The Big Chill: Psychiatric Medications Now Are on Trial For Murder

Michael Cornwall, PhD
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The Canadian judge in the first North American criminal trial to find Prozac the sole cause of a murder ruled – “There is clear medical evidence that the Prozac affected his (defendant’s) behavior and judgment, thereby reducing his moral culpability.” Will those chilling words cause a small tremor in the writing hand of every prescriber of Prozac and other psychiatric medications from now on?

Such a chill in prescribing may happen when the impact of the Prozac murder verdict is combined with the recent Utah Supreme Court ruling (available in the Mad in America- “In The News” column.) That ruling, following another murder trial of a man on several psychiatric drugs, states that physicians can be held responsible for the actions of their patients. In the upcoming trial of the prescribers, the Supreme Court said they were not- “immunized from liability when their negligent prescriptions cause physician injury to non-patients.”
In the past few years, we have seen how the giant drug companies have been found guilty of wrong doing in their fraudulent marketing practices of psychiatric drugs. Billions of dollars of fines have been ordered by the courts. I believe that the companies cynically and criminally decided to incur these fines as a cost of doing business. It was part of their business plan.
For the individual prescibers of psychiatric medications that I worked alongside for 30 years, I never have sensed any reluctance to prescribe based on the concern that they may be called to testify in a murder trial. A murder trial where the drug they gave was seen by the judge as the cause of the murder.
That Prozac verdict which is not going to be appealed by the District Attorney changes everything. The upcoming Utah Supreme Court trial where the court has already ruled that prescribers of psychiatric medications can be held responsible for the actions of their patients, adds to the huge shift in the landscape for anyone who prescribes.
The verdict in the Prozac case was based on the expert witness testimony of my friend Dr. Peter Breggin. He has been the most credible voice in the wilderness warning against the dangers of psychiatric drugs for decades. I know Peter grieves the loss of life through suicide and homicide caused by these drugs. Maybe now people will heed his warnings. A wise judge in Canada recently did, and prescribing psychiatric drugs will never feel the same to those with the pen and pad.

Related MIA Items:
Utah Supreme Court Allows Lawsuit for Psychotropic-Induced Murder
Lawyers Starting to Blame Military’s Psychotropic Drugs For Aberrant Behavior
Psychiatric Drugs and Violence: A Review of FDA Data Finds A Link 

51 COMMENTS

  1. “Will those chilling words cause a small tremor in the writing hand of every prescriber of Prozac and other psychiatric medications from now on?”

    You’re so smart. 🙂

    It isn’t a joke, but would they seek to take a drug to alleviate their tremors?

  2. Well, this is certainly a fascinating outcome.

    I must say… in my own life, I never expected to become an insanity acquittee… for arson?! My survival and return to something resembling “a life” has been, as Wellington said of Waterloo, “a very near run thing”.

    As I relate (and document) on the web page I link here, in my case, an adverse reaction to Prozac, Trazodone (and its hallucinogenic byproduct, mCPP), and Vistaril were involved… along with some rather extraordinary circumstances.

    Sincerely,
    – bonzie anne

  3. Peter Breggin has been a warrior (and effective) for decades, despite constant hounding by PhARMA’s vicious tactics and the undeserved scorn of the psychiatric establishment. Peter and Ginger’s books are still some of the best sources of information around for what really goes on in psychiatry. They deserve great, great appreciation.

  4. I hope that who ever prescribes antipsychotic medication will start carefully checking when patients report side-effects of their medications. When my son developed NMS on olanzapine he was told that he was imagining it. It nearly killed him.
    I think that I have said this before but it is thanks to Peter Breggin’s books that I got him off the antipsychotic medication safely. No doctor would help. They wanted him to stay on that medication that was killing him for 6 months at least. I still find it difficult to comprehend.

  5. First, congratulations to David Oaks for decades of thoughtful, determined work – and for causing a stir.

    Here’s something I recently wrote in response to another blog. Maybe it would be useful in thinking about what psychiatry needs to do; but I think it also applies to the whole “mental health” biz (Heisenberg said you can’t observe the location and action of tiny particles without changing their location and action):

    I apply a human Heisenberg Principle to this: there are always two full human beings in the room – not one observer/diagnoser/treater (doctor) and one observed/diagnosed/treated (“patient”). Per Heisenberg, you can’t observe another person without influencing that person. And you can’t observe another person without being influenced by them. As you check them out, they are checking you out. What you’re scared of influences them; what they’re scared of influences you.

