Aaron Altscher

Statement on The Connection Between Psychotropic Drugs and Mass Murder

Statement on The Connection Between Psychotropic Drugs and Mass Murder

Statement on The Connection Between Psychotropic Drugs and Mass Murder

January 2, 2013

         The Board of Directors and membership of the International Society For Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry send condolences to the people of Newtown, Connecticut on their horrific losses.  Our hearts go out to the parents of the children who were killed and to the families and friends of the adults who were killed.

We are calling for an inquiry into the connection between these acts of mass murder and the use of psychotropic drugs.  Although the media have cited family members and acquaintances saying Adam Lanza was taking prescription drugs to treat “a neurological-development disorder”, we do not know if he was on psychotropic drugs.  But we do know that James Holmes, the Colorado "Batman” shooter, had taken 100 milligrams of Vicodin immediately before he shot up the movie theatre.  And we do know that:

Christopher Pittman was on antidepressants when he killed his grandparents;

Eric Harris, one of the gunmen in the Columbine school shooting, was taking Luvox and Dylan Klebold, his partner, had taken Zoloft and Paxil;

Doug Williams, who killed five and wounded nine of his fellow Lockheed Martin employees, was on Zoloft and Celexa;

Michael McDermott was on three antidepressants when he fired off 37 rounds and killed seven of his fellow employees in the Massachusetts Wakefield massacre;

Kip Kinkel was on Prozac when he killed his parents and then killed 2 children and wounded 25 at a nearby school.

In fourteen recent school shoots, the acts were committed by persons taking or withdrawing from psychiatric drugs, resulting in over 100 wounded and 58 killed. In other school shootings, information about the shooter’s prescription drug use and other medical history were kept from public records.

This connection between psychotropic drugs and mass murder is not coincidental.  There is enough evidence that antidepressants cause increased risk of suicide and violence for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and its Canadian counterpart to require that drug companies include a “black box” warning to that effect on their packages.  Our first knowledge of this association between psychotropic drugs and violence came from studies completed in the early 1950s.  This was supported by research completed on antidepressants in the mid-1970s.  More recent studies have corroborated this association between antidepressants and homicide/suicide., Antidepressants, specifically Paxil, appear to more than double the risk of hostility events in adult and pediatric placebo-controlled trials.

All of the classes of psychiatric drugs can cause violent, irrational, and/or manic behavior.  Among other effects, these drugs cause a neurological condition called “akathesia,” which means that persons who take them can’t sit still and feel like they are jumping out of their skin.  They behave in an agitated manner which they cannot control and experience unbearable rage, delusions, and disassociation.  For a detailed explanation of the neurology, chemistry, and physiology of akathesia, see Rethinking Psychiatric Drugs: A Guide to Informed Consent by Dr. Grace Jackson.8

Psychotropic drugs – antidepressants, antipsychotics, mood stabilizers – impair the ability of people to accurately and effectively process emotions.  They take away caring.  They dull conscience.  In his book Listening to Prozac, psychiatrist Peter Kramer reported that his patients on Prozac didn’t care as much.  They lost some of their conscience.  This made it easier for them to do things that were hurtful to other people.

In his book Medication Madness, psychiatrist Peter Breggin presents evidence of how psychotropic drugs cause people to lose awareness of how they are behaving and to lose control over their behavior.  Such people are at greatly increased risk of committing acts of crime and violence.

Psychotropic drugs are toxic to the children and adults who take them.  Psychiatrist Grace Jackson writes that “with the possible exception of the chemotherapies used in the treatment of cancer, it would be difficult to identify a class of medications as toxic as antipsychotics.”  The psychiatric drugs that we give to our children and adults in the United States have significant “side effects” including apathy, abnormal dreams, acute respiratory distress, akathesia, agitation, aggression, agoraphobia, paranoia, assorted blood pressure and heart problems, breast enlargement in young boys, measurable brain damage, cerebral atrophy, disinhibition, hostility, homicidal and suicidal ideation, convulsions, diabetes, Parkinson’s symptoms, tardive dyskinesia, tremors, convulsions, psychosis, cerebral vascular accident, inability to express emotion, lethargy, increased chronicity of emotional problems, early dementia and early death.8,9,10,14

We understand that many factors are involved in acts of mass murder.  We are not suggesting that psychotropic drugs are the only or the major factor.  But we do know there have been 22 international drug regulatory warnings about the impact of psychotropic drugs on suicidal and homicidal ideation, mania, violence and hostility.  We do believe that there is enough evidence of the association between psychotropic drugs and mass murder to warrant an inquiry.  And we believe that psychological autopsy and complete review of all medical records should be standard operating procedure in the investigations of these tragedies.

