The Bitter Pill

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TIME Magazine on Psych Drugs and Violence

Top Ten Legal Drugs Linked to Violence

By Maia Szalavitz Friday, January 7, 2011

When people consider the connections between drugs and violence, what typically comes to mind are illegal drugs like crack cocaine. However, certain medications — most notably, some antidepressants like Prozac — have also been linked to increase risk for violent, even homicidal behavior.

A new study from the Institute for Safe Medication Practices published in the journal PloS One and based on data from the FDA’s Adverse Event Reporting System has identified 31 drugs that are disproportionately linked with reports of violent behavior towards others.

Please note that this does not necessarily mean that these drugs cause violent behavior. For example, in the case of opioid pain medications like Oxycontin, people with a prior history of violent behavior may seek  drugs in order to sustain an addiction, which they support via predatory crime. In the case of antipsychotics, the drugs may be given in an attempt to reduce violence by people suffering from schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders — so the drugs here might not be causing violence, but could be linked with it because they’re used to try to stop it.

Nonetheless, when one particular drug in a class of nonaddictive drugs used to treat the same problem stands out, that suggests caution: unless the drug is being used to treat radically different groups of people, that drug may actually be the problem. Researchers calculated a ratio of risk for each drug compared to the others in the database, adjusting for various relevant factors that could create misleading comparisons.

10. Desvenlafaxine (Pristiq) An antidepressant which affects both serotonin and noradrenaline, this drug is 7.9 times more likely to be associated with violence than other drugs.

9. Venlafaxine (Effexor) A drug related to Pristiq in the same class of antidepressants, both are also used to treat anxiety disorders. Effexor is 8.3 times more likely than other drugs to be related to violent behavior.

8. Fluvoxamine (Luvox) An antidepressant that affects serotonin (SSRI), Luvox is 8.4 times more likely than other medications to be linked with violence

7.Triazolam (Halcion) A benzodiazepine which can be addictive, used to treat insomnia. Halcion is 8.7 times more likely to be linked with violence than other drugs, according to the study.

6) Atomoxetine (Strattera) Used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Strattera affects the neurotransmitter noradrenaline and is 9 times more likely to be linked with violence compared to the average medication.

5) Mefoquine (Lariam) A treatment for malaria, Lariam has long been linked with reports of bizarre behavior. It is 9.5 times more likely to be linked with violence than other drugs.

4) Amphetamines: (Various) Amphetamines are used to treat ADHD and affect the brain’s dopamine and noradrenaline systems. They are 9.6 times more likely to be linked to violence, compared to other drugs.

3) Paroxetine (Paxil) An SSRI antidepressant, Paxil is also linked with more severe withdrawal symptoms and a greater risk of birth defects compared to other medications in that class. It is 10.3 times more likely to be linked with violence compared to other drugs.

2) Fluoxetine (Prozac) The first well-known SSRI antidepressant, Prozac is 10.9 times more likely to be linked with violence in comparison with other medications.

1) Varenicline (Chantix) The anti-smoking medication Chantix affects the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, which helps reduce craving for smoking. Unfortunately, it’s 18 times more likely to be linked with violence compared to other drugs — by comparison, that number for Xyban is 3.9 and just 1.9 for nicotine replacement. Because Chantix is slightly superior in terms of quit rates in comparison to other drugs, it shouldn’t necessarily be ruled out as an option for those trying to quit, however.

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