news - sports - marketplace - entertainment - jobs - cars - apts - contact us 

Southwest Florida's Most Read Information Source
<< Back to Local News    Email this page to a friend.

Correlation seen between antidepressants, violence


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.

GETTING COMFORT: Bill 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 Tegretol.

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 track.

“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 day.

“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 Awareness.

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 said.

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 antidepressant prescriptions.

“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 6-year-old sons.

Demeniuk, in the process of seeking a divorce, had been taking the drug Zoloft before switching to Paxil, her boyfriend told the 911 dispatcher.

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 these drugs.”

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 serotonin levels.

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 14-month period.

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 than harmful.

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 antidepressants, agreed.

“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, Krauss said.

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?”

Copyright 2001, The News-Press. Use of this site indicates your agreement to the Terms of Service (updated 08/09/01)
To email this article just enter the following information:
Recipients email:
Senders name:
Your comments: