From the Preface of Prescription for Sorrow
by Patrick D. Hahn
On 14 September 1989, Joseph Wesbecker, a forty-seven-year-old former pressman at Standard Gravure of Louisville, Kentucky, entered his erstwhile place of employment armed with a Polytech AK47S semi-automatic rifle, a Sig Sauer P226 9mm pistol, two MAC 11 9mm machine pistols, a Smith & Wesson .38 revolver, a bayonet, and over a thousand rounds of ammunition. Wesbecker opened fire, killing eight employees and wounding twelve more. He also shot up the water sprinklers, and a police officer responding to the scene would later recall the place ran with what looked like rivers of blood.
Wesbecker’s surviving victims later recalled his blank stare—“totally dehumanized,” as one described it. Others remembered hearing him laughing as he proceeded from room to room, dealing out death to his former colleagues.
Wesbecker kept firing, pumping bullets into already dead bodies, the slaughter finally ending only when he turned the Sig Sauer on himself and shot his own face off. An autopsy revealed his blood contained therapeutic levels of two drugs—lithium, which is commonly prescribed for bipolar disorder, and a new antidepressant drug released by pharmaceutical company giant Eli Lilly the year before, called Prozac.
The survivors of the massacre banded together and filed suit against Lilly. On 12 December 1995, a jury voted nine-to-three to acquit the company on all charges. Lilly’s CEO, Randall Tobias, told the Associated Press “We have proven in a court of law, just as we have to more than 70 scientific and regulatory bodies all over the world, that Prozac is safe and effective.”
The AP article did not mention that just before the trial began, Tobias’s wife had committed suicide, shortly after starting on the company’s blockbuster drug.
One could scarcely have been alive and conscious anywhere in the Western world any time in the past twenty-five years and not have been aware of a raging controversy surrounding antidepressants, suicide, and violence—a controversy that shows no sign of abating. During that same period, prescriptions for antidepressants have skyrocketed, and the companies that manufacture them—and also manufacture and control the evidence purporting to show that these nostrums are safe and effective—have grown to be, in the words of psychiatrist David Healy, “the most profitable organisations on the planet.”
So what is the story? Do these drugs drive people to suicide, or do they not? What about homicide? Are they addictive? Do they even help with depression?
In an effort to find answers to these questions, I have examined the scientific literature, trial transcripts, government documents, and news accounts, and listened to psychiatrists, psychologists, patients, and their family members. I have reconstructed the story of how these drugs came on the market and how they have stayed on the market, piecing together events month by month and sometimes day by day.
This is an account of staggering corporate mendacity and greed, and of news media which all too often behave like lapdogs rather than watchdogs. But it is also a tale of courageous doctors, reporters, litigators, and ordinary men and women whose lives were turned upside-down by these drugs—all of whom were relentless in their drive to uncover the truth. It’s a story that affects every one of us, and you are invited to come along and share in what I have learned.
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