In spite of the evidence of this connection between psychotropic drugs and mass murder, the mainstream media has failed to write about it or investigate it.  Psychiatrist David Healy says: “Violence and other potentially criminal behavior caused by prescription drugs are medicine’s best kept secret.  Never before in the fields of medicine and law have there been so many events with so much concealed data and so little focused expertise”.   Neither has there been an investigation by our Federal government into this connection.  It is time to open the data and focus our expertise on this issue.

In closing, we again express our sadness at the murder of children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School and extend our best wishes during this period of grief.

Statement On August 31 Executive Order on Mental Health Services for Veterans

Statement On August 31 Executive Order on Mental Health Services for Veterans

Statement On August 31 Executive Order on Mental Health Services for Veterans

September 17, 2012

The International Society for Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry (ISEPP) today commended President Obama for his August 31 Executive Order which calls for improved mental health services to veterans, service members and their families and called for increased use of non-drug approaches to treating soldiers experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“We are especially pleased that the President is calling for the hiring of 800 peer counselors to help in the treatment of veterans,” said Al Galves, ISEPP Executive Director.  “We believe that peer counselors and other non-medical approaches are crucial to helping soldiers readjust to civilian life.”

Galves applauded the creation of a National Research Action Plan and the Military and Veterans Mental Health Interagency Task Force and encouraged the Action Plan to include research which compares a cohort of soldiers who are treated without the use of psychotropic drugs to a cohort that is undergoing the standard treatment which uses drugs as a primary modality of treatment.  “Psychotropic drugs do not treat the causes of PTSD and do nothing more than chemically lobotomize patients.” Galves said.  “We need to be using safe and effective non-drug approaches that help soldiers recover from PTSD without the damaging side-effects and high relapse rates that are associated with the drugs.  Included in such approaches are cognitive-behavioral methods and trauma-informed approaches such as Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy.”

Galves also called on the President to get behind Senator Patty Murray’s Mental Health ACCESS Act of 2012, which expands mental health services for veterans and service members and expands the use of peer counselors and services to the families of veterans and service members.

Statement Opposing Prescription Authority for Psychologists

Statement Opposing Prescription Authority for Psychologists

Statement Opposing Prescription Authority for Psychologists

July 30, 2012

     At its July 19, 2012 meeting the Board of Directors of the International Society for Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry (ISEPP) voted unanimously to oppose prescription authority for psychologists.  The Board gave the following reasons for its action:

     Since psychotropic drugs impair mental and emotional functioning, address only symptoms and are very harmful, they are not good treatment for persons diagnosed with mental disorders.

     Since psychotropic drugs are detrimental to effective psychotherapy and inimical to the use of psychotherapy in healthcare, their use is a threat to the profession of psychology.

Mental Health ACCESS Act of 2012

Mental Health ACCESS Act of 2012

Mental Health ACCESS Act of 2012

July 2, 2012

The International Society for Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry (ISEPP) commends Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, for her introduction of the Mental Health ACCESS Act of 2012.

The Act is designed to improve mental health treatment of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan by:

Providing enhanced oversight for Department of Defense (DOD) suicide prevention and resilience efforts;

Expanding services for the families of soldiers;

Improving the training and education of providers;

Increasing peer-to-peer counseling opportunities; and

Improving timely access to effective mental health services.

ISEPP has mounted an initiative to work with the DOD and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to improve the treatment of soldiers suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) by stopping the use of psychotropic drugs as the primary modality of treatment and using non-drug approaches that have been proven to be safe and effective.

ISEPP is encouraged by recent moves by the DOD and VA to use non-drug approaches to helping soldiers suffering from PTSD. Steps such as the Army Surgeon General’s recently released guidelines that discourage the use of psychotropic drugs and encourage non-drug approaches such as sensorimotor psychotherapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, cognitive processing therapy and other trauma-informed approaches, are especially important. 

