How many more tragedies and lost lives will it take for governments to recognize that in addition to any other investigations and actions they take in relation to mass acts of violence, for the sake of our communities and families, the increasing reports of psychiatric drug and treatment histories in those committing such crimes, cannot be ignored? The mental health watchdog, Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) International, says the latest Florida shooting by David Katz on the heels of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida in February, are examples of tragedies that were long in the making.  CCHR points to failed psychiatric treatment and programs that may have exacerbated both killers’ mental decline.  At least one psychiatrist affiliated with Katz surrendered his license to practice in 2009 over immoral conduct with a female patient.

David Katz (24), from Baltimore, Maryland, allegedly killed two people and wounded 12 others before taking his own life at an e-sports tournament in Jacksonville, Florida, on Sunday, 26 August 2018.  He underwent psychiatric “treatment” from at least as early as aged 12, according to his parents’ divorce records and a CNN report.  He was prescribed a number of psychiatric drugs, including antipsychotics and antidepressants, and according to a 2006 letter from the father’s attorney, had seen “a succession of psychiatrists.”

According to a media report, Katz’s parents fought over using drugs, including Abilify (aripiprazole) and Prozac (fluoxetine), to treat their son.  The father said his son was placed on two antidepressants, which he said at the time “pose significant and unknown risks to the children.”  Another report said he’d been prescribed the antidepressant Lexapro (escitalopram).

Katz’s mother, Elizabeth, is a Ph.D. and toxicologist who works for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The FDA was hauled before Congress over its complicity in concealing evidence showing failed test results with emergent suicide-related behavior linked to SSRI antidepressants.  In 2004, the FDA was forced to place a “black box warning” on Prozac and similar antidepressants because of the risk of suicide to those aged 18 and younger. This warning was later increased to age 24.  These were among the drugs Katz was allegedly prescribed.

The father, Richard Katz, a NASA engineer, said his ex-wife had “an obsession with using mental health professionals and in particular psychiatric drugs to perform the work that parents should naturally do.”  He described one incident in which his son was handcuffed by police after locking himself in his mother’s car in an attempt to avoid going to a mental health appointment with her.

ABC News also reported that Katz had also been prescribed the antipsychotic Risperdal (risperidone).  The adverse effects of antipsychotics can include aggressive behavior from drug-induced akathisia (inability to sit still).  The person may experience violent, aggressive impulses or feel suicidal, although they often can’t pinpoint the source of their distress, despite that akathisia can feel unbearable. Akathisia may begin within several days after treatment but usually increases with duration of treatment, occurring in up to 50% of cases within one month and 90% of cases within three months.

Court records pertaining to the parents’ divorce name two doctors, although they do not detail what, if any, treatment or drugs they may have prescribed or whether they were involved in Katz’s mental health evaluation. Dr. Bruce Shapiro (Maryland License number D19112) has his primary practice at Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, at which he is currently the Vice President, Training.  Shapiro also has practicing privileges at Johns Hopkins Hospital and Saint Agnes Healthcare.  He is a professor in pediatrics and Chair in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

In March 2007, court records showed that Richard Katz wanted to exclude an expert witness testimony of Dr. Michael Potash, which was granted on 26 April 2007.  Records show that in 2009, Potash surrendered his medical license in “lieu of defending the pending board charges under the grounds of immoral and unprofessional conduct in the practice of medicine.” Dr. Potash died in 2015 but online records show that in 2010 a Sarah Eliott sued the psychiatrist over alleged medical malpractice involving the alleged misuse of the psychiatrist-patient relationship to obtain a sexual relationship, including in 2008.  According to a court filing, “During the course of this relationship, Dr. Potash prescribed a cocktail of prescription medications [including Xanax] to Ms. Eliott, leaving her in a confused and vulnerable state.”  Ms. Eliott filed a complaint with the Maryland State Board of Physicians that charged Dr. Potash on 8 October 2009. On November 12, 2009, he permanently surrendered his license.

Media reports say Katz spent 12 days at Sheppard Pratt psychiatric hospital in late 2007. Court documents say a psychiatrist at that time administered antidepressants.  Katz later spent about 13 days at Potomac Ridge behavioral health in Rockville, Maryland.  In 2006, the facility was under investigation for sexual abuse of patients, including a teenager.

