April 18, 2007
The New Face Of Antidepressants?


For the past three years, the controversy over antidepressants has largely centered on exploring links between the pills and suicidal behavior, particularly in youngsters. But there has also been considerable chatter about homicidal thoughts.

Several killings around the country have prompted defense lawyers to blame an antidepressant for a killing. Most famously, this occurred in South Carolina, where 12-year-old Chris Pittman claimed Pfizer's Zoloft prompted him to kill his grandparents. And one of the Columbine killers was prescribed Luvox.

Drugmakers deny such links. And antidepressants remain popular, because psychiatrists say depression can lead to suicide, possibly masking the affects one of these pills may have. And despite FDA black box warnings, many simply feel a potential benefit outweighs a potential risk.

Now, though, the Virginia Tech shooter, Cho Seung-Hui, may cause drugmakers a new round of grief over the antidepressants as reports surface that he was being treated for depression and had been prescribed a medication for psychological problems.

Coincidentally, this tragedy occurs just as JAMA releases a study saying the pills may not be as closely linked to teenage suicide as some say. For drugmakers, this is welcome news. And for the moment, the full details of the Virginia Tech shooting remain unclear and speculative.

However, any indication that the shooter was, indeed, taking an antidepressant while on his rampage is going to reignite the debate over these drugs. And drugmakers should be prepared. Despite the JAMA report, which downplayed the risks, any sign one of these pills may have contributed to the shooter's mindset could open a whole new chapter on the controversy.

Report on Cho Seung-Hui in The New York Times (registration required);
This week's JAMA study (subscription required);
Report on Pittman case and Zoloft;
Report on Columbine killer;

Posted by Ed Silverman

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