ISEPP strongly encourages the DOD and VA to continue to respond appropriately to the high rate of suicide and sudden cardiac arrest deaths of soldiers that have been linked to the use of psychotropic drugs. ISEPP believes the Health ACCESS Act of 2012 will be helpful in directing and supporting the DOD and the VA’s efforts.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM)

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM)

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM)

May 11, 2012

It is the position of the International Society for Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry (ISEPP) that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM), a publication of the American Psychiatric Association, is a political rather than scientific document, one which damages human beings. Despite the position of its authors that it is primarily descriptive, the DSM supports the perpetuation of myths about mental, emotional, and behavioral disturbances in individuals which favor pseudoscientific, biological explanations and disregard their lived context. The evolving editions of the DSM have been remarkable in expanding psychiatric labels for alleged “mental illnesses” with no scientifically substantiated biological etiologies. 

The forthcoming DSM-V edition continues this process while attempting to deepen indoctrination of mental health providers, consumers, and third-party payers into the fallacy that problems in living result from problems in biology. Adherents of biopsychiatric explanations and pharmaceutical manufacturers are the primary benefactors of public acceptance of this myth. Beyond research and technical studies which repeatedly demonstrate the inherent lack of validity and reliability of the DSM as a nosological system, psychiatric labeling has real consequences in discriminating against and oppressing the disadvantaged, creating unnecessary obstacles to employment, housing, and social acceptance, lending false credibility to the concept of psychiatric disability, assaulting self-worth and self-efficacy, and undermining reestablishment of positive life-striving by inducing “behaviors to label” among people who have been so labeled.

In ISEPP’s view, conscientious and ethical provision of services to those suffering from mental, behavioral, and emotional disturbances is primarily a moral, social, political, and philosophical enterprise. ISEPP supports helpers who wish to eschew use of the DSM-V and its prior systems. ISEPP recommends public scrutiny and skepticism regarding the DSM as well as a constructive dismantling of the psychiatric-pharmaceutical complex through which it is continually supported and redeployed.

Are The American Academy of Pediatrics New ADHD Guidelines Justified by the Evidence?

Are The American Academy of Pediatrics New ADHD Guidelines Justified by the Evidence?

Are The American Academy of Pediatrics New ADHD Guidelines Justified by the Evidence?

November 17, 2011

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently updated their guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to include preschool children and adolescents (www.pediatrics.org/cgi/doi/10.1542/peds.2011-2654). Previously AAP published clinical guidelines addressed the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD for school-age children ages 6-12. The AAP states that emerging evidence now supports expansion of the age range to preschool children.

The lowered age limit for treatment in the new AAP guidelines inevitably will increase the use of stimulant medications for this vulnerable age group. In the first three years of the last decade, spending for ADHD drugs increased 183% for children overall (Medco Health Solutions, Inc., 2004), and the prescribed use of these drugs and diagnoses of ADHD continue to rise (http://psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/abstract/appi.ajp.2011.1103038). In 2007, 9.5% of children between the ages of 4 and 17 were diagnosed with ADHD, with 60% taking prescribed stimulants. These numbers are sure to swell as pediatricians are given the green light to prescribe psychostimulants for very young patients. Is the AAP’s expansion of its ADHD guidelines warranted, particularly given the likely consequence that many more children under the age of 6 will take these drugs for at least a portion of their earliest years?

Prescriber and parents/caregiver decisions to treat very young children with ADHD drugs must be based on a rigorous risk/benefit analysis.  Treatment related evidence for the AAP clinical ADHD practice guidelines relied on a recent review prepared by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (Charach, 2011). This review examined 15 reports representing 11 investigations of the use of psychostimulants by preschoolers and claimed that studies found the drugs to be safe and efficacious. However, the review acknowledges that “the evidence comes primarily from short-term trials lasting days to weeks with small samples” (p. Es-8). When comparing methylphenidate with parent behavior training (PBT), the review concludes:

The SOE [strength of evidence] for use of PBT was judged high due to number of studies and consistency of results. The SOE for methylphenidate [MPH] was judged low because there is only one good-quality study [The Preschool ADHD Treatment Study (PATS)] . . . Both interventions are effective, with no adverse events reported for PBT, while there are adverse effects with MPH. This favors the use of PBT for preschoolers at risk for ADHD due to disruptive behavior.” (p. ES-8)

The assessment of efficacy for PATS in this review is optimistic. While PATS found modest significant differences on endpoint measures between the drug and placebo, only 21% of best-dose MPH achieved defined criterion for remission set for school-age children diagnosed with ADHD. Moreover, 30% of parents spontaneously reported moderate to severe adverse events in all phases of the study, and 11% discontinued due to intolerability (Wigal et al., 2006). Adverse events included irritability, repetitive behaviors, tics, and emotional outbursts. For those children who remained on medication, annual growth rates were 20.3% less than expected for height and 55.2% for weight (Swanson et al., 2006). NIMH director Insel issued an unenthusiastic endorsement based on PATS: “preschoolers may benefit from low doses of medication when it is closely monitored, but the positive effects are less evident and side-effects are somewhat greater than previous reports in older children" (http://www.nimh.nih.gov/press/preschooladhd.cfm).

