Brains on Fire: Moments of “Medication Madness” creating lifetimes of sadness

By Maria Mangicaro

In her new book “Brain on Fire:  My Month of Madness“, NY Post reporter Susannah Cahalan chronicles her month-long battle with psychotic symptoms and the events that led up to her accurate diagnosis and treatment for anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, a rare autoimmune disease that can attack the brain. Cahalan stated doctors think the condition may account for cases of what was believed to be “demonic possession” throughout history.

As Dr. Peter Breggin reveals in his book “Medication Madness:  The Role of Psychiatric Drugs in Cases of Violence, Suicide, and Crime“, many of today’s psychotic demons come in pill form and for more and more families, moments of medication madness are creating lifetimes of tragedy and sadness.  The failure to recognize obvious cases of Medication-Induced psychosis and crime indicates a lack of responsiblity on the part of mainstream mental health advocates and mainstream media.

Filicide is the deliberate act of a parent killing his or her own child.  Sometimes there is a combination of murder and suicide in filicide cases and filicide is viewed as a complicated and multifactorial crime.  One of the most influential classifications of child murder was created in 1969 by Phillip Resnick.   The classifications include the “Acutely psychotic filicide” by which the parent, responding to psychosis, kills the child with no other rational motive.  [1]

With the advent of the 911 emergency system, we are now able to call into question factors of medication-induced psychosis that may be easily recognized by experienced dispatchers.   A skilled 911 operator can easily extract necessary information from callers quickly and efficiently, keeping the callers calm and update them on the status of the emergency services they have dispatched.   In cases of acutely psychotic filicide, the 911 call can play an important role.

This past August New Jersey officials reported a tragic filicide-suicide involving a 33-year-old mother who admitted to a 911 operator that she was currently being prescribed the anti-depressant Prozac.

Police found the body of 2-year-old Zahree Thomas after his mother, Chevonne Thomas, placed a rambling, sometimes incoherent call to 911.   Thomas openly admitted to the dispatchers that she had stabbed her son and in a gruesome discovery the toddler’s head was found in the freezer.

During the 911 call the dispatcher apparently recognized Chevonne’s apathetic tone and bizarre behavior may have been a result of taking a prescription medication and the operator asked if she was taking any.  Chevonne acknowledged that she was on the anti-depressant Prozac but didn’t take it that day.

“I didn’t take it today, but I should have. I should have,” she said.

Minutes later Chevonne fatally stabbed herself in the neck.  Police suspect illegal drugs may have been involved as well.

Ryan Ehlis admitted to filicide in 1999 and was charged with the murder of his infant daughter.  The charges were dismissed after various doctors testified Ryan suffered from an “Amphetamine-Induced Psychotic Disorder” (DSM-IV Code 292.11), caused by the ADHD medication Adderall.  The Court determined Ryan did not have the necessary criminal responsibility as it was determined the psychiatric medication caused his psychotic state.

Medication-Induced Psychosis could have also played a role in the filicide cases of Dena Schlosser, Otty Sanchez, Julie Schenecker, Debra Jeter, and David Crespi.

After the 2011 murder of her two teenage children, police recovered over 500 pills from the Schenecker home.

David Crepsi’s wife Kim is a a friend and a fellow member of ISEPP.   After speaking with Kim on numerous occasions and listening to the 911 tapes myself, there is no doubt in my mind that David’s case was one of a Substance Induced Psychosis.

Within seconds of speaking with him, the 911 operator easily recognized that David was heavily medicated stating; “Keep talking to me cause you sound like you’re a little bit tired and stuff, and we’re wondering if you maybe took too much medication,”  repeatedly the 911 operator pointed to medications as the cause of David’s apparent psychotic state.

With newer drugs being more specific in their effects on the brain, clinicians must be alert to the possibility that the worsening of the patient’s mental status and behavior may be caused by the medications they are taking rather than simply attributing it to a worsening of their underlying illness. [cit]    Attorneys, as well, must be educated in etiological factors that can induce a psychotic state and criminal behavior.

Below are clips from the FDA Advisory Commitee hearing  on Prozac that took place September 20th 1991.

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