Is this going to be the Twinkie defense part two? All of us who follow the news had our new year filled with the latest tragedy, mass murderer Michael McDermott killing several co-workers when entering his workplace. Rumor has it that his Massachusetts attorneys are going to go with the “Prozac defense.” Apparently, Mr. McDermott has been taking Prozac for over a year. I guess it is pretty safe to say it didn’t do him much good. The Prozac defense has been used before; however, it has not been particularly successful. Prozac is a controversial drug and there is a body of literature out that indicates it has harmful side effects for some. There are questions about whether or not it increases some individuals’ desire to commit suicide and whether it increases anxiety in some people.
The Eli-Lily Company, Prozac’s founder, is presently working on a new drug that is supposed to have the beneficial aspects of Prozac without the current side effects.
The “Prozac defense” has been used in some unusual situations. There was a Florida case in which an attorney attempted to blame the drug for his client’s nymphomania, as she was arrested for prostitution.
Lawyers speaking on this issue indicated one of the problems with using Prozac as a defense is that jurors tend to become suspicious as to whether or not these “mental impairments” are suddenly being created after the arrest purely for purposes of winning a jury trial. It is important in these types of cases to attempt to show that this type of aberrant behavior was taking place before the crime was committed.
Mr. McDermott’s attorneys are sending him for psychiatric evaluation by an individual who will in all likelihood end up testifying for the defense when and if this case goes to trial.
When, in my role as a therapist, I am seeing a patient who needs an antidepressant, I ask them to closely monitor how they are feeling with respect to the use of the antidepressant. For example, if the psychiatrist to whom I send the patient recommends Prozac, I let the patient know that the beneficial effects don’t kick in for approximately three weeks and that there are people for whom it has no benefit.
I let the patient know that there are other drugs available which are in the same family as Prozac such as Paxil and Zoloft. Often the use of these selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors or SSRI’s is a trial-and-error process. If one doesn’t work well, the patient should try one of the others. It is a matter of finding the one that works best for you. Someone who really needs an anti-depressant and wants to benefit from it will eventually find the one that will help the most.
Back to the matter of Mr. McDermott, the criminal defense attorney side of me understands the approach of the McDermott attorneys; however, the therapist side of me wishes they wouldn’t go after a basically good drug that has helped many people. I believe the McDermott attorneys along with Mr. McDermott face an uphill battle.