    (Digression: I think we decide someone is “truly mentally ill” at the point where they overwhelm us – become too scary or we can’t imagine getting them to stop being upsetting/discouraging/confusing to us without the magic of a physical solution. At that point we marshal physical manifestations of their state as evidence of an underlying physical defect – ignoring that there are always physical manifestations of all our mental states, and the existence of such manifestations – extreme or not – by itself does not PROVE that the problem is either initiated or sustained by physical defects, or is best corrected by physical interventions; or even that the “problem” lies with the “patient” at all – it may lie with us, or with those who want us to “fix” the “patient.”).

    In J Seikkula’s March 2006 Psychotherapy Research article on Finland’s largely drug free Open Dialogue method for first episode psychosis, “tolerance of uncertainty” is cited as a key factor in the program’s success. Read carefully, that means “people not panicking when scary stuff happens.” When the “patient” gets “out of control” in a way that would prompt U. S. psychiatry to hospitalize, or change to drug treatment, Open Dialogue sees it as part of the working-through process. They don’t radically change course; instead they focus on supporting long term relationships within the treatment team, which includes family, friends, employers, teachers and treatment professionals (who stay with the “patient” for years, if necessary).

    Things generally settle down over a few years, relying on relationships, connection, problem solving, and largely without medications. Five year follow up finds 80 to 90% of “patients” functioning well in the community (in school, employed or job seeking, living independently, not on disability, largely symptom free).

    My life partner, a social worker in a major medical center, often sees patients whom doctors describe as impossible, uncooperative, violent. She spends an hour or so with them, and the next day doctors and staff ask, “What did you DO? He’s a different person.” It isn’t what she does (although she does plenty) – it’s who she IS. She’s not afraid of them; she believes they are smart, interesting and good – often despite appearances. AND – Heisenberg here – what she gives out, they respond to; and then she respond to their response. They laugh, cry, tell their life story, reveal things about themselves that nobody else has gotten out of them – and very often they decide to cooperate with staff and doctors. She starts her work where others panic – and the solution turns out NOT to be organic. (Any future for this as a rhymed slogan?)
    “Mental health” workers face extreme/frightening/saddening/overwhelming things. None of us has any business offering assistance to others unless we also actively engage in an on-going, rigorous program of self-maintenance – e.g., therapy, mindfulness, yoga, peer counseling, support group. To keep the job-induced stress from piling up – for sure. But also: we ask a “patient” to stand his/her world on its head – try being non-depressed – re-enter a world without the voices or paranoia – do what scares you. Heisenberg operates big time here – when “patients” need to borrow a little reassurance, a little confidence, to see someone model what it might be like out there if they choose to join us – they can “smell” whether we’re also scared, unsure ourselves, afraid of our/their feelings, not really convinced we or they can do it. Beyond our knowledge, we need to offer them our unafraid humanity. We need to be real – we can’t blow smoke about personal change unless we have that commitment for ourselves.
    To be unaware of our own personal involvement in the Heisenberg encounter is to plunge our field into pseudoscience. Here’s how it works: The hallmark of a pseudoscientific profession is that, built into its theoretical framework, are ready made excuses allowing the profession to avoid examination of its knowledge and assumptions. When we are in denial about our 50% contribution to our interaction with a “patient,” it’s easy to jump to these ready-made, professionally sanctioned templates that deep-six failure: the “patient” has a DSM label that says he/she is very hard to work with, is medication non-compliant, or “manipulative,” or “unmotivated,” or “lacked insight,” or “borderline.” Or it’s the fault of other professions or of the “system” (this one IS often true, but still distracts us from reflection).

    Failure should prompt questions about what went wrong; what didn’t we understand; what do we need to do better; are our assumptions off base; where did we get scared or give up? But our professions provide relatively little systematic critique of what we do and what we assume. Except for Barry Duncan’s methods ( See: The Heroic Client, On Becoming a Better Therapist, and The Heart and Soul of Change), there is little systematic feedback from “patients” about how we are doing. PhARMA and the “mental health” establishment are no help. Pharma, and those they control at NIMH and academia, drive “mental health research,” and PhARMA’s overriding motivation is not better outcomes, but the bottom line – planning for when their current big seller goes off patent. So PhARMA pretends to seek knowledge while squashing those who ask questions that threaten its bottom line.

