The Spanish headline in Costa Rica’s biggest daily, La Nación, registered awkwardly in my old Gringo head, “Son kills with bullets the mother and himself shoots in the head.” The mangled word order didn’t keep me from having my next thought, however, which was a result of looking into similar, though idiomatically correct, headlines in the U.S for some time now. That thought was, “They must use Prozac in Costa Rica, too.”
And sure enough, the first paragraph of the La Nación article said the shooter, a teacher, had been “incapacitated by depression.” His neighbors reported that both mother and son “were taking pills.” They also reported that the pair had been close, a common theme in many similar antidepressant tragedies.
Once you start looking for it, the pattern becomes familiar. A murderous rampage followed by suicide. The victims are often family members, but not always. The news reports mention in passing, usually as a possible explanation for the suicide, that the murderer was undergoing treatment for depression. The news reports will almost never say what that treatment was.
Chances are, however, if you are being treated for depression today anywhere in the western world, you are taking an antidepressant drug. And chances are also excellent that if you reveal to your doctor that you are anything less than deliriously happy, wonderfully self-confident, and relaxed in every situation, you can get a script for happy pills on the spot.
The most widely used antidepressants are Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, SSRIs. They are all derivatives of the original Prozac. SSRIs are the most commonly prescribed drugs in the U.S. Over 118 million prescriptions for these antidepressants were filled in 2005.
I want to preface my further remarks with an ONSOSA (O’Boyle’s NonScientific Over-Simplification Alert). I am not a scientist or a doctor. My columns involve no double-blind studies. Only my wife reviews them before publication, and she only checks for grammar, spelling, and nonsense. I understand that correlation does not necessarily mean causation, which is to say, just because it is cold in the winter, doesn’t mean that cold causes winter.
That said, however, at some point correlation should get our attention, particularly where the correlation is between taking powerful psychoactive drugs and committing gruesome, violent crimes. The association between intoxication of many kinds and crime is far from controversial.
The website www.ssristories.com, which collects reports of crimes and antisocial behavior associated with antidepressant use, contains reports on nearly 3000 incidents of sufficient severity to have made the news. SSRI Stories also tells us that over 200,000 people a year are admitted to hospitals with mania or psychosis symptoms associated with antidepressants.
Here are some of the raw numbers for antidepressant related incidents since the mid 90s:
School shootings – 48 (including all the most famous), road rage incidents – 55, postpartum depression cases – 44, murders – 600, suicides – 529, murder/suicides – 180. These and anywhere from lone cases to dozens of incidents of suicide-by-cop, robberies, assaults, police standoffs, stabbings, shoot-outs, self-mutilation, and more.
The medical community is fully aware of the side effects of these drugs. The Physician’s Desk Reference lists the following possible adverse reactions to antidepressants:
Manic reactions, abnormal thinking, hallucinations, personality disorder, emotional instability, alcohol abuse, amnesia, agitation, psychosis, abnormal dreams, hostility, paranoia, confusion, delusions, sleep disorders, severe restlessness, and withdrawal syndrome.
And yet, ads for Prozac and it’s relatives make it sound as though paradise on earth is just a happy pill away.
It is testimony to the power of the pharmaceutical industry and their cozy relationship with regulators that the public has not made a connection between antidepressant drugs and horrific violence. The popularity of SSRIs is a triumph of marketing over pharmaceutical science and public regulation.
In 2004 the FDA finally noticed that a lot of people were killing themselves while on these drugs. Under considerable pressure, it put its strongest warning on the label, but only for those under 18. It expanded the warning to those under 25 a little later. It will come as a relief to those risking mayhem and death by taking SSRIs that reaching the age of 26 will render them absolutely safe.
If we were to take each report on the SSRI Stories site as an official “Adverse Reaction” report, SSRIs are the most dangerous drugs ever approved for public use.
Even at the time that the FDA’s first advisory panel on Prozac met in 1992, it was already the record holder for adverse reaction reports at some 23,067. That included 1,436 suicide attempts and 1,313 deaths. The death toll has mounted steadily since then and the epidemic is worldwide.
And if the influence of the drug lobby isn’t clear enough in those statistics, when Prozac was in the approval process the FDA banned the harmless, inexpensive nutritional supplement tryptophan. Tryptophan is a Prozac competitor in the serotonin metabolism field, used as a sleep aid and mood enhancer. Yet when a contaminated batch caused 1500 adverse reactions worldwide the FDA was quick to ban it as too dangerous for public consumption. The ban lasted until 2007.
I’m never one to urge banning bad habits and unapproved drugs. It doesn’t work. And it wastes a lot of time and energy. However, when an officially approved therapeutic drug has shown itself to be destructive to both drug consumers and the general public it’s time to get it off the market. Mass murder and suicide are not acceptable side effects of any therapy.
Too many drugs have come to market bearing pedigrees which imply that they’ve been clinically tested, through peer review, and through rigorous FDA evaluation. And then after millions of patients take the drug, it proves dangerous or even deadly. Bummer!