Mass Shootings Often Attributed to Prescription Drugs
Mass Shootings Often Attributed to Prescription Drugs

It is no secret that prescription drugs, notably antidepressants, can make psychiatric patients worse, not better, and even precipitate violence.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants like Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil are so linked to violence that they were given the FDA’s highest warning, a black box, in 2004 for the suicidal risks they can create in young adults.

According to published reports, the gunmen involved in the mass shootings at Columbine High School, Red Lake reservation, Northern Illinois University, and Virginia Tech were under the influence of psychiatric drugs or withdrawing from such drugs.

About 5,000 news stories link psychiatric drugs to violent crime, including school shootings, according to the website SSRI Stories, where the stories can be read (

Three men in their 70s and 80s attack their wives with hammers while under the influence of psychiatric drugs, say news reports on the site. A 54-year-old respiratory patient with a breathing tube and an oxygen tank and no previous criminal record holds up a bank.

An enraged man in Australia chases his mailman and threatens to cut his throat—for bringing him junk mail. A 58-year-old Amarillo man with no criminal history tries to abduct three people, and an Oklahoma woman accepts a cup of tea from an elderly nurse she’s just met—and kills her.

“The kind of energy, rage and insanity seen in a lot of crimes today was not seen before SSRIs appeared,” said Rosie Meysenburg, who co-founded SSRI Stories, in an interview shortly before her death this year.

Meysenburg is not the only one to observe the bizarre, unpredictable, and inexplicable violence that has surfaced since the psychiatric drug craze began 25 years ago with Prozac. Did elderly people commit crimes so frequently in the past? Did people so frequently kill their families?

During a few weeks in 2009, these events were reported: A Middletown, Md., man was accused of killing his wife and three children. A Milton, Mass., man was accused of killing his two sisters at a birthday party. A Santa Clara man was accused of killing his two children and three other relatives.

An Orting, Wash., man was accused of killing his five children. A Chicago man was accused of killing his girlfriend’s sister, father, and grandfather, and an Alabama man was accused of killing his mother and grandparents. What’s going on?

And there’s another indication that the high rates of suicide and violence are linked to prescription drugs—the high suicide rate in the military, where antidepressants are widely given.

In just one month, July 2011, there were 32 suspected suicides, 21 among active duty troops and 10 among reservists. In one report, 36 percent of the troops who killed themselves had never even been deployed. That means that combat stress and post-traumatic stress disorder were not factors in the self-injurious behavior. 

You don’t have to be a cynic to ask if the reason so many troops are killing themselves is, at least partially, because they are taking drugs that make them kill themselves. Nor is it cynical to ask if some of the 20 million Americans in the general population who take such drugs could be behind the frequent mass shootings and family killings.

Martha Rosenberg is a health reporter and author who lives in Chicago.

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