Kip Kinkel: Listening to
Filed June 15, 1998
Speaking Saturday at Thurston High School in Springfield, Ore.,
President Clinton lamented kids' ``easy access to guns in a culture
where they've been exposed to lots and lots and lots of violence.'' He
considered this a ``combustible combination'' for troubled children. But
there is one element in the combustible mixture the president did not
mention: the phenomenal increase in prescriptions of Prozac and other
anti-depressants written for children -- even though these drugs have
not been approved for pediatric use by the Food and Drug Administration.
Kip Kinkel was one of those children.
If some good is to come out of the Springfield tragedy, maybe the
fact that the 15-year-old who opened fire in the school cafeteria had
been on Prozac will spur the public to demand a national conversation
not just about gun control, but about drug control. I don't mean the
costly and questionably effective war on illegal drugs, but rather
control of legal drugs like Prozac, which are being prescribed to
younger and younger kids -- including preposterously enough,
Kip will be arraigned Tuesday and piecing together his medical
history is not easy now that there is a gag order on all litigants. But
according to Diane Sheldon, a family friend who went on vacation to
Costa Rica with the Kinkels in June 1996, Kip had just been put on
Prozac. His mother made repeated references to Kip's taking the drug and
how pleased they were with the outcome. ``The Prozac is working,'' she
kept saying. Kip seemed happy and was showing enthusiasm for something
other than firearms.
But what was being wrought underneath this apparent improvement in
his behavior? In multimillion-dollar ads in national magazines, a
wilting tree is transformed, thanks to Prozac, into a bright evergreen.
But is the glowing tree rotting within? The trend line is ominous.
Children ages 6 to 18 received 735,000 prescriptions for Prozac and
other anti-depressants in 1996 -- up a staggering 80 percent since 1994.
The need for more hard data about a powerful drug that may be poisoning
our children is urgent.
A good start would be to make available to the public information
about the drugs Kip has been on, who prescribed them, what were the
dosages and what were the side effects. Did he experience the mental and
physical agitation many Prozac users describe? And how did the famed
``assertiveness'' Prozac induces affect a disturbed teenager who clearly
needed less self-confidence and more self-doubt about his dark
According to Mark Sabitt, Kip's lawyer, his office has received many
calls and letters from members of the public concerned about what impact
Prozac had on the boy's behavior. Prozac has been claimed as a
mitigating factor in criminal cases so many times that such a strategy
has its own name: ``the Prozac Defense.''
There have already been more than 270 lawsuits against Eli Lilly,
Prozac's manufacturer. One, brought by the children of a man who stabbed
his wife 15 times while on the drug, will be heard in Honolulu's federal
court in October. The judge preliminarily ruled that ``Lilly may have
acted wantonly, oppressively or with such malice as implies a spirit of
mischief or criminal indifference.''
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who sits on the Human Resources
Subcommittee (which oversees the FDA), wrote a letter to the Drug
Enforcement Administration expressing his concerns about ``expanding the
availability of Prozac to underage children.'' But to his surprise, the
Congressman learned that unlike Ritalin, Valium, Halcyon and Xanax,
Prozac is not covered by the Controlled Substances Act.
This is yet another of the many unanswered questions about Prozac:
Why doesn't the DEA closely monitor a drug whose usage is skyrocketing
and whose side-effects remain disturbingly unexplored? Last week,
Kucinich fired off another letter to the DEA castigating as
``unfortunate and short-sighted'' the agency's decision ``to absolve
itself of issuing a position on the FDA's consideration of expanded
Prozac sales to children.''
As of yet, Kucinich is alone in his quest. What could be inhibiting
others on the Hill from joining him? Perhaps an addiction to
pharmaceutical companies' campaign contributions?
Maybe the carnage in Springfield will push the nation to act. Finding
out as much as we can about Kip's history with Prozac would shed a lot
of light on its impact. If he was, indeed, put on Prozac in the summer
of 1996, how long did he stay on it? And if he was taken off, what were
the withdrawal symptoms? Was he prescribed it after a full psychological
evaluation? If not, how, and why? And on that fateful day when he opened
fire on his schoolmates, was he still listening to Prozac?
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