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Summary:


Paragraphs 1 reads:  "The lawyer for the 15-year-old Howell High School freshman accused of setting fire to the high school on Monday said the anti-depressant prescription drug Paxil was to blame."

Paragraphs 3 & 4 read:  "Plunkett said the boy's parents -- who were in Juvenile Court on Thursday for the hearing -- took him to a psychiatrist who prescribed the drug less than two weeks before a series of fires tore through the high school, closing classes for two days and causing an estimated $500,000 in damage."

"'The drug changed him,'  Plunkett said. 'He indicated it made him feel different.'"



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Lawyer: Arson suspect impaired - Howell teen took Paxil for depression before school fire

Detroit News, The (MI) - April 12, 2002
Author: The Detroit News ; Steve Pardo HOWELL -- The lawyer for the 15-year-old Howell High School freshman accused of setting fire to the high school on Monday said the anti-depressant prescription drug Paxil was to blame.

"The stated reason he gave to the detective was he didn't want to go to school," said attorney Ronald Plunkett. "He wasn't thinking clearly because of the Paxil."

Plunkett said the boy's parents -- who were in Juvenile Court on Thursday for the hearing -- took him to a psychiatrist who prescribed the drug less than two weeks before a series of fires tore through the high school, closing classes for two days and causing an estimated $500,000 in damage.

"The drug changed him," Plunkett said. "He indicated it made him feel different."

Plunkett plans on arguing temporary insanity or diminished capacity if the case goes to trial.

The so-called "Paxil defense" has been used in a handful of cases nationwide in the past with mixed results for attorneys hoping to find the British drug maker GlaxoSmithKline, the makers of Paxil, responsible.

In June of 2001 a federal court jury in Cheyenne, Wyo., ordered the drug company to pay $6.4 million to relatives of a man who shot his wife, daughter and granddaughter before killing himself after taking the drug in February of 1998.

The jury ruled the drug "can cause some individuals to commit suicide and/or homicide" according to court documents.

But whether Plunkett can be successful in arguing the drug caused his client to set the fires remains to be seen. Just eight days ago, a Texas jury convicted 17-year-old Jon Marsh of murder for killing his 14-year-old friend in March of 2001. Marsh's attorneys attempted an insanity defense, saying the 17-year-old killed his friend because of the side effects from Paxil.

Paxil is in the family of drugs in the same category as Prozac and Zoloft. These drugs, called serotonin reuptake inhibitors, are designed to restore the balance of serotonin, a brain chemical that helps reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

More than 70 million prescriptions for Paxil have been written over the past nine years, according to the GlaxoSmithKline. In addition to depression, it is used to treat panic disorders, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

If Plunkett goes through with his planned defense, it would be the first case where Paxil was blamed for causing an individual to set a fire, according to a spokeswoman for GlaxoSmithKline.

"We have no reliable scientific evidence linking this kind of behavior to Paxil," said Mary Anne Ryhne, spokeswoman for the company.

The 15-year-old, whose name is not being released by The Detroit News because of his age, is being held in the Maxey Training School in Green Oak Township on a $250,000 bond.

He was arrested by a Howell police officer on patrol at about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday in the parking lot of McPherson Middle School less than a half-mile away from the high school. Inside the van, which was driven by the boy, police said, was evidence that linked him to Monday's arson. Plunkett said the boy will receive private counseling and he has since quit taking the medication. He also is planning to have the youth take a neurological examination.

The court will hold a hearing within the next two weeks to determine if he will be tried on juvenile or adult charges.

School officials and prosecutors said the teen has never been in trouble before with the school district or with the law.

About anti-depressant medication

* There have been more than 250 million prescriptions written worldwide for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors -- medications such as Prozac , Paxil and Zoloft.

* The medicines are used to combat depression, relieve anxiety and treat anorexia, bulimia, obsessive compulsive disorder and panic attacks.

* Known side effects include headaches, sweating, nausea, tremors, drowsiness, diarrhea and sexual dysfunction including decreased libido.

* More than 200 legal actions about adverse reactions to the drugs have been filed against Eli Lilly, the manufacturer of Prozac Pfizer, the manufacturer of Zoloft and GlaxoSmithKline, the manufacturer of Paxil.

Detroit News research
Edition: One Dot
Section: Metro
Page: 01D
Index Terms: MICHIGAN ; SCHOOLS ; FIRES ; ARSON ; STUDENTS ; INVESTIGATION
Dateline: HOWELL
Record Number: det12009986
Copyright (c) The Detroit News. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by NewsBank, inc.
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Lawyer: Arson suspect impaired - Howell teen took Paxil for depression before school fire

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