It seems almost every month we see another horrific tragedy unfold on the nightly news that involves a troubled young person resorting to mass violence. But in all the aftermath…and all the talk about gun control…lawmakers omit one key issue from their politically-correct rhetoric: antidepressant drugs.
In fact, a new study out of Sweden has found a clear link between antidepressant drug use and homicide.
Of course, this news doesn’t surprise me one bit.
As I often report in my forensic medical consulting practice, I noted the paradoxical link between antidepressant drug use and self harm…and even violence against others.
You see, when people are clinically depressed, they turn inward. They close themselves off. They think about doing bad things, often to themselves. And even to others. But they lack the energy to carry out these actions. So they just keep thinking about them. Psychiatrists call this process thought substitution.
Now, give that depressed person an antidepressant drug, and all of a sudden, they have the energy to carry out their harmful thoughts. But their treatment never addresses the underlying cause of the depression.
So–the results far too often turn tragic.
Scandinavia suffered one of the worst such examples in history a few years ago. (So why did President Obama assure us such tragedies don’t happen in other countries?) In fact, perhaps that tragedy prompted this new analysis of antidepressants in Sweden.
For this new study, published last month in the Journal of World Psychiatry, researchers from the Karolinska Institute collected data on 959 people who committed homicide between 2003 and 2011. Plus, for each offender, they selected 10 control participants from the Finnish Population Information System and matched for age, sex, and home location at the time of each homicide. In addition, the researchers analyzed the patients’ medication use between 1995 and 2011, especially the period prior to the homicides.
They found antidepressant use increased a patient’s risk of committing homicide by 31 percent. Furthermore, they found benzodiazepines (drugs used to treat anxiety and insomnia) increased risk by 45 percent.
Opiate drug use appeared to double the risk of homicide. (Of course, opiates are narcotics. And any involvement with narcotics may be deadly for other reasons.)
And in a stunning turn of events–the study linked non-opiate painkillers (like acetaminophen, or Tylenol) with a 206 percent increase in risk. (Just to give you a little more perspective on these numbers…that’s more than triple the risk for painkillers like Tylenol, since an increase of 100 percent is double the risk.)
But the researchers couldn’t leave this data well enough alone.
In fact, they conducted a separate sub-group analysis of killers under the tender age of 25 years. They found the higher homicide risk of antidepressant drugs was no longer “statistically significant” in this one statistical sub-group.
But, as I always say, subset analyses are notoriously sketchy. They allow statisticians to play ever more games with data.
There was one bit of good news from the new study…
They found no link whatsoever between antipsychotic drugs–generally used to treat men and women diagnosed as “clinically insane”–and an increased risk of homicide. So–the proverbial “homicidal maniac” is not really the problem, according to this study.
If our politically-correct public health experts would turn their sights away from guns for just a moment, they might see that treating severely mentally-disturbed people with antipsychotic drugs is still a good idea for preventing homicide. Plus, they need to look a lot more seriously at the “routine” psychiatric drugs given to millions of others.
In the end, the researchers wrote a Letter to the Editor in which they completely backpedaled away from their own findings. They gave us the clear results, but then sheepishly warned we shouldn’t take the results to “imply that use of antidepressant drugs be denied to either adults or adolescents due to a presumed risk of homicidal behavior.”
So, as the Miami-Dade police used to tell the public when they called me on a homicide case as Medical Examiner, “Nothing to see here. Move along please…”
Of course, our new “Johnny-one-note” Surgeon General will find nothing to see here either, as he pursues his politically-correct, single-minded purpose of abolishing the Second Amendment as another public health achievement. When explaining his positions to Congress, he looks like a deer caught in the headlights. Meanwhile, dangerous antidepressant and painkiller drugs like Tylenol have us all in their sights.
“Psychotropic drugs and homicide: A prospective cohort study from Finland,” World Psychiatry June 2015; 14(2): 245–247