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Psychiatrists Fear Link with Prescription Meds and Violent Shootings

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Study of violent crime statistics proves link between anti-depressants and violent gun crime. International body of psychiatrists and psychologists calls for an inquiry.


violence and prescription drugs

A growing number of mental health experts and researchers are concerned that an increasing body of evidence suggests there could be a distinct connection between acts of mass murder and the use of psychotropic drugs.

In a ‘Statement on the Connection Between Psychotropic Drugs and Mass Murder’ (January 4, 2013) the International Society For Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry (ISEPP) calls for an inquiry into the connection between acts of mass murder and the use of psychotropic drugs. The evidence of a link is found in the paper, ‘Prescription Drugs Associated with Reports of Violence Towards Others’ that also shows violence towards others is a seldom-studied adverse drug event and an atypical one because the risk of injury extends to others.

The plea by the Board of Directors and membership of the International Society For Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry reflects a growing body of evidence as detailed in an important 2011 study showing a link between prescription medication and violence. Among the drugs with warnings about aggressive behaviors are varenicline, zolpidem, montelukast, and all antidepressant drugs. The respected international body cited a sorry list of cases where anti-depressants may have played a part. They include:

  • Eric Harris, one of the gunmen in the Columbine school shooting, was taking Luvox and Dylan Klebold, his partner, had taken Zoloft and Paxil.
  • Doug Williams, who killed five and wounded nine of his fellow Lockheed Martin employees, was on Zoloft and Celexa.
  • Michael McDermott was on three antidepressants when he fired off 37 rounds and killed seven of his fellow employees in the Massachusetts Wakefield massacre.
  • Christopher Pittman was on antidepressants when he killed his grandparents.
  • Kip Kinkel was on Prozac when he killed his parents and then killed 2 children and wounded 25 at a nearby school.
  • In fourteen recent school shoots, the acts were committed by persons taking or withdrawing from psychiatric drugs, resulting in over 100 wounded and 58 killed.
  • In other school shootings, information about the shooter’s prescription drug use and other medical history were kept from public records.

While the ISEPP sends condolences to the people of Newtown, Connecticut on their horrific losses it also echoed the worries of mental health professionals on this contentious issue among Americans. The ISEPP declared, “Although the media have cited family members and acquaintances saying Adam Lanza was taking prescription drugs to treat “a neurological-development disorder”, we do not know if he was on psychotropic drugs.”


The ISEPP announcement has triggered fresh interest in studies such as that featured by plosone.org (id.) that examined 200 serious cases in the U.S. over a five-year period. One key peer-reviewed study using evidence from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Adverse Event Reporting System (AERS) reveals this area is worryingly under-researched.


The paper’s authors collated data from cases indicating homicide, homicidal ideation, physical assault, physical abuse or violence related symptoms data from 2004 through September 2009. They admit that what little research has so far shown is “serious acts of violence towards others were regularly reported as an adverse drug event, and that marked differences were observed among drugs. Varenicline had the strongest association with violence by every measure used in this study. In addition, antidepressant drugs showed consistently elevated risk.”


Now the gun lobby won’t be the only interest group feeling the heat as such scientific evidence may shift more of the focus on how vigilant doctors are before prescribing certain drugs to patients who may be at risk of becoming stimulated to violence while medicated. ISEPP avoided making any rash judgments but declared, “we do know that James Holmes, the Colorado batman shooter, had taken 100 milligrams of Vicodin immediately before he shot up the movie theatre.”


With more studies still desperately needed the greatest concern right now must be about those drugs that increase the availability of serotonin or dopamine in the brain. In short, this means most prescription antidepressants. For those interested in helping someone who is dependent on Vicodin then there are organisations that can assist. One such resource is the Coalition against drug abuse, found online at drugabuse.com.


[1] Moore T.J., Glenmullen J, & C. D. Furberg, ’Prescription Drugs Associated with Reports of Violence Towards Others,’ plosone.org, (accessed online: January 7, 2013).


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