Antidepressants are again under scrutiny.
According to a Yahoo! News Article dated December 18, 2007, the Supreme Court will hear a case regarding a teen, Christopher Pittman, sentenced to 30 years of prison for killing his grandparents and setting fire to their home at age 12.
His attorneys argue that the lengthy sentence violates the teen’s Eighth Amendment protection from cruel and unusual punishment. They claim that this is the only case in the country that gives such a harsh punishment to a minor.
This case is most noted for its association with the drug, Zoloft. I n the original trial, Pittman’s attorneys unsuccessfully tried to argue that the drug influenced their client.
According to an August 24, 2004 New York Times article written at the time the original case was pending, most medical experts do not believe in a link between antidepressants and acts of extreme violence and aggression.
Pittman claimed that something told him to commit the murders and that he was feeling isolated and aggravated a few days after starting the drug. Conversely, his doctor’s notes about his behavior state that he was energetic and had no plans to harm himself.
The article also makes note of two other cases with similar fact patterns. In 2001, the drug company, GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of Paxil, paid $6.5 million to the relatives of a man in Wyoming who killed his wife, daughter, granddaughter and himself. This was the first time that a jury concluded a SSRI-type of antidepressant may lead users to suicide or homicidal behavior.
In April of 2004, a man in California was acquitted of attempted murder when it was found that his reaction to Zoloft made him unaccountable for his actions.
Zoloft is the most widely prescribed anti-depressant in the United Dates. Following some tests in 2004, the FDA put a “black box” warning on the drug, the strongest warning label that can be given to a drug, because of its association with an increased risk for suicide in children.
Steve is the Managing Shareholder of Steven J. Klearman & Associates, a civil litigation law firm located in Reno, Nevada. He practices primarily in the areas of civil litigation and injury law, and has authored one of the definitive guides to Nevada civil law that is widely used by Nevada judges and attorneys, his book entitled Elements of Nevada Legal Theories.