A court record from the parents’ divorce proceedings, dated 11 April 2008, showed their son’s schooling in part occurred at Sheppard Pratt at a cost of $1,650 to Richard Katz (with the amount reduced by the court).

Dr. Steven Sharfstein, former president of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and on the Board of Directors of the American Psychiatric Foundation (APF), was President and CEO of Sheppard Pratt Health System at the time of Katz’s admission. He started as vice president and medical director in 1986, and then took over as health system president and CEO in 1992.  He signed up six pharmaceutical companies, including Eli Lilly & Co., Merck and Janssen Research Foundation, to test their products at Sheppard Pratt, according to a 2002 report.  Dr. Sharfstein retired from the position on July 1, 2016.

Parallels between Katz and Cruz treatment failures

David Katz’s history includes four months of treatment at a Utah “wilderness” therapy program, according to public records of his parents bitterly contested divorce.  He was reportedly diagnosed with “chronic, low-grade depression and oppositional disorder not otherwise specified”—all conditions that cannot be confirmed diagnostically with physical tests.

Between February and May of 2008, he attended the Redcliff Ascent Wilderness Treatment Program in Utah for troubled teens when he was about 15 years old, according to court filings.   The program’s clinical director must approve students that are on psychotropic drugs when admitted.   A court record dated 8 April 2008 said he’d been at the facility for several months and that the mother had enrolled her son “in health care facilities without first securing permission of the Court” and denying the boy’s father visitation rights.  The father’s costs for this “care,” was reduced by the court to $5,000 and “not his proportionate share of 60.9% of that expense previously ordered.”

Such programs have been criticized with stories of teens terrified and trying to escape, including from Redcliff.  In 2007, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) compiled a report on the dangers of wilderness and other teen facilities.  For example, during 2005 alone, 33 states reported 1,619 staff members involved in incidents of abuse in such residential programs. They found “thousands of allegations of abuse, some of which involved death, at residential treatment programs across the country between 1990 and 2007.”

A 2014 article reported there had been 86 deaths in residential and wilderness camps and, “Many states don’t require background checks for staff, and there have been multiple investigations into sexual abuse and arrests for sexual assault at teen residential and wilderness programs.”

Nikolas Cruz (19) charged over the Parkland, Florida shooting, had been diagnosed at various times with “developmental disorder,” “depression,” “autism” and “ADHD,” according to a Florida Department of Children and Families Services (DCFS) report.  His mother had insisted her son had received his “necessary medication as prescribed,” NBC News reported.  It was also reported that he had “Obsessive-compulsive Disorder” (OCD).  None of these labels can be reliably diagnosed, as there’s no clinical test to confirm them.

Cruz spent years attending Henderson Mental Health Clinic in Florida. Police were called to his home 36 times, yet a therapist with the center deemed Cruz “to be no threat to anyone or himself” at that time. Similarly, CNN obtained police records that showed 26 calls for service to the police from the Katz family home in Columbia, Maryland, from 1993 to 2009, although media reports do not disclose the nature of these calls other than domestic issues and “mental illness”; David was not born until 1994.

Katz was enrolled in at least two other 10-day acute adolescent care facilities during a particularly troubled period and received “home and hospital” services from the Howard County Maryland School system. Media reported an Ellicott City mental health facility for 12 days in 2007 and later a 13-day stay at a Rockville facility.

Katz, a competitive gamer, had won previous video game tournaments. The Miami Herald reported that prior to his killings Nikolas Cruz played violent video games incessantly.

The video gamer that beat Katz in the video-game tournament where he went on the shooting spree said he tried to shake his hand, but that Katz just stared back at him blankly, before later “snapping.” A witness to the Cruz Parkland shooting described Cruz’s unemotional demeanor (emotional blunting can be an adverse effect of mind-altering drugs): “When the shooting stopped, I looked up and I looked at the window and he was standing there, just looking in. He had absolutely no facial expression whatsoever.”

Katz’s parents’ custody battle continued and on 25 August 2011, David was ordered to another “mental health evaluation.”

