by Peter R. Breggin, M.D.
On April 29 the Washington Post confirmed that Eric Harris, the leader in the Littleton tragedy, was taking the psychiatric drug Luvox at the time of the murders. On April 30 the same newspaper published a story quoting expert claims that Luvox is safe and has no association with causing violence. In fact, Luvox and closely related drugs commonly produce manic psychoses, aggression, and other behavioral abnormalities in children and young people.
Luvox is a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) that is approved for children and youth (up to age 17) for use in the treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder. However, doctors often give it for depression, since it is in the same SSRI class as Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil.
According to the manufacturer, Solvay, 4% of children and youth taking Luvox developed mania during short-term controlled clinical trials. Mania is a psychosis which can produce bizarre, grandiose, highly elaborated destructive plans, including mass murder. Interestingly, in a recent controlled clinical trial, Prozac produced mania in the same age group at a rate of 6%. These are very high rates for drug-induced mania–much higher than those produced in adults. Yet the risk will be even higher during long-term clinical use where medical supervision, as in the case of Harris, is much more lax than in controlled clinical trials. These drugs also produce irritability, aggression or hostility, alienation, agitation, and loss of empathy.
Reports suggest that Eric Harris may have had a relatively good family life. If so, it adds to the probability that he was suffering from a drug-induced manic reaction caused by Luvox. The phenomenon of drug-induced manic reactions caused by antidepressants is so widely recognized that it is discussed several times in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association and many times in The Physicians’ Desk Reference.
I have lectured widely and written extensively about violence in association with taking SSRI antidepressants in Talking Back to Prozac (St. Martin’s Press, 1994) and Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry (Springer Publishing Company, 1997).
I have testified as a medical expert in three teenage cases of murder in which SSRIs were implicated in playing a role. In one case, a sixteen year old committed murder and tried to set off multiple bombs and incendiary devices at the same time. I have also testified in cases of adult murderers who were under the influence of SSRIs, including one mass murder of twelve people followed by suicide. The comparisons to Littleton are obvious.
Psychiatric drugs including Ritalin and Prozac have also been taken by at least one other school murderer (Kip Kinkle). Psychiatric drug use is only one of the contributing factors to the episodes of school violence. However, it is one of the most easily prevented factors. There is strong scientific evidence to support the view that SSRIs should not be given to children and teenagers.