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http://www.guardian.co.uk/Print/0,3858,3973045,00.html

Spiral of violence blamed on Prozac

Drugs in Britain: special report

Anthony Browne, Health Editor
Sunday March 12, 2000
The Observer

Prozac, the world's best-selling anti-depressant, is being blamed for turning healthy, placid people violent. It is thought to have led to crimes that include murder.

Clinical research to be published soon will show that up to one in 10 adults who take Prozac can become belligerent and pose a risk to others and themselves.

The study is the strongest vindication yet of mental health campaigners, who claim dozens of people have been wrongly imprisoned because of the effects Prozac has had on their behaviour. In the US, school shootings have been linked to number of children given Prozac and other anti-depressants.

In the first clinical trial of its kind, Dr David Healy, director of the North Wales Department of Psychological Medicine at the University of Wales, gave Prozac to a volunteer group of mentally healthy adults and found even their behaviour was affected. He said: 'We can make healthy volunteers belligerent, fearful, suicidal, and even pose a risk to others.'

Healy says between one in 20 and one in 10 people who take Prozac can be affected by akathisia, whereby they become mentally restless or manic and lose all inhibitions about their actions 'People don't care about the consequences as you'd normally expect. They're not bothered about contemplating something they would usually be scared of,' he said.

The study is a potentially devastating blow for the US drug company Eli Lilly, which has made millions from Prozac. In a statement last night the company said: 'Since its discovery in 1972, Prozac has become one of the world's most studied drugs. An extensive review of scientific evidence has demonstrated no causal link between Prozac and aggressive behaviour.' Previous studies linking Prozac to violence have been discredited because aggressive behaviour could be caused by patients' personality disorders, not the drug. Healy's study is the first to show Prozac can affect even healthy individuals.

Pam Armstrong, co-founder of the Counselling and Involuntary Tranquilliser Addiction helpline, said: 'I have come across a huge number of cases, from bizarre behaviour to aggression.'

Stephen Bryson, a surgical nurse, was prescribed Prozac after a close friend died, and his associates were alarmed by his increasingly bizarre behaviour. 'I was swearing, touching friends up in private parts and would pick arguments for the sake of it and threaten their lives. I ran around town stark naked and ran up debts of 10,000. I became quite violent,' said Bryson. 'I had no awareness of ... right from wrong. I was high as a kite.'

Bryson eventually attacked his partner with a knife. 'He was saved by the bell. If the phone hadn't rung, I would have killed him.' Bryson was given a 12-month jail sentence. Three months after ditching Prozac, he was 'back to my old self'. 

Ramzia Kabbani, who set up the Prozac Survivors Support Group a year ago, said: 'People are going to prison for what amounts to medical negligence. If they're throwing the book at vulnerable individuals, they should be throwing the book at the doctors who prescribe the medicine as well.' 

In the US, the widespread use of anti-depressants and easy availability of guns is thought to be responsible for mass killings. Eric Harris, 18, from Columbine High School in Colorado, who last year shot 12 fellow students and a teacher, had been taking Luvox, similar to Prozac. In 1998 Kip Kinkel, 14, killed his parents before going on a shooting spree at his high school in Springfield, Oregon, killing two and injuring 22. He took Prozac.

Last month a US judge in Connecticut acquitted a bank robber who blamed his behaviour on Prozac. In what is thought to be the first ruling of its kind, Superior Court Judge Richard Arnold freed Christopher DeAngelo, a 28-year-old insurance agent, because the defendant was unable to appreciate his actions were wrong. Defence lawyer John Williams said: 'This was someone who was driven to commit crimes because of prescription drugs.'

Eli Lilly said it has been successful in helping defeat 70 other cases where alleged criminals blamed their behaviour on Prozac. However, Healy said: 'Eli Lilly is legally trapped. They might like to admit that Prozac causes violence, but they could open themselves up to all sorts of claims.'

anthony.browne@observer.co.uk

Prozac Survivors Support Group helpline: 0161 682 3296; Counselling & Tranquilliser Addiction helpline 0151 949 0102

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