    An initiative to reverse cluelessness in all “mental health” fields – especially psychiatry, whose devotion to the medical model really gets in the way on this: ditch the word “intervention,” which conjures images of mechanics working on cars – no mutually influencing feedback loop between doctor and “patient.” Instead, call it what it really is: what we THINK are “interventions,” are actually “INTERACTIONS.” I have a small hope that focusing on interaction will remind us that WE bring assumptions, prejudices and feelings to “patient” encounters – a first step in seeing the need to ask real questions about what worked and what didn’t work. It’s always better to see 100% of the picture than to see 50% of it.

    While changing words is not enough, it is important. Other words that obscure, rather than elucidate reality: “disorder,” “mental illness” and “patient,” for starters. But medicine does say a few things that I’d keep: “First, do no harm,” and “physician heal thyself.”

  6. Thankyou for this article, and it’s about time these thoughts were allowed to exist in the forefront of prescribers’ minds. For far too long those with real concerns even with just the idea of a pill to quelch normal human problems have been ridiculed and dismissed. The mythic ‘dark night of the soul’ can and should return to the list of experiences that rank among the most important and meaningful.

    • That already has been going on for years. It’s what drives some docs to prescribe. The field is ridiculously tilted in favor of drugs. I could do a fabulous amount of good work – text book great relationship, support, planning, working with a “client” – but if for ANY reason something turns bad, I could be sued for not sending the person to a psychiatrist. It wouldn’t matter how bad the psychiatrist was – “med checks” can occur without the psychiatrist even looking at or speaking to a kid – as long as the drug was prescribed, my butt would be covered, and without it I’d be in trouble.

      And from the other side, the same really crappy psychiatrist, who did absolutely nothing beside the no-look, no-speak 5 minute med check, would have no liability worries as long as the rx he/she wrote was approved for the kid’s diagnostic label (or was commonly used off-label for it). Why would the psych be ok in that case? Because it’s within the accepted standards of care for the profession.

      Top be sure, not all psychiatrists operate that way. But a significant number do. The point is, that’s the imbalance in liability standards these days.

  7. Dr. Cornwall,

    We live in strange times… to say the least.

    For the life of me, I can’t get my head around what’s taking place…

    The states line up to take on Pharma again and again for Medicaid fraud. The drugmakers are found guilty of crime, but it always seems to be a ‘misdemeanor’, and the judgement is always a fine…

    Some things are missing in this picture:

    1) What about the prescribers of these drugs?
    2) What about the families of children who are injured?

    The drugmakers are not the sole source of the problem.
    The buck stops with the prescriber. The prescriber(s) need to be charge; given fair trials, and convicted, if found to be negligent (manslaughter, neglicent homicide, etc)
    And the awards need to go to the families.
    They are the ones who have suffered the loss.

    Re: Justice

    Let the states continue to recover lost money (Medicaid fraud)… But focus on the real loss(es); the people who are really injured.

    Duane

  8. Twenty years too late for the suicide my friend. Stable for over forty years and while on a search for self-growth exploring Psychotherapy, the Pdoc prescribed Prozac while collecting a fat fee for ‘visits’ and she suddenly went erratic. The police and the doctors closed ranks – there was no mention of Prozac or of the psychiatrist who prescribed it on the Coroner’s report though my investigations found out about it. By the time I found out the truth about Prozac the time limit had expired for asking for an investigation and the blood samples destroyed.
    ..
    After putting her on these meds with no warning about sudden withdrawal he went on vacation for the entire holiday season and was unavailable during which she died – didn’t show up at the funeral either.

    • Skyeblue, everytime I hear of another needless waste of a beautiful life like your friend to these drugs, it make me furious and want to cry at the same time. Thank you for telling us about her and your loss. These drugs are so damned powerful that they can do this to fully mature adults who never have been on meds before.. It happens over and over.

      • I guess it’s safe now to say it was my sister. So I knew her quite well, she was ferociously extroverted, sharp thinking, brilliant, a fighter – built a life and career out of nothing- so it was out of character. The reaction from her old friends on the other side of the country was the same – ‘that’s not her’.

        She left behind three children ages 4 to 16, all of whom missed her and all of whom have been traumatized lifelong by this even the youngest. It affected a lot of lives.

        I had the power to raise a stink , but about what? The coroner said they would hold the blood samples six months, but I was not sure what tests to ask for. I let it go.

