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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 12/23/12

Psychotropic medications and school shootings: Preventing another Sandy Hook

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Message Gregory Patin

(Article changed on December 23, 2012 at 11:28)

This article was originally published by the Madison Independent Examiner. A video and slideshow is available to view there.

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In the aftermath of the horrific school shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut, the debate regarding preventive measures is focused on stricter gun control laws. While sensible gun regulations are in order, addressing the root causes of the mass shootings is more important if real preventative measures are to be taken.

What caused the gunmen to act is more relevant in terms of prevention than the weapons used. With or without stricter gun control laws, firearms will be accessible to potential mass murderers in the U.S. because there are over 310 million firearms in civilian hands that are not going to magically vanish with more gun control laws.

One common factor in nearly every school shooting and many other crimes is that the perpetrators were being treated for some sort of mental illness with mind-altering medications.

Sandy Hook Tragedy

Adam Lanza, the Connecticut shooter, is reported by multiple sources to have been suffering from Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism, as well as other personality disorders and a rare condition in which he was unable to feel physical pain. He was taking medications early as age 10, according to his former babysitter, Ryan Kraft.

A friend of his mother told the New York Daily News that she said he was prone to hurting himself, including burning himself with a lighter. "I asked her if she was getting him help, and she said she was," the friend recalled.

Joshua Flashman, a 25-year-old Marine who grew up near the Lanza's home, told that Lanza's mother, Nancy, had been petitioning the courts to gain conservatorship over Adam in order to have him committed to a psychiatric ward and that Adam was "really, really angry about this." Flashman also said that Nancy had volunteered to work with kindergartners at Sandy Hook, who would be first-graders now, and that Adam believed "she cared more for the children than she did for him."

While much of this is unconfirmed because medical and court records are confidential, one thing is clear. If Adam Lanza was being treated by a psychiatrist for Asperger's syndrome and other personality disorders, part of that treatment usually includes psychotropic medications, in particular, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). And according to statistics on gun violence, these drugs may be even more dangerous than the firearms.

School Shootings and Violence

There have been 31 school shootings since Columbine, in which Eric Harris, age 17 and Dylan Klebold, age 18, killed 12 students and one teacher, and wounded 23 others. An assault weapon ban (1994-2004) was in effect at the time. Harris was known to be taking Zoloft, then Luvox. Klebold's medical records have never been made available to the public.

A website called SSRI Stories has compiled a sortable database that lists over 4800 incidents of suicide, violent crimes and other incidents between 1988 and 2011, including school shootings that involve people that were prescribed SSRI medications. Here is a short list of a few more school shootings that involved SSRIs:

  • Steve Kazmierczak, age 27, inexplicably went on a shooting rampage on Feb. 15, 2008 in a Northern Illinois University Lecture Hall before taking his own life. He had been on Prozac, Xanax and Ambien, but had stopped taking Prozac a few weeks before the shootings. Toxicology reports showed traces of Xanax in his system. Five dead, 20 wounded.
  • Jeff Weise, age 16, had been prescribed 60 mg/day of Prozac (three times the average starting dose for adults) when he shot his grandfather, his grandfather's girlfriend and many fellow students in Red Lake, Minnesota on March 24, 2005. He then shot himself. 10 dead, 12 wounded.
  • Cho-Seung-Hui, age 23, showed signs of anger before he went on a shooting rampage on the Virginia Tech campus that ended only after a police officer shot him dead. Officials said prescription medications related to the treatment of psychological problems had been found among Mr. Cho's effects, but no details of his treatment or the medications have been released to the public. 33 dead, 17 wounded.
  • Michael Carneal (Ritalin), age 14, opened fire on students at a high school prayer meeting in West Paducah, Kentucky on Dec, 1, 1997. Three teenagers were killed, five others were wounded.

Violence involving SSRIs does not always involve firearms:

  • Jeff Franklin (Prozac and Ritalin), Huntsville, AL, killed his parents as they came home from work using a sledge hammer, hatchet, butcher knife and mechanic's file, then attacked his younger brothers and sister.
  • Jarred Viktor, age 15, (Paxil). After five days on Paxil he stabbed his grandmother 61 times.
  • John Odgren, age 16, stabbed a 15-year-old student to death at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School in MA on Jan. 19, 2007. Odgren was being treated for Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism, as well as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression and anxiety. The defense said changes in Odgren's clothing habits, as well as changes in his sleep and speech pattern, may have indicated a problem with his medication that could have lead to a manic, paranoid state.

The list of incidents like the above on SSRI stories is seemingly endless and all of the circumstances are different except for one -- all of them involve a mentally ill patient on some sort of SSRI medication. Some have claimed that up to 90 percent of school shootings have involved a shooter on prescription medications.

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Gregory Patin is a free-lance writer residing in Madison, WI. He earned a BA in political science from the University of Wisconsin - Madison and a MS in IT management from Colorado Tech. He is politically independent and not affiliated with either (more...)
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