Former Deputy Testifies In Pittman Trial, Man Says Antidepressant Made Him Crash Car Into House — (WYFF4 Greenville)

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WYFF4 Greenville, the carolina channel

POSTED: 1:31 pm EST February 9, 2005

CHARLESTON, S.C. – A former Charleston County deputy testified at the trial of a teenager accused of killing his grandparents that the anti-depressant Paxil caused the deputy to drive his car into a house where his estranged wife was staying.

Lawyers for 15-year-old Christopher Pittman say a similar drug, Zoloft, caused the then 12-year-old to shoot his grandparents with a shotgun and burn down their Chester County home in November 2001.

Former deputy Bruce Orr told the jury Wednesday morning he felt irritable and impulsive and was scared of himself after he was put on the drug for a time as he went through a divorce. He said he initially wanted to commit suicide at the home, but when he saw his wife was there, decided to use his truck to ram her car, then drove into the house itself.

Orr was called because a prosecution witness, psychiatrist Dr. James Ballenger, recommended in the Orr case that the judge show leniency because the former deputy showed symptoms of rapid-cycling mania caused by the anti-depressant.

In the Pittman case, Ballenger said the boy killed 66-year-old Joe Pittman and 62-year-old Joy Pittman out of sheer anger.

Under cross examination, Orr testified that he never blamed anyone else for the incident.

In the hours after his grandparents were killed, Pittman told authorities a black man killed the pair, then kidnapped him.

Pittman is charged with two counts of murder and faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted. The case was moved to Charleston because of pretrial publicity in Chester County.

Lawyers have not decided whether Pittman will take the stand in his own defense.

A defense witness showed data Tuesday that there have been three homicides involving young people between 12 and 17 on Zoloft according to adverse event reports filed with the Food and Drug Administration by the drug’s manufacturer.

But Keith Altman, an expert in analyzing adverse event data, testified only between 1 percent and 10 percent of adverse event reports on drugs are estimated to make it to the FDA.

Zoloft is the most widely prescribed antidepressant in the United States, with 32.7 million prescriptions written in 2003, according to IMS, a pharmaceutical information and consulting company.

Last October, the FDA ordered Zoloft and other antidepressants to carry “black box” warnings — the government’s strongest warning short of a ban — about increasing the risk of suicidal behavior in children.