Esteban Santiago checked in a single bag holding a handgun when he made the trip from Alaska to Fort Lauderdale in January 2017. Upon arrival, he recovered the gun from baggage claim, loaded it in a bathroom stall and opened fire on innocent travelers, killing five.
It’s a scenario we’ve heard before: an horrifically violent, seemingly random act perpetrated by an individual who friends and neighbors describe in terms that don’t jive with the image of a stone-cold killer. And if it seems that such stories are happening with perplexing frequency, it may be because they are; and most of these gruesome stories have a single element in common: the perpetrator is on or withdrawing from psychiatric drugs.
Psychiatric Drugs and Violence
How common have these incidents become? One website, SSRIstories.org, has gathered more than 6,000 stories from media and scientific journals in which “prescription drugs were mentioned and in which the drugs may be linked to a variety of adverse outcomes including violence.”
Based on the flood of stories it has collected and research on the link between psychiatric drugs and violence, SSRIstories.org has developed a description of the way psychiatric drug-linked violence differs from non-drug induced violence which closely matches Santiago’s brutal actions:
Medication-induced violence is different from regular violence. It can manifest as bizarre and random actions without apparent motive. Sometimes, it is based on a sudden impulse without any warning. Other times, thought distortion leads to elaborate plans, but the violence still makes no rational sense.
Psychiatric Drugs And the Military
Santiago’s connection with psychiatric drugs is not just supposition. The New York Times and NJ.com both reported that Santiago’s family stated Santiago, an Iraq war veteran, changed dramatically after his tour of duty. The New York Times quoted Santiago’s uncle, Hernan Rivera, as saying “After Iraq, something happened. When he came back from Iraq, he was a different person.”
Often changes in veterans’ personalities are casually chalked up to their experience in war but recently attention is being focused on the role that psychiatric drugs play in such transformations. This focus has come about because of the disconcerting link between active military duty and psychiatric drugs. The Alliance for Human Research Protection (AHRP) has summarized reporting that shows psychiatric drugs are being prescribed to deployed troops in unprecedented quantities. The AHRP article notes “the increasingly high number of DEATHS in the US military–from suicides, accidental overdose, and, increasingly, lethal drug interactions–has been linked to the exponential increase in the prescribing of powerful, psychotropic drugs” 
Santiago and Psychiatric Drugs
Unfortunately, at this stage of the case against Santiago, information on his possible psychiatric history while in the military is not widely available. CCHR Florida contacted the public defender assigned to defend Santiago but he was unable to share any information related to Santiago’s psychiatric history.
What is not in doubt, however, is Santiago’s contact with psychiatry after his service. An article in the Alaska Dispatch News, among others, describes an encounter Santiago had with the FBI in November 2016 that resulted in Santiago being driven to a psychiatric hospital by the police where he was reported held for a few days.
According to a March 2017 report in the Naples Daily News, Santiago’s attorney “say he’s been diagnosed with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder” which generally means he has been prescribed psychiatric drugs.
As Santiago’s case proceeds through the justice system, more may be revealed about his psychiatric history and the possible effect of psychiatric drugs on his behavior.
Should it be determined that psychiatric drugs played a role in driving him to kill five innocent people, no comfort will be afforded to the families of those who were lost. But, with more public scrutiny on the devastating effects wrought by these drugs, greater control on their use and efforts to hold drug companies responsible for the effects of their drugs, perhaps other lives can be saved.