        She had gone to a meditation retreat some time before she killed herself – the rule was ‘no drugs,no meds’ so she went off them – sudden withdrawal. What happened med-wise after the retreat is unclear, there was no investigation, the suicide was taken at face value with no speculation, the psychiatrist was unavailable to her for a long time over those holidays and invisible afterwards.

        I didn’t learn about Prosac’s relationship to violence til several years later. I doubt she was given any warning about possible withdrawal problems.

  9. I dedicated my time pro bono to assist in a case locally involving Prozac. This is still an ongoing case, but it was clear after many interviews with those who knew the person, that there was no prior history of violence and the violent act as well as other unusual behavior occurred within 2 weeks of the drug being administered.

  10. If a physician gives full and clear disclosure to the patient of the potential side effects, including the potential for increased suicidal/homicidal tendencies, and the patient still wishes to take the drug, is the physician still liable for the patients actions? Are we saying that medicated persons are without free will, and if so, at what point do they lose free will?

    • Very good question Julia. In many of these cases, the response to someone becoming unusually erratic, or a danger to themselves and/or others that was caused by the drug, was written off by the prescriber as symptomatic of so-called mental illness, and was not believed to be a dangerous effect caused by the drug. Sometimes drug dosage has been increased in fact, as the person spiraled out of control.

  11. I wonder what it would take for the courts to mandate that settlements, fines, etc. be used to fund affordable, compassionate and effective alternatives to these powerful medicines? Our “solutions” chapter is still woefully thin. These landmark lawsuits could not only make history but help shape a more hopeful future.

    Once again, thank you for standing guard Papa Bear!

    • That is a really great idea Jen! We shouild explore how to put it forward and/or support people who already are looking at all that money and wondering where it should go. Not all of it goes directly to victims.
      The tens of billions in fines could start to transform the whole system- if alternatives were finally seen as far better than the medical model paradigm. That awareness of the need for, and the development of alternatives is what we are working to make happen my mama bear friend!

  12. Dr. Cornwall I wish I could be so positive, but this is not the first case & there have been MANY other SSRI murder cases. Look at the Wyoming case of Donald Schell. Amazing that the jury agreed the evidence was clear that only two pills of Paxil were the main cause for Mr. Schell to kill his wife, daughter, baby granddaughter & himself. Few even paid attention. The Wesbecker case was a sham & yet two years later Judge John Potter turned that case around & showed it was a secret settlement by the drug company. How many know that? We can’t get the media to cover anything because the media are too drugged themselves & the main advertisers for the media are the drug makers!

    Yes, hopefully David Ragsdale’s case in Utah will be able to turn this around and hold prescribers guilty. I worked with David on his case & have NO DOUBT the drugs caused him to shoot his wife. Sooner or later the truth will come out, but with the massive amount of $$$$$ we are fighting who knows how long it will take?!

    • I hear you Ann! T
      The media has also not connected the dots on the great signifigance of all the drug company fraud(Risperdal, Seroquel)and damages cases like from Kaiser on Neurontin, and the individual injury and murder/suicide cases you cite, to see how the drug companies and psychistry pose a national cartel that the justice department needs to go after big time. Thank you for your expert information. I think the Canadian judge’s statement is unprecedented in naming Prozac itself as the sole cause of the murder. If the Utah murder case you have been working on finds the prescribers guilty and there are significant consequences, then I can’t imagine any prescriber of psych meds not drastically being concerned about med recipients who they are already gambling will not act out destructively.

  13. Psychs, doctor’s, nurses are merely the selling agent for these drugs. One only has to look at a patient information leaflet [PIL] to see how the pharmaceutical companies deflect any blame – the current Seroxat [PIL] has the utterance “talk to your doctor” over 30 times. I’m unsure if this is the same in the US [Paxil] and Australia/NZ [Aropax]

    Then we have the middlemen, the regulators, those limp-wristed ‘human-health protectors’ who simply don’t protect at all… unless protecting profit of pharma is their sole purpose?

    And what if a patient is suffering from withdrawal from an SSRi? Try contacting the manufacturer and you will be told to “talk to your doctor” – I’ve tried it on many occasions and wrote about it here – http://fiddaman.blogspot.co.uk/2011/08/exclusive-gsks-andrew-witty-in-patient.html

    Interesting post Michael, certainly food for thought. Thank you for highlighting it.

    Fid