Thursday, March 24, 2005

The teen who went on a deadly shooting rampage at a Minnesota high school Monday was on Prozac, adding to the list of youths involved in similar crimes who were taking antidepressants or other mood-altering medications.

But medical experts say the role the drugs played in the school shootings is debatable.

“When you look at the school shooters, some were on Luvox, Prozac, Ritalin, and Paxil. These are mood elevators, but they can push up the psyche and can cause agitation,” said Robert Butterworth, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles, who specializes in trauma.

Dr. Robert Findling, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry for University Hospitals of Cleveland, said while some youths “may become more agitated or irritable” while on such drugs, their actions are the result of their illness, not the medication.

“Association is not the same as causation,” he said.

Jeff Weise, 16, killed nine persons and himself in Red Lake, Minn., making it the second-deadliest school incident in the nation. A cultural coordinator at the school told The Washington Post that he was taking Prozac and had been previously hospitalized for suicidal tendencies.

The deadliest school shooting occurred in Littleton, Colo. where Eric Harris, 18, who was on Luvox, and Dylan Klebold, 17, killed 13 persons and themselves at Columbine High School in 1999.

Other school shooters who took prescription drugs include:

• Kip Kinkel, an Oregon youth, who in 1998 when he was 15 years old, killed both his parents and then went to his school, where he killed two classmates and wounded 22 others. News reports indicated he had been treated with Prozac.

• Jason Hoffman, at age 18, was on Effexor and Celexa, both antidepressants, when he wounded one teacher and three students at California’s Granite Hills High School in 2001.

• Cory Baadsgaard had been off Paxil and was taking high doses of Effexor in 2001 when the 16-year-old, armed with a rifle, took 23 classmates and a teacher hostage at his Washington state high school.

• Thomas Solomon Jr., at age 15, brought a rifle to his high school in Conyers, Ga., in 1999 and shot six students. He was taking Ritalin, a drug usually taken to treat hyperactivity.

• Elizabeth Bush was on “antidepressants” when she shot and wounded another student at Bishop Neumann High School in Williamsport, Pa. in 2001. She was 14.

• Seth Trickey, at age 13, was on numerous prescription medications and undergoing psychological counseling when he opened fire on his middle-school classmates in Muskogee, Okla., in 2000, wounding five.

Three weeks before the shooting, the boy had been injected with a steroid called Kenalog as a remedy for poison ivy. Medical experts who testified at a hearing in the case said Kenalog can cause psychotic effects in some users.

Mr. Butterworth stresses the need to closely monitor youths who are treated with antidepressants and other medications.

“Otherwise, they can cause problems, and no one knows about it” until the youth displays aggression, he said. “This doesn’t mean someone will become a school shooter. But it can mean he becomes aggressive.”

Most of the drugs used by those involved in school shootings are in a class of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. In fighting depression, the drugs restrict the brain’s ability to metabolize serotonin.

In 2002, Mark Taylor, a survivor of the Columbine shootings, filed suit against Solvay Pharmaceuticals, manufacturers of Luvox. He claimed that Harris’ violent actions were a reaction to that drug. He settled for a $10,000 donation to the American Cancer Society.

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