Dr. Garry Porter Thinks His Anti-'O.D.' Pill Might Have Kept Marilyn, Janis and Jimi Alive

updated 01/21/1980 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/21/1980 01:00AM

The teenage girl was upset. Her parents were divorcing, and she impulsively swallowed a handful of her mother's anti-depressant pills, surely intending to be found immediately by her mother. Well, she wasn't..." As Wichita psychiatrist Garry Porter tells it, he frequently encounters such tragic incidents (this girl came back from death after 10 dicey days in the hospital). He still remembers a dinner party when he was interrupted three times with reports of overdoses. The standard emergency room treatment for conscious patients is syrup of ipecac, an emetic to clean out the stomach. But why, Porter wondered, couldn't the OD treatment be built-in?

Coating dangerous pills with small amounts of ipecac would have no effect in normal doses, he hopes, but potential OD victims would vomit before the pills could do any damage. "In OD cases, the killer is time," he continues. "Bring the emetic closer to the overdose, cut the time lag, and we'll save a lot of lives." Porter, for one, would rest easier: "As it is, I know some people have overdosed on medicine I have prescribed. You can't stop all suicides, but certainly some. In this emerging chemical society, hundreds of drug-related self-destructive incidents occur every day." So, working with a Wichita State chemistry professor, Porter spent nearly two years—and $4,000—perfecting his solution, and last November he received a patent.

Drug manufacturers are not necessarily galvanized by Porter's proposal. "They would have to raise the prices to pay for the ipecac coating," he notes, and FDA tests for side effects might take years and cost $5 million. Porter, 44, and the father of four teenagers, is willing to wait and has plenty else to do. He continues his practice at two local hospitals, teaches psychiatry at the University of Kansas Medical School and is on his second four-year term on the Wichita City Commission. In 1974-75 he was even chosen by his fellow commissioners for the ceremonial post of mayor. On his OD cure, Porter is not surprised by "another example of government action hurting people in the guise of helping them through regulation." Still, he vows, "I hope someday to be writing prescriptions for 'anti-depressant-with-ipecac' "

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