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Jim Kouri, Public Safety Examiner
July 3, 2011
Recent cases of mass-killings or violent outbursts appear to show that perpetrators shared a similar mental state especially when the shooters’ motives and medical histories become clearer to police officers and prosecutors. Police and criminal justice practitioners have begun reading recent studies regarding the link between violent behavior and prescription medications.
In one of the few studies on the subject of medicated psychotic behavior, the Institute of Safe Medication Practices earlier this year released a study of 31 physician-prescribed drugs that are believed to be disproportionately associated with several cases of violent, even deadly, behavior by the user.
The drugs listed by researchers are prescribed by physicians in order to treat conditions ranging from depression and anxiety, to smoking cessation and ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder) in children and young adults.
Drugs used to treat ADHD were the next highest in their association with violent behavior. Many of these drugs are amphetamines which have a history of causing psychotic behavior or paranoia and are at times more likely to be linked to violent acts and behavior than other medications, the researchers said.
Once a treatment for obesity, amphetamines were discredited because of their high potential for abuse and addiction. Stimulants of the Central Nervous System, amphetamines, also known as “speed,” in the past were involved in many violent incidents.
According to a research paper by the institute’s president, Michael C. Cohen, violent outbursts associated with the drugs were classified as the case reports mentioning homicide, physical assault, physical abuse, homicidal ideation or violence-related symptom.
Cohen said that his institute’s study looked at reports of violence and aggression made to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from 2004 to 2009. He said the findings are “far from definitive,” but suggest that more research is needed to ensure these drugs are being properly prescribed.
High on the list was the smoking-cessation pill Chantix, scientific name Varenicline. The researchers said the drug was 18 times more likely to be associated with violence than other drugs on the market. However, some experts claim the violence may be the result of tobacco withdrawal rather than the medication.
“In some human beings, withdrawal from tobacco may resemble withdrawal from opiates or alcohol,” said Dr. Steven Sletzer.
The antidepressants Prozac, Fluoxetine, Zoloft, and others, according to Cohen, are almost 11 times more likely to be linked with violent behavior compared to other drugs. Another popular antidepressant, Paroxetine, sold under the name Paxil, is more than 10 times more likely to be associated with violence, according to the Institute’s report.
Some medications have side effects that are deadly not to the user, but to the user’s family, friends, and neighbors.