The jury got it wrong when they found that James Holmes was guilty. They would have had it wrong if they had found the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooter not guilty by reason of mental defect, as well.
Based on my experience as a psychiatric survivor who has, at one point or another, been prescribed almost every psychotropic medication on the market including the two James Holmes was taking prior to the July 20, 2012 shooting, I believe that the death sentences of the 12 homicide victims of the Aurora Century movie theatre shooting were written on a prescription pad.
James Holmes should have been found not guilty by reason of involuntary intoxication because, he was taking properly and pursuant to a physician's order generic Zoloft, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor-class antidepressant, and Clonazepam, an anti-anxiety medication at the time of the crime.
I have swallowed every single anti-depressant available, even the old school monoamine oxidase inhibitor Nardil, a class of medication that predates SSRI's. I hallucinated on Nardil (it didn't help that I was prescribed three times the maximum dose) and it scrambled my brain so much I didn't know what I was thinking or how to execute any plan to do anything.
I have never contemplating killing someone but, because medication ruled my brain back then, I can't say that I wouldn't have done something like what James Holmes did while I was taking those pills. Whenever I admit this to myself, I see how we blame violence on mental illness when the real culprit is the pills prescribed to combat it.
There is ample objective evidence that these pills are what spurs violence, not unchecked mental illness. From 2004 to 2011, there were 11,000 reports to the FDA MedWatch System of psychiatric drug side effects linked to violence, including 300 homicides. When researchers from the Institute for Safe Medication Practices and the Harvard and Wake Forest Medical schools examined those 11,000 reports, they found that SSRI antidepressants like the one found in Holmes' apartment were the second-most likely drugs to cause violence, after a smoking-cessation medication. The FDA itself estimates that the 11,000 reports are less than 10% of the actual incidents of violence as over 90% of these events go unreported.
Citizens Campaign for Human Rights conducted a study on the connection between SSRI drugs and mass shootings and found that virtually every mass murder of the last 15 years was committed by someone prescribed a psychiatric medication, usually an anti-depressant.
Of course, with 30 million Americans taking an anti-depressant and only a handful committing mass murder, the pills do not guarantee that a patient will fly into a homicidal rage. However, the risk remains.
This risk leaves two questions: with evidence this strong, why do 30 million of us still take antidepressants? And why did Holmes' defense team prepare an Insanity defense instead of an involuntary intoxication defense from his taking Zoloft?
One answer could be that the 30 billion dollar pharmaceutical industry is powerful and unconscientious enough to allow mass murder to continue and orangey-red bottles with white caps to tumble out of pharmacies as long as Big Pharma stays in the black. The answer that even a billion dollar industry has commandeered everyone's minds is a bit too unreasonable for me. So I followed my gut.
Years ago I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis which is, essentially, a gastrointestinal condition with psychological triggers. In all the psychiatric medications forced upon me, I discovered that Wellbutrin treats my disease; if I miss one day's dose, I spend the next three days very close to a toilet.
People still take dangerous antidepressants for the same reason I have staunchly swallowed them for the past five years, despite my knowledge of how bad antidepressants are. It is easier to take the pill than to deal with the underlying behavioral causes and triggers for the symptoms. For me it is the fact that I am co-dependent and feel no self-worth unless I have somehow taken on another person's stressors. If I can't take my antidepressants, then I have to modify my behavior and I don't have the time or patience to do that. All of my dysfunction shrinks when I decide that it can be displaced with a caplet that is 10 mm wide.
Shuttling responsibility to the pills is too hard for Holmes' defense attorneys, though. It's easier to sell to jurors the idea that there is something inherently, genetically wrong with their client his alleged schizophrenia that exculpates him rather than the fact that he did what everyone else does in response to emotional and mental symptoms: he went to the doctor and filled a script, a script that possibly turned him deadly. It would shatter our worlds too much to know that our crutches are killing us and others. That is too much for a juror to swallow.
SSRI involuntary intoxication defense has worked in the past but it is not raised often enough given the statistics that link SSRI's and extreme violence. Even in a case like Holmes', a case that begs for someone to make connection between SSRI's and violence, experienced, concerned attorneys have not pursued it because it hits us where our hearts often are: in our medicine cabinets. It is time to put these pills, and not the person who takes them properly, on trial.
AUTHOR BIO: Chandra Bozelko is the author of Up the River: An Anthology and blogs about her prison experiences at www.prison-diaries.com.
Involuntary intoxication should have been considered in James Holmes verdict Chandra Bozelko 18th July, 2015