Per a court document dated 12 April 2012 (closed 3 September 2014), the father paid for treatment at Howard County General Hospital, a member of Johns Hopkins Medicine, and has a psychiatric and pediatric psychiatric unit.

Report Discloses: Psychiatric Drugs Create Violence & Suicide

An autopsy is being performed on Katz.  CCHR says regardless of whether or not drugs are found in his system, his case—along with Nikolas Cruz—are indicative of the failure of psychiatric “treatment,” especially where drugs and/or psychological behavior modification may have been involved.

CCHR’s comprehensive report, Psychiatric Drugs Create Violence & Suicide: Putting the Community at Risk, shows that since the introduction of antipsychotics in 1955 and the newer Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI) antidepressants, like Prozac, in 1987, both groups of drugs have been documented to be linked to violent effects in a percentage of those taking them.

  • Cited in the report is Harvard Medical school psychiatrist Joseph Glenmullen who said: “The irritability and impulsivity” from antidepressants, for example, “can make people suicidal or homicidal.”
  • Patrick D. Hahn, affiliate professor of Biology at Loyola University in Maryland also confirms: “The link between antidepressants and violence, including suicide and homicide, is well established.”

Even off psychiatric drugs, there are ongoing drug-induced problems: Withdrawal effects from psychotropic drugs, especially benzodiazepines, can last weeks and sometimes months or years. Benzodiazepine withdrawal includes increased anxiety, perceptual distortions, depersonalization, paranoid thoughts, rage, aggression and irritability to name but a few. Post-withdrawal symptoms from antidepressants also “may last several months to years” and include disturbed mood, emotional lability [excessive emotional reactions and frequent mood changes] and irritability, according to a 2012 article in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.

Antipsychotics have disturbing effects, including aggressive behavior from drug-induced akathisia (inability to sit still). The person may experience violent, aggressive impulses or feel suicidal, although they often can’t pinpoint the source of their distress, even though it can feel unbearable.

Akathisia may begin within several days after treatment but usually increases with duration of treatment, occurring in up to 50% of cases within one month and 90% of cases within three months. Antipsychotic or neuroleptic (meaning nerve seizing) drugs have been linked to hostility and aggression.

At least 27 international drug regulatory agency warnings have been issued on psychiatric drugs being linked to mania, psychosis violence, homicidal ideation (thoughts or fantasies of homicide), aggression and hostility.

The FDA’s Adverse Event Reporting System has at least 1,530 cases of homicide/homicidal ideation reported to it as linked to psychiatric drugs. The FDA admits that only 1-10 percent of drug side effects are reported to its MedWatch program. Taking a moderate five percent, then, the potential number of reported incidents could be as high as 30,620. A percentage of those could be driven to commit violent crimes.

Researchers also took the FDA Adverse Event Reporting System data and of 484 prescription drugs identified, 31 were disproportionately associated with violence. These drugs, accounting for 79% of all the violence cases, included 25 psychotropic drugs.  Their findings, published in Public Library of Science ONE, included 11 antidepressants, six sedative/hypnotics and three drugs for treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The specific cases of violence included: homicide, physical assaults, physical abuse, homicidal ideation and cases described as violence-related symptom.

CCHR says state and federal governments need to take heed from these tragedies and for the victims, their families and the community, at least investigate the mounting evidence that psychiatric treatment and its failure has had something to do with a large percentage of the acts of senseless violence we are witnessing today.

As David Kirschner, Ph.D., a New York psychologist says: “As a forensic psychologist, I have tested/evaluated 30 teenage and young adult murderers, and almost all of them had been in some kind of ‘treatment,’ usually short term and psychoactive drug-oriented, before they killed….Sadly however, most of the young people who kill had been in ‘treatment,’ prior to the violence, albeit with less than successful results.”

CCHR recommends that individuals concerned with the link between violence and drugs send a copy of its report, Psychiatric Drugs Create Violence & Suicide: Putting the Community at Risk to their legislative representative calling for an investigation.

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Ibid.

David Kirschner, PhD, “Mass shooters received only limited treatment,” The National Psychologist, 26 Jul. 2017, http://nationalpsychologist.com/2014/09/mass-shooters-received-only-limited-treatment/102638.html.