Pittman, Zoloft, and akathisia revisited

Christopher PittmanI’ve written about Christopher Pittman, now 19, who confessed to shooting and killing his grandparents when he was on psych meds at the age of 12. He appealed for a Supreme Court hearing but was denied, CNN reported today. He — and his defenders — appealed on the grounds that his 30-year sentence was “excessive for someone that age” and that the dosage of his antidepressants at the time (200 mg) “sent his mind spinning out of control.” Pittman was tried as an adult and, his lawyers argue, “no other inmate in the United States is serving so severe a sentence for a crime committed at such an early age.”

In previous posts here and here, I’ve questioned the link between Zoloft and violence/rage. Pittman, in 2001, had been switched to Zoloft a few days before the murder of his grandparents. However, it sounds like there had been some emotional problems in Pittman’s life that may have given prosecutors a solid case:

At the time of the crime, the boy had bounced around homes for years, experiencing a half dozen family splits and divorces after his mother had twice abandoned him as a child. She has not been in Pittman’s life for years.

Joe Pittman, the boy’s father, raised Christopher Pittman and his sister for much of their lives, but the relationship between father and son deteriorated. A state psychologist later testified this was a “young man who’d had difficulty with the adults in his life.”

On November 28, 2001, Pittman was sent home early for fighting in school and sent to bed by the grandparents. The boy claimed his “Pop-Pop” also beat him with a belt as punishment.

South Carolina prosecutors may easily have set Pittman up as a disturbed young man, which he very well may have been. But there are indications that this disturbance transcended his emotional state into his mental health:

After threatening to harm himself and suffering other emotional incidents, the boy was diagnosed as clinically depressed. His lawyers said Pittman was then given Paxil, a mild antidepressant no longer recommended for those under 18.

Just days before [shooting his grandparents], a doctor had begun prescribing Zoloft, another antidepressant. The family contends the abrupt substitution of drugs caused a bad chemical reaction, triggering violent outbursts.

At trial, a parade of psychiatrists offered conflicting testimony on whether the boy’s emotional problems excused his criminal behavior. Prosecutors called the Zoloft defense a “smokescreen.”

Juror Steven Platt later told CNN the crime appeared deliberate. “It always seemed like the defense was grasping at straws,” he said. “Just because you take prescription medicine doesn’t mean you can’t be held accountable for your actions.”

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The Zoloft-rage/violence connection

[This post is quite lengthy so I suggest you grab a cup of coffee or tea and sit down and read it. The following is not for the faint of heart (or those with a lack of time).]

It’s been amazing to me that I’ve received numerous comments on Zoloft inducing rage. I’m humbled by having a Pittman supporter visit my site and post some comments from the ChristopherPittman.org forums. Read the following:

In my senior year in high school I was diagnosed as being severely depressed and put on medication. The first medication that I was on I took for 5 months and it made me really aggressive. My friends and family noticed the change and I told my doctor about it and she changed my meds. After that I was fine. I am normally a very passive person and will let just about anything fly. But the medication made me really aggravated and aggressive toward my friends and family and it seemed that I wasn’t overcoming my depression. I just got done watching the 48 hours investigation on the Discovery Times Channel and felt a connection with Chris. I felt that I had to write this to let you know that Chris is not the only one out there that had these side effects. I think there should be a study done to see how many people that take antidepressants have increased aggression. The problem is that the pharmaceutical industry has deep pockets and many lobbyists. I hope this helps in some way.

And another:

I remember the case when it happened.

At the time I thought, “Zoloft right”.

Let me tell you my physician put me on Zoloft and it took about three weeks for my to become psychotic and I’m a 50 year old woman.

I have three children and I don’t make a lot of money but please let me know if I can do anything for the Pittman boy.

The jury should have been placed on Zoloft before they made they decision. Unless you’ve experience it you simply cannot believe its’ effect.

Brynn and Phil HartmanI did a bit of quick reading/research into Zoloft triggering violence in people who otherwise would have never been violent and it seems that are a few stories out there to support the assertion. I found a few comments on depressionblog.com that mentioned a link between Zoloft and rage fits. A Salon.com article published a story antidepressants inducing rage in 1999. Apparently, Brynn Hartman, the wife of famous comedian Phil Hartman, killed herself and her husband while taking Zoloft. While close friends attribute the sudden behavior on the antidepressant, others attribute it to a combination of the medication with cocaine and alcohol in her system. (Zoloft does have a warning against alcohol use in conjunction with the drug.)

One interesting thing I learned from the article is that this kind of behavior is often labeled under the name akathisia on patient safety guides. Most – if not all – of the major antidepressants list akathisia as a side effect. Here’s the initial description of this condition from Wikipedia:

Akathisia, or acathisia, is an unpleasant subjective sensation of “inner” restlessness that manifests itself with an inability to sit still or remain motionless… Its most common cause is as a side effect of medications, mainly neuroleptic antipsychotics especially the phenothiazines (such as perphenazine and chlorpromazine), thioxanthenes (such as flupenthixol and zuclopenthixol) and butyrophenones (such as haloperidol (Haldol)), and rarely, antidepressants.

Akathisia may range in intensity from a mild sense of disquiet or anxiety (which may be easily overlooked) to a total inability to sit still, accompanied by overwhelming anxiety, malaise, and severe dysphoria (manifesting as an almost indescribable sense of terror and doom).

