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Friday, July 28, 2017

A Prescription for Mass Murder

BBC documentary, A Prescription for Murder?, explores the massacre of 12 people watching The Dark Knight in a Colorado cinema by James Holmes.

The programme will go into detail about whether an SSRI antidepressant – prescribed by a doctor – played a part in the killings by the young man.

With exclusive access to psychiatric reports, police footage and drug company data, reporter Shelley Jofre investigates the mass killings at the 2012 premiere of the Batman movie in Aurora, Colorado.

It seemed bizarre that 24-year-old PhD student Holmes would murder 12 people and injure 70 others in the mass shooting, and the SSRI anti-depressants he had been prescribed could be partly to blame for the killings.

Along with the case the documentary will explore the devastating side effects of being prescribed SSRI anti-depressants that may lead to psychosis, violence and even mass murder.

Common side effects of the drug include feeling agitated, shaky or anxious, feeling or being sick, indigestion and blurred vision among many others.

Holmes had carried out the killings with an arsenal of weaponry he had accumulated in the preceding weeks – planning the shootings down to the tiniest detail. He even booby-trapped his own apartment with homemade bombs to divert police resources while he launched the attack.

A recording of his interview just hours after the attack shows him slumped nonchalantly across the desk from the detectives with messy red-dyed hair and undone clothing, looking like a monster perfectly capable of committing one of the worst mass shootings in recent US history.

When asked to spell his surname during the interview, he cockily replied: "Like Sherlock".

At one point he was left alone with paper bags on his hands to secure forensic evidence and was caught on camera using them to talk to one another like sock puppets.

The spree killer, now 29, was hospitalised after attempting suicide several times while in jail. He entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. His trial began in April 2015 and on 24 August he was sentenced to 12 consecutive life sentences plus 3,318 years without parole.

Antidepressants have been linked to 28 reports of murder and 32 cases of murderous thoughts, in cases referred to the UK medicines regulator over the past 30 years, a BBC investigation has discovered.
The pills, known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) which includes common drugs like Prozac and Seroxat, are prescribed 40 million times each year in Britain.
But an Freedom of Information request for BBC Panorama discovered that the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency had received 60 reports of murders or murderous thoughts linked to the drugs in the past three decades.
Professor Peter Tyrer, a psychiatrist at Imperial College London, has been assessing the performance of SSRIs since they were first introduced in the 1980s.
Although the link between murders and antidepressants in cases referred to the MHRA do not mean the drugs caused the events, Prof Tyrer told programme-makers that the extreme side effects of the drugs should be investigated further.
“You can never be quite certain with a rare side-effect whether it’s linked to a drug or not because it could be related to other things,” he said.
“But it’s happened just too frequently with this class of drug to make it random. It’s obviously related to the drug but we don’t know exactly why.”
The programme also looked into claims that the Batman movie killer James Holmes, who killed 12 people at a midnight premier cinema screening at Colorado in 2012, was taking the SSRIs sertraline at the time of the murders.
Analysing Holmes' notebooks and psychiatric interviews with him carried out after the killings, the programme found that he appeared to lose his fear of consequences as the drugs removed his anxiety.
And as the dose of sertraline was increased, the programme shows his obsessive thoughts became psychotic.
UK-based psychiatrist Professor David Healy, who was an adviser to Holmes’s defence team and interviewed Holmes while he was awaiting trial, told Panorama: “I believe if he hadn’t taken the sertraline he wouldn’t have murdered anyone.”
The role of the drugs was not explored in court, and the defence team did not call on Professor Healy to give evidence.
Holmes was found guilty of all charges and is serving one of America’s longest ever prison sentences.
Professor Tyrer is calling on the courts to take into account the possible effects of SSRIs in cases where people taking the drugs commit violent crime:
"Although it makes the whole process a bit more complicated, I think that is going to become necessary in the future."
Drugs manufacturer Pfizer who developed sertraline said a causal link between setraline and homicidal behaviour has not been established, and that the drug has helped millions of people.
Panorama: A Prescription for Murder? will be broadcast on BBC One on Wednesday July 26 at 8pm.

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