Correlation seen between
By ANDI ATWATER, firstname.lastname@example.org
While Southwest Florida reels from news that yet another mother
is accused of killing her child, a handful of doctors and
researchers say the link to antidepressant drugs cannot be ignored.
Leslie Wallace, 39, of North Fort Myers, is one of a startling
number of people whose unexpected acts of violence are being
correlated to depression and the drugs prescribed to curb it.
Wallace, center, is comforted by Steve Rogers, right, the
pastor at New Wine Ministries, at a Saturday graveside service
for Wallace’s 6-year-old son, James.
Click on image to enlarge.
Wallace shot and killed her 6-year-old son Sept. 2 on a shooting
spree in North Fort Myers, investigators said. She failed in her
attempt to shoot her 16 year-old.
The woman was taking the prescription drugs Wellbutrin and
Her husband, Bill Wallace, said his wife had been seeing a
psychiatrist on a regular basis, was taking her medication and
assured him the night before she killed their son that she was on
“She seemed stable, was handling things just fine,” Bill Wallace
said last week. “I thought she was taking her medication. She gave
me every indication she was.”
Many doctors swear by antidepressant drugs — such as Prozac,
Zoloft, Luvox and Effexor — but a growing number of scientists and
physicians say it’s not the depression that’s making people snap —
it’s the drugs themselves.
That’s a concern when millions of people take the drugs every
“Antidepressants are the closest thing we’ve seen to LSD — they
affect the same receptors in the brain,” said Ann Blake Tracy,
executive director of the International Coalition for Drug
Tracy, who holds a doctorate in health sciences, is the author of
“Prozac: Panacea or Pandora?” and has researched the adverse effects
of antidepressants and similar drugs for 11 years.
A person’s mind is altered by these drugs, which increase
serotonin levels in the brain and decrease the metabolism of it, she
Serotonin is a chemical in the brain called a neurotransmitter.
It carries messages between nerves in the brain and has been
associated with mental illness, hallucinogenic activity, muscle
contraction and regulation of body temperature.
The drug has also been associated with feelings of well-being and
chemicals that affect serotonin levels are used in many
“It keeps you in a dream state and you start acting out your
dreams and nightmares,” Tracy said. “They should change the name
‘bipolar’ to ‘sheer hell on earth.’”
Leslie Ormandy Demeniuk, 31, was charged with murder last March
in St. Augustine after police said she shot and killed her twin
Demeniuk, in the process of seeking a divorce, had been taking
the drug Zoloft before switching to Paxil, her boyfriend told the
In June, Texas mother Andrea Yates systematically drowned her
five children in the family’s bathtub and told police she believed
she was a bad mother and that her children were hopelessly damaged.
Her husband and other relatives said Yates had suffered from
severe depression for several months and had not responded to
several brief hospitalizations, multiple combinations of
anti-depressants and an anti-psychotic drug.
“These drugs make you psychotic — you’re in a different state
where you no longer have responsibility for yourself,” said
psychiatrist Peter Breggin with the Center for the Study of
Psychiatry and Psychology.
Breggin, who said he never was a big fan of prescribing drugs,
has testified in numerous criminal trials and is the author of the
recently published “The Anti-Depressant Fact Book: What Your Doctor
Won’t Tell You About Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa and Luvox.”
Violence and suicide
“I can certainly verify that antidepressants can cause mania and
psychosis and cause violence and suicide,” Breggin said. “I’ve been
a medical expert in numerous criminal cases — people who never
committed an act of violence in their lives who became violent on
Some studies have shown that increased serotonin levels
contribute to violent behavior, but most studies about
antidepressant drugs — many sponsored by pharmaceutical companies —
show no such proof.
Researchers report finding elevated serotonin in patients who had
psychosis or schizophrenia, mood disorders, organic brain disease,
mental retardation, autism and Alzheimer’s disease.
University of Southern California School of Pharmacy researchers
and Pasteur Institute scientists in Paris created and studied a
strain of aggressive and violent mice that was linked to increased
Malcolm Bowers Jr., a psychiatrist at Yale University in New
Haven, reported that serotonin-induced psychosis accounted for 8
percent of all general hospital psychiatric admissions over a recent
But millions of Americans take the drugs.
An estimated 11 million psychiatrist appointments in 1994
included an antidepressant prescription and more than 10 million
other antidepressant prescriptions were written by primary care
doctors, Clinical Psychiatry News reported in 1999.
More helpful than harmful
While those critical of antidepressant drugs can name hundreds of
cases where seemingly rational individuals suddenly became
homicidal, many practicing physicians say the drugs are more helpful
The percentage of people who exhibited violent behavior is low
compared to the millions who take antidepressants and those people
may have had underlying conditions that no drug could have
prevented, said Jerry Kantor, a Lee County psychiatrist.
“Depression itself is one of the variables here,” he said.
“People getting antidepressants are depressed, so it’s hard to
decide whether it’s antidepressants or something inherent to that
particular kind of depression.”
Willy Krauss, a Lee County psychiatrist who also advocates
“Lots of people treated for depression have a condition that
makes them quite unstable emotionally,” he said. “Often, when they
talk about violence and Prozac, it wasn’t the cause of it — it was
in spite of it.”
Krauss suggested the number of people who become homicidal while
taking Prozac or similar drugs is probably no higher than those who
commit murder who weren’t on antidepressant medications.
Many doctors say antidepressants are life-saving medications that
in many cases can bring about a full recovery from depression.
No drug is effective in all cases and about 20 percent of people
who take antidepressants cannot be helped by any medication at all,
But he said the vast majority can be.
“There is total consensus — I don’t think there’s 1 percent of
psychiatrists who have doubts this is a useful medication,” Krauss
said. “There is definitely no doubt that they are not increasing
violent behavior. On the contrary, we are often using them for
people who have difficulty controlling their temper.”
Therapists don’t want drug scares frightening away those who
really need help for depression or other mental illnesses.
“Depression is horrible and people suffer terribly, but the
advent of antidepressants have helped them work through things,”
Kantor said. “It’s a godsend.”
For doctors and researchers such as Tracy and Breggin, these are
the ideas that keep the truth away from the mainstream population.
They’re up against drug companies who make billions from the
prescriptions of antidepressant drugs.
Eli Lilly, the maker of Prozac, has made an estimated $20 billion
since introducing the drug in 1988 — and can afford multi-million
dollar ad campaigns and sponsor most of the research.
“There’s a cloak of silence in the profession against even
suggesting that drugs can cause violence,” Breggin said. “These are
supposed to be miracles, to make you better.”
For Leslie Wallace, whose prescriptions may or may not have
affected her mental health, many have no doubt she wasn’t in her
right mind when she shot her son.
“They are not themselves — they have no clue as to what reality
is when it happens,” Tracy said. “That’s why people around them say,
‘I don’t know who this person was.’
“My question is, how many mothers need to seal my testimony with
their blood and the blood of their kids before people will listen?”
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