When a person is exhibiting a mental illness or mood condition, such as anxiety or depression, help often comes in the form of prescription medication. Despite the long list of alarming side effects, those drugs are taken in the hopes that they will provide relief with minimal side effects.
Mental illness has been noted as a contributing factor when a person commits an act of violence on a mass scale. When a mass shooting occurs, there is always the question of if the shooter suffered from a mental illness, and whether he was taking medication to treat it.
Former Texas Governor Rick Perry has been one of many to ask the question of whether the medications were actually helping the conditions or if the dangerous side effects were contributing to the individual’s violent behavior.
“I think there’s a real issue to be talked about: It seems to me—again, without having all the details about this one—that these individuals have been medicated,” Perry said in June 2015. “And there may be a real issue in this country, from the standpoint of these drugs, and how they’re used… So, I mean, there are a lot of issues here underlying this that I think we as a country need to have a conversation about.”
At the time, Gov. Perry was responding to a mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, in which suspect Dylann Roof opened fire at a church, killing 9 people. Less than a year before the shooting, Roof was arrested for illegally possessing the prescription narcotic suboxone.
While it is not clear if Roof was taking suboxone at the time of the shooting, it should be noted that the drug includes the side effect of “mental/mood changes (such as agitation, confusion, hallucinations).”
In the most recent mass shooting, which occurred on October 1 in Las Vegas, suspect Stephen Paddock opened fire from his hotel room window, killing 58 people and injuring over 500.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that according to records from the Nevada Prescription Monitoring Program, Paddock was prescribed the anti-anxiety drug diazepam on June 21.
The side effects from diazepam include “confusion, hallucinations, unusual thoughts or behavior; unusual risk-taking behavior, decreased inhibitions, no fear of danger; depressed mood, thoughts of suicide or hurting yourself; and hyperactivity, agitation, aggression, hostility.”
Prescription medications with extreme side effects were also linked to James Holmes, the suspect in the mass shooting that left 12 people dead and 70 injured after he opened fire inside a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012.
Holmes was described as an extremely anxious individual who carried out the massacre as a way to cope with his depression. At the time of the shooting, Holmes was found to have been taking the antidepressant Sertraline, a generic version of the Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) Zoloft.
Sertraline has side effects that include “aggressive reaction; mood or behavior changes; and fast talking and excited feelings or actions that are out of control.”
An investigation conducted by the BBC found that in the United Kingdom, antidepressants have been linked to 28 reports of murder and 32 cases of murderous thoughts referred to the UK medicines regulator in the last three decades.
In many cases, the dangerous side effects that come with psychotropic drugs such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications are often overlooked because the patient is hoping the drugs will treat their mental illnesses.
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