02/07/2013 09:45 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Psych Meds and Kids: Using Commonsense Caution

by guest blogger Deirdre Imus, author and environmental health advocate

Not long after the unfathomable events of December 14, 2012, unfolded at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, we all began searching for answers. What could possibly motivate someone to act in such a murderous fashion and kill more than two dozen people, most of them children? Was this individual mentally disturbed? Did he have a personality disorder? Social anxiety? What--if any--treatment was he receiving from medical professionals? Was he taking any medications? How can we prevent this from ever happening again?

These queries may haunt us--and the victims' loved ones--forever. Nobody will ever know for sure why this young man committed this horrific act, but we can look for clues in his behavior and that of the gunmen who came before him.

In a recent article on the Natural News website, the psychiatrist Dr. Peter Breggin highlighted a 2010 scientific review in the journal PLOS ONE looking at violence associated with prescription drug use. Pulling data from the Food and Drug Administration's Adverse Event Reporting System, researchers identified 1,527 cases of violence disproportionately reported for 31 drugs from 2004 through September 2009.

For the purposes of the study, "serious adverse events" were defined as homicide, homicidal ideation, physical assault, physical abuse, or violence-related symptoms; in other words, characteristics in keeping with the violent behavior on display at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a movie theatre in Colorado, a shopping mall in Oregon, and elsewhere.

So which drugs were specifically implicated as causing people to tend toward violence? The primary suspects are 11 antidepressants; six sedative/hypnotics; three drugs for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); and a drug called Varenicline that aids in smoking cessation.

In other words, 20 of the 21 drugs that were most likely to cause people to engage in "serious adverse events" are the very drugs designed to cheer a person up, stabilize his or her mood, and subdue agitated behavior. Why this seemingly opposite effect is taking place in select individuals is a concern that seems worthy of further exploration--especially considering that at least 12 million young people in this country are on psychiatric medication, according to a 2011 article by psychologist John Breeding, PhD.

Even if someone taking antidepressants, sedatives, or drugs for ADHD doesn't exhibit violent behavior, there are other potentially serious side effects that come with taking these medications. People may experience nausea, diarrhea, headaches, sexual problems, trouble sleeping, and nervous feeling--and that's just with antidepressants.

People tend to ignore the list of possible side effects that comes with every medication--prescription or otherwise--but as with anything, it's important to consider exactly what you are ingesting and how it might affect you or your loved ones. Not only will you know what strange sensations to look for in yourself, but you'll be more aware of the signs of odd behavior or health problems in family members, too.

Obviously, not every person who takes a prescription drug to treat depression, social anxiety, or ADHD will exhibit violent behavior. It's unclear whether the young man who did so at Sandy Hook Elementary was taking any such medications, but reports have indicated that the shooter in Colorado was in treatment with a psychiatrist, and one of the Columbine shooters was taking an antidepressant.

On average, someone in this country dies every 19 minutes from an unintentional prescription drug overdose, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Starting these medications can cause extreme reactions, such as irritability and agitation, and going off them may be even worse: In an article on his website, the psychiatrist Dr. Breggin notes that withdrawal reactions can last days and sometimes longer, "causing some patients to feel depressed, suicidal, or even violent."

Perhaps it's time to weigh the benefits versus the risks of prescribing these drugs, and to seek out alternatives like cognitive behavioral therapy, nutritional supplements that have proven effective in clinical trials, light therapy, exercise, or meditation.



Deirdre Imus, founder of the site devoted to environmental health,, is president and founder of The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center at Hackensack University Medical Center and cofounder/co-director of the Imus Cattle Ranch for Kids with Cancer. She is a New York Times best-selling author and a frequent contributor to and Fox Business Channel.



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