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The Cincinnati Post
Tuesday, April 18, 2000
Author: Lisa Popyk
Note: Ann Tracy, Ph.D., Executive Director of the International Coalition for Drug Awareness, confirmed that Matthew Hardwick was taking Paxil at the time of the murder.
Thirteen-year-old Chris Fetters of Iowa stabbed her favorite aunt to death with a kitchen knife, then sobbed as the aunt died in her arms. Jeff Franklin, 16, of Huntsville, Ala., attacked his family one cloudy afternoon with a hatchet and sledge hammer. He killed both parents and left his seriously injured brothers, 6 and 9, and 12-year-old sister to bleed to death. All siblings survived.
Fifteen-year-old honor student and Boy Scout Matthew Hardwick of Shelbyville, Tenn., was on his way to school when he walked back into the house, got his father’s gun and began firing at his parents. His father died. They were children who, with no history of violence, became killers in a fit of blinding, indiscriminate anger. Each were taking powerful antidepressants that list as potential side effects extreme agitation and a lost sense of reality. Drug manufacturers say their products do not spur violence or suicide, but rather help scores of mentally-troubled people regain control of their lives. But a growing list of experts say evidence is mounting that, in some cases, these drugs are altering children’s brain chemistry, personalities and reactions to the world.
“If these kids had been on PCP, we automatically would blame the drugs,” said Ann Blake Tracy, director of the International Coalition for Drug Awareness in Salt Lake City.
“Why are we refusing to recognize the connection now? Because they are prescription drugs? If the effects are the same, it doesn’t matter who is giving them to you.”
Ms. Tracy, who has spent more than a decade tracing a link between the new generation of anti-depressants and violence, said extreme reactions occur in only a “very, very small percentage” of patients taking antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), including Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Luvox.
As overall number of pediatric prescriptions continues to grow for psychiatric drugs, including SSRIs, so does the list of violent acts being blamed on them.
In the last five years, the number of children prescribed SSRIs jumped 40 percent, rising to 1.71 million prescriptions in 1999 from 988,000 in 1994.
Rarely, experts said, are parents warned that most SSRIs list as a potential side effect “akathisia,” which can cause some patients to become intensely nervous, restless and anxious.
After the killings at Columbine High last April, the Colorado School Board passed a resolution aimed at discouraging teachers from recommending psychiatric drugs for their students.
This month, a leading British researcher is expected to release a study showing that adult subjects become belligerent and pose a risk to others and themselves after taking Prozac. Dr. David Healy, in a preliminary report, said between one in 20 and one in 10 people who take Prozac become mentally restless or manic and lose all inhibitions.
Drug manufacturers insist any tendency toward violence is the product of a troubled mind, not medication. “The FDA looked at it, and laid this issue to rest,” said Jeff Newton, spokesman for Eli Lilly which makes and markets Prozac.
A 1991 report from the FDA’s Psychopharmacological Drugs Advisory Committee concluded that Prozac reduced the tendency for suicide or violence. But Dr. Peter Breggin, director of the Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology in Bethesda, Md., said: “There are just too many cases of children on drugs responding with such violence for it to be a coincidence.”
Debra Barbieri said that if she’d known about even one case of homicide or suicide involving the drugs, she never would have allowed her 12-year-old daughter to take Prozac and Paxil. Within weeks, the girl once described as sweet and quiet was plotting to kill her mother. “They turned her into someone I didn’t even know,” Ms. Barbieri said. Crystal was weaned off the drugs, and now is back to “her old self,” Ms. Barbieri said.
“People at least need to know that these kinds of reactions are possible before they take these medications,” said Houston Attorney Andy Vickery. His firm represents wrongful death suits involving psychotropic drugs.