary team for autism and I was put off.

“The change in my son’s behaviour was absolutely drastic. My son was all bubbly and happy chappy with not a care in the world. Then he started withdrawing in to himself. It was like you turned on a TV with all pictures and no sound.

‘Suffer nightmares’

“He was just like a zombie. I would talk to him and he wouldn’t remember me talking to him. He was zoned out. He had too much medication,” Mr O’Connell declared, adding that his son began to suffer nightmares about death.

“He had very dark thoughts. His schooling went down atrociously. He has got little or no education because of the medication he was on. He was on the three lots of medication for 2½ years,” he said.

Saying he is “heartbroken”, Mr O’Connell said he had placed his faith in Dr Kromer who continued to increase his son’s dosage even though he expressed his concerns about a worsening in the teenager’s mood.

“Every time we went to him he upped the medication. He was on three medications at the highest level. He was seeing him every six months or sometimes even a year would pass between appointments.

“Jason was getting progressively worse all the time and he told me, ‘Dad please take me off the tablets. My mind isn’t right and I feel sick all the time’. [The doctor] said it was normal and that Jason needed to get used to it.

“If I had listened to my son I would had him off them. As a parent, your first job is to protect your children. I feel guilt about it,” said Mr O’Connell, who was contacted by whistleblower Dr Ankur Sharma in March 2020.

Praising Dr Sharma, who told him that his son was being over-medicated, for his “brave intervention”, Mr O’Connell: “I was lost for words. It was a nightmare. The anger I felt at what had been done to my child.”

Later, his son asked Dr Sharma if he was going to die: “Those were his words. When you hear your child asking your doctor that,” Mr O’Connell said, “it broke my heart”.

Mr O’Connell received his son’s files from CAHMS under the Freedom of Information Act, handing them over to Kerry solicitors, Pádraig O’Connell and Eimear Griffin, who he commends for “treating Jason as if he were their own son”.

His son is now completely off medication, though Mr O’Connell said that there is a “constant battle” to get him to school as he fell behind in his education because of the lost two years.

Concerns raised

“He was confident and outgoing before. Now he is afraid to go in shops. He is afraid people are watching him. On the medication his appetite went outrageous and he gained a lot of weight. He suffers a lot of anxiety about it.

“Now if he goes to the beach he will only go in to the water if there is nobody there. Or else he wears a T-shirt. He is a totally different child and I really don’t know how to pull it back,” said Mr O’Connell.

Dr Kromer could not be contacted. He stopped practising in October 2020, shortly after concerns were raised: “I do not regret any of the decisions I made and I would make them again,” he was quoted as saying by the Irish Independent.

The 40-year old doctor, who had practised in England before he came to Ireland, said he had always acted “with my best knowledge, with my best attention, my best intentions”. It is unclear if he currently lives in the State.