No real mention of extreme anger or irritability mentioned there. But if you read on…

The 2006 U.K. study by Healy, Herxheimer, and Menkes observed that akathisia is often miscoded in antidepressant clinical trials as “agitation, emotional lability, and hyperkinesis (overactivity)”. The study further points out that misdiagnosis of akathisia as simple motor restlessness occurs, but that this is more properly classed as dyskinesia. Healy, et. al., further show links between antidepressant-induced akathisia and violence, including suicide, as akathisia can “exacerbate psychopathology.” The study goes on to state that there is extensive clinical evidence correlating akathisia with SSRI use, showing that approximately ten times as many patients on SSRIs as those on placebos showed symptoms severe enough to drop out of a trial (5.0% compared to 0.5%).

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Loose Screws Mental Health News

Let’s start off small and build up, shall we?

A blog I came upon, Providentia, has a post on the suicide rate in Kentucky over a 10-year period. Male schizophrenics have the highest rate of suicide. The leading methods of suicide in the state are firearm use, overdose, and hanging.


Mary WinklerMary Winkler, the preacher’s wife who killed her husband, has been moved from jail to a mental health facility, where she will serve the remainder of her three-year sentence.


East meadow, a poster on the drugs.com message board, asks about Lexapro’s correlation to suicide. Her sister committed suicide while on Lexapro and questions whether the Lexapro might have affected her in that way. As a former Lexapro user, I can empathize with the change in her sister’s behavior.


The Depression Calculator: see how much depression is costing your company and see if treatment is worth your while. I went through it for kicks and basically, I walked away feeling like it cost too much to hire someone with depression, especially if I were running a small business. Blah.


Apparently, bipolar disorder is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Starbucks is settling an $85,000 lawsuit with Christine Drake, a former Starbucks employee who suffers from bipolar disorder. It seems that Drake’s first manager was willing to work with her “psychiatric impairment” and allow her to gain “extra training and support.” Then, get this:

“But, during her third year, new management told her she was “not Starbucks material,” refused to continue the accommodation and ultimately fired her for discriminatory reasons, the agency alleged.”

Starbucks probably put up one helluva fight, but in the end, they’ve tried to put a good face and good spin on the situation:

Starbucks agreed to pay Drake $75,000 and donate another $10,000 to the Disability Rights Legal Center, which provides legal representation for low-income people with disabilities facing discrimination, as part of the settlement.

“The facts of this case illustrate how relatively minor accommodations are often all that disabled people need to be productive members of the work force,” said the EEOC’s San Francisco district office director, Joan Ehrlich. “It is important that all of Starbucks’ managers understand their legal duties regarding disabled employees and provide them with the tools necessary to succeed. This is in everyone’s best interest.”

Ms. Drake, who seems to be more than capable of handling a job well, has probably eeked out several years of a barista’s salary from the Starbucks suit.


I’m amused, but it’s not necessarily a good thing.

RisperdalJohnson & Johnson is gearing up to put Risperdal for children on the market. I’m sure other blogs have beat me to the punch on this, but I just came across this info and found it absolutely retarded. (But what do drug companies care?)

The FDA has approved “expanded use” for Risperdal in teenagers who suffer from schizophrenia and the short-term treatment of bipolar mania in kids ages 10-17. I’m leery enough about antidepressants in kids let alone antipsychotics.

“J&J said the agency has not requested the company perform any additional studies, implying that it need only agree with the FDA on acceptable labeling for the expanded uses in order to gain final approval.”

I wasn’t sure what “expanded use” was so I looked it up. This was the best I could come up with:

“Applications for a new or expanded use, often representing important new treatment options, are formally called “efficacy supplements” to the original new drug application.”

Well, I didn’t know what efficacy supplements were so I looked that up too:

“The legislative history indicates that this provision was directed at certain types of efficacy supplements (i.e., supplemental applications proposing to add a new use of an approved drug to the product labeling).”

So – correct me if I’m wrong – it sounds like the studies performed that led up to this “expanded use” are not as rigorously evaluated by the FDA as the initial studies that allowed the drug to be released on the market in the first place. It just seems like a company and the FDA simply need to agree on “acceptable labeling.” So if we’re following the theory that I’m still correct, the FDA doesn’t follow up on the clinical trials performed on these children, they just agree with J&J on the “acceptable labeling.” Doesn’t that thought make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside about your health?


Christopher PittmanOn the subject of children and psychotropic medications, 12-year-old Christopher Pittman shot and killed his grandparents and then set their house on fire in November 2001 all while on an adult dosage of Zoloft. It looks like the drama is still playing out in June 2007.

According to CourtTV.com, Pittman suffered from hallucinations while on the 200 mg dose and while in jail, displayed symptoms of mania.

“Three years after the killings, Pittman was tried in adult court and convicted of murder. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison. He was then 15 years of age.”

No doubt Pittman should be held responsible for what occurred, especially if he admitted to the killings (which he did). However, the situation raises a few questions. First of all, why was he on 200 mg of Zoloft when he was TWELVE? Why wasn’t he considered mentally ill and placed in a mental health facility? I could go on and on. While Pittman “did the crime and needs to do the time,” why isn’t the doctor who prescribed this not present in any of the reported stories? If this incident was 2001, it can only be worse for antidepressants and other psych meds today.