Other noteworthy studies challenge the wisdom of giving our youngest children these drugs.  The American Psychological Association (APA) Report of the Working Group on Psychoactive Medications for Children and Adolescents (APA Working Group, 2006), analyzing forty years of trials, found overall effect sizes for ADHD drugs in the moderate range, with low to moderate ranges for academic productivity and in the zero range for academic achievement (Conners, 2002). The Working Group noted the lack of data supporting long term efficacy or safety and highlighted that stimulants, while reducing symptoms, show minimal efficacy in general life domains of the child, including social and academic success. The Multimodal Treatment Study of Children with ADHD (MTA) (MTA Cooperative Group, 1999), the largest, most complexly designed trial of interventions for ADHD, found equivalent outcomes for medicated and non-medicated groups at 36 months (Jensen et al., 2007), with non-rebounded decreases in growth for children on Ritalin (Swanson et al., 2007).

In March of 2006, the Drug Safety and Risk Management Advisory Committee of the FDA urged stronger warnings on ADHD drugs, citing reports of serious cardiac risks, psychosis or mania, and suicidality for children taking them. The drugs reviewed by the committee were primarily amphetamines (Adderall and other brands) and methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta, and others). Adverse effects included increases in heart rate and blood pressure which are associated with a number of events such as stroke or heart failure. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal (Dooren, March 15, 2006), a memo from the FDA review team stated that they were particularly struck by the fact that signs of psychosis and mania occurred in children who had never been at risk for these before and at standard ADHD medication doses. The review found 1,000 reports of psychosis or mania possibly linked to the drugs from January 1, 2000 through June 30, 2005. While it was not definite what caused the hallucinations, the events resolved when the children stopped their ADHD medications. Additionally, many of the children hallucinating were under the age of 10, an age group where such experiences are extremely rare. Despite the advisory committee’s black box recommendation, the FDA decided to forgo a black box for all ADHD drugs (Aderall has a black box for cardiac risk and Strattera for suicidality) and, instead, to highlight risks on the label and include an information guide for parents with each prescription.

Stimulant medications have been associated with increased emergency room visits. A recent study found that thousands of children go to the ER with chest pain, stroke, high blood pressure, fast heart rate, and overdose on these drugs. While many of these young people may have had legitimate prescriptions, others likely take the drugs for recreational or performance reasons. Prescription drug abuse has become the new drug habit for youth, with nearly one in five teens reporting abuse of prescription medications to get high (Partnership for a Drug Free American, 2006). Is this a path we want to set for our youngest?

A review of past studies on the effect of ADHD drugs on children’s growth found that the drugs suppress both height and weight for the duration of the trials that were studied (Drappatz et al., 2006). The effect persisted after adjustment for age, study quality, treatment duration, and stimulant type. Height and weight effects were noted by the AHRQ review. In the PATS, for those who remained on MPH, the annual growth rate was 22 percent (1.4cm/yr.) less than expected for height and 55 percent (1.3kg/yr) less than expected for weight. 

No long-term trials examining the use of ADHD drugs begun in preschool years are discussed in the AHRQ review. The authors state: “Evidence that psychostimulant use in childhood improves long-term outcomes was inconclusive” (p. vii). The review refers to the natural course of maturation of young children as confounding results from longer term studies—essentially, children often mature out of their troubling behavior patterns. Moreover, the AHRQ review notes that the majority of studies examining the long-term safety and efficacy of ADHD drugs are industry-funded and may result in “enhanced representations of efficacy and safety” (p. ES-9). The authors issue the following summary of their risk/benefit analysis: “The increasing use of off-label prescriptions for very young children is concerning, especially as PBT is effective for the disruptive behavior which is often the primary impairment when ADHD occurs in preschoolers” (p. 171). In closing, they conclude: “There is one primary implication from the review of interventions for preschoolers at risk of ADHD: the first line intervention for young children is evidence-based PBT. Other interventions may also be effective, but further research is required before definitive recommendations can be made” (p. 171).

