Altamont woman says drug prescribed for depression is ruining her life

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair

Sherry Francis packs her possessions into boxes at her Lark Street apartment on Sunday, a few days before her scheduled eviction.

ALTAMONT — Village resident Sherry M. Francis, 42, believes that her legal and financial problems — a string of petit larceny arrests and, now, her and her children’s eviction from their apartment — stem from her use of the legal and prescribed drug Abilify, which she began taking three years ago for depression.

Francis has had several arrests for petit larceny over the last few months and was evicted this week from the apartment where she lived for two years. Her landlord, Marc Smith, owner of Altamont Antiques, says that he has had to rent out his own home and go to live with his parents, because Francis owed him rent for six months and he depends on that income.

As of Sunday, Francis was not sure where she herself would be going. “I have a few friends that I might be able to —” she said, her voice trailing off. “Till I get down to D.S.S. [the Department of Social Services] and they can help me get an apartment,” she added.

The oldest of her three sons, Cody, 22, lives on his own in Troy, she said. Quinten, 17 and a senior at Guilderland High School, will be going to stay with his maternal grandparents in Berne, she said. Youngest son Kyle, 13 and in eighth grade, will be staying with his father, Jonathan Francis, she said.

Jonathan and Sherry Francis, while still legally married, are separated, they both said.

Jonathan Francis said he was part of the Soldier On program — which provides comprehensive services for incarcerated military veterans who are homeless or at-risk — in Albany County’s jail and that, after his release from jail, the program helped him get a one-room apartment in Guilderland and a job.

Jonathan Francis, a disbarred lawyer, appeared in Altamont Village Court with his wife last Wednesday, attempting to get a stay for her eviction, arguing that allowances should be made for her under the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, it was traffic court night, and the judge handling Sherry Francis’s case was not present; her case had been heard the previous week.

Prescription drug

Sherry Francis says that her problems started when she began taking Abilify three years ago; her doctor added it to the medicine she was taking for depression and anxiety when Francis told the doctor that Zoloft alone was not working. Francis now takes both both drugs. The addition of Abilify helped with the depression, but raised new — and serious — problems, Francis says.

After starting to take Abilify, Francis said, she began to gamble compulsively; this is known to be — although relatively rare — a side effect of the drug.

The Federal Drug Administration issued a warning about Abilify — and other brands of the drug aripiprazole, which is used to treat a variety of conditions, including schizophrenia — saying that “compulsive or uncontrollable urges to gamble, binge eat, shop, and have sex have been reported with the use of the antipsychotic drug aripiprazole.” The urges, the warning says, “were reported to have stopped when the medicine was discontinued or the dose was reduced.”

This side effect of the drug — which can also be prescribed, the warning says, “in combination with antidepressants to treat depression” — is rare, but can be harmful if not recognized, the warning says.

There were 184 cases reported to the FDA between 2002 and January 2016, the data summary says; 164 of those were compulsive gambling, with nine instances of compulsive sexual behavior, four of compulsive buying, three related to binge eating, and four multiple problems.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Abilify is an atypical antipsychotic that works by rebalancing dopamine and serotonin to improve thinking, mood, and behavior.

Phone calls to Sherry Francis's doctor, to ask her about her experience prescribing Abilify, were not returned.

Eviction

The sheriff was scheduled to evict Francis from her apartment on Lark Street in Altamont, but she didn’t wait for the sheriff; she moved out a few days before.

“She won’t answer my calls or texts, and she won’t come to the door when I go over there,” said Smith, who said he had offered Francis opportunities to pay back the amount she owes, by adding $100 to her rent each month until it’s paid off.

About her landlord, Francis said, “I know he’s upset. I did text him the other day, but didn’t get a response back. I didn’t expect to.” She added, “He’s a good landlord, always has been. We’ve always worked out something.”

Told that Smith had said he had little sympathy because he knew that she had kept on buying cigarettes and lottery cards with money that she owed him, Francis simply nodded sadly.

 

The Enterprise — Michael Koff
Called for an eviction: Sheriff’s deputies Chad Hotaling, left, and Tim Cox, wait as landlord Marc Smith goes upstairs to check on Sherry Francis’s 108 Lark Street apartment. The deputies had come to help with an eviction but, since the residents had already left, there was little for them to do but fill out some paperwork and watch Smith change the locks.

 

Asked if lottery tickets constitute gambling, Jim Maney of the New York Council on Problem Gambling said, “Any time you risk anything of value for a chance of winning something, it’s gambling.”

Francis says that she lost her driver’s license because of speeding tickets; she lost her car, she says, when a drunk driver ran into her.

She was working, she says, as a certified nursing assistant at Ellis Hospital in Schenectady, and as a housekeeper at Atria Guilderland, and that she “had a lady who brought me every day,” but that the woman had become unable to drive her to work any more.

On Tuesday, Smith said that the Lark Street apartment has been largely cleared out, but that her air-conditioning units are still in the windows, and the beds and couches are still there, so he is unsure whether Francis was still living there or not.

Smith texted her Monday to ask if everything was out, he said, but didn’t get any response. “If she was out of there and she had let me know, I could have called the sheriff and given them 24 hours’ notice to cancel the eviction tomorrow,” he said. “That way, I could have gotten back $75 of the $275 I had to pay the sheriff just to come out and do this,” he said. Smith noted that the $275 is in addition to the $1,000 he has had to pay in legal fees.

The amount that she owes him, he said, has gone down, to $4,970, or four months’ rent; she convinced a church group at one point, he said, to help her with two months’ rent.

On Wednesday, two sheriff’s deputies arrived at 108 Lark St. and watched as Marc Smith changed the locks on the door. Francis was nowhere to be seen, but the large pieces of furniture were still in place in the apartment, Smith said.

“I’ve got to store the stuff for 30 days,” he said. He said that he could just keep the furniture where it is, but then he’s not able to start getting the apartment ready for another tenant.

“I’m losing money right and left here. Basically, she’s stealing from me,” Smith said. “Where else can you steal four, five thousand dollars from a business and not go to jail for it?”

Francis said that she is due in village court on Oct. 5 on the petit larceny charges. She said that she hopes the charges will be dropped.

Asked about that, Detective Christopher Laurenzo with the Altamont Police said that he didn’t think they would be dropped. He said there might be a chance that they could be adjourned in contemplation of dismissal, “if she makes restitution.”


Updated on Sept. 29, 2016: The name of Sherry Francis's doctor was removed from the story since she could not be reached for comment.

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