It is clear that the very review relied upon by the AAP to support its expansion of ADHD guidelines was non-committal, at best, regarding the use of ADHD drugs for preschooler behavior problems. Based on their own investigation, opening the floodgates for ADHD medications for children under the age of 6 is not justified. When it comes to the very youngest in our society, we must err on the side of extreme caution and utilize known interventions that do not entail the significant risks of powerful psychostimulant drugs.

In light of current evidence, the International Society for Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry (ISEPP) strongly opposes the new AAP Guidelines and urges the AAP to reconsider the implications for lowering the age for which ADHD drugs may be recommended. The ISEPP further urges the AAP to retract their new guidelines until such evidence surfaces that ADHD drugs provide an acceptable risk relative to their benefit for children under the age of 6.


APA Working Group on Psychoactive Medications for Children and Adolescents. (2006). Report

of the Working Group on Psychoactive Medications for Children and Adolescents. Psychopharmacological, psychosocial, and combined interventions for childhood disorders: Evidence base, contextual factors, and future directions. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Charach, A., Dashti, B., Carson, P., Booker, L., Lim, C. G., Lillie E., Yeung, E., Ma, J., Raina, P., Schachar, R. (October, 2011).  Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Effectiveness of Treatment in At-Risk Preschoolers; Long-Term Effectiveness in All Ages; and Variability in Prevalence, Diagnosis, and Treatment. Comparative Effectiveness Review No. 44. (Prepared by the McMaster University Evidence-based Practice Center under Contract No. MME2202 290-02- 0020.) AHRQ Publication No. 12-EHC003-EF. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Available at: www.effectivehealthcare.ahrq.gov/reports/final.cfm.

Conners, C. K. (2002). Forty years of methylphenidate treatment in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Journal of Attention Disorders, 6(Suppl. 1), S17-S30.

Dooren, J. C. (2006, March 15). FDA urges stronger warnings on ADHD drugs. Wall Street Journal, p. D6.

Drappatz, J., Khwaja, O. S., Neovius, M., & Sarco, D. P. (2006). Growth in children with ADHD treated with stimulant medications: A meta-analysis. Poster Session presented May 1, 2006 at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting, San Francisco, available at http://www.abstracts2view.com/pas/search.php?search=do&intMaxHits=10&where[]=&andornot[]=&query=Khwaja

Jensen, P. S., Arnold, L. E., Swanson, J. M., Vitiello, B., Abikoff, H. B., et al. (2007). 3-year follow-up of the NIMH MTA study. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 46(8), 989-1002.

Medco Health Solutions, Inc. (May 18, 2004). Medco study reveals pediatric spending spike on drugs to treat behavioral problems. Retrieved May 24, 2004, from http://www.drugtrend.com/medco/consumer/drugtrend/trends.

MTA Cooperative Group (1999). A 14-month randomized clinical trial of treatment strategies for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Archives of General Psychiatry, 56 (12), 1073-1086.

Partnership for a Drug Free America (2006). Generation Rx: National study confirms abuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Retrieved July 11, 2006 from http://www.drugfree.org/Portal/DrugIssue/Research/Teens_2005/Generation_Rx_Study_Confirms_Abuse_of_Prescription#

Swanson, J. M., Elliott, G. R., Greenhill, L. L., Wigal, T., Arnold, L. E., et al. (2007). Effects of stimulant medication on growth rates across 3 years in the MTA follow-up. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 46(8), 1015-1027.

Swanson, J., Greenhill, L., Wigal, T., Kollins, S., Stehli, A., Davies, M. et al. (2006). Stimulant-related reductions of growth rates in the PATS. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 45(11), 1304-1313.

Wigal, T., Greenhill, L., Chuang, S., et al. (2006). Safety and tolerability of methylphenidate in preschool children with ADHD. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 45(11), 1294-303.

The current prescribing label instructions emphasize that children should receive a physical examination and a review of personal and family history for relevant cardiac events prior to starting stimulant treatment. Pretreatment ECG screening is recommended when abnormalities are suspected and some advocate across-the-board ECG screening. It is unknown the extent to which these guidelines are followed in practice.