Painkillers and benzodiazepines are among the world’s most popular drugs. Every year, doctors in the United States write more than 100 million benzodiazepine prescriptions and more than 250 million painkiller prescriptions. Though these drugs can offer immense relief from physical and psychological pain, they also come with some risks. According to a new study published in World Psychiatry, one of those risks might be an increased likelihood of committing murder.
Can Painkillers and Benzodiazepines Lead to Homicide?
In the aftermath of a massacre, media reports often highlight the mental health status of the killer. Because mental health issues are not statistically correlated with an increased risk of violence, and because those with mental health issues are more likely to be victims than victimizers, some advocates have looked for other explanations. Some argue that violent behavior is not the product of mental health issues, but instead of the drugs used to treat the condition.
To explore how psychiatric drugs might affect mental health, Swedish and Finnish researchers looked at the use of psychiatric drugs among 959 convicted murderers. Because a person’s environment, the drugs they take, and their mental health status may all affect their behavior, researchers controlled for the potential effects of other drugs and intoxicants, as well as the underlying mental health issues of each participant.
Researchers did not find a significant association between the use of antipsychotic drugs and homicide. The use of antidepressants, though, slightly increased the murder rate, producing a 31% increased risk of committing a homicide. Study subjects who had been prescribed benzodiazepines for insomnia or anxiety, and those who used painkillers were significantly more likely to commit murder. Benzodiazepines increased the risk of murder by 45%, compared to a 92% increased risk among opiate painkiller users. Among those who used anti-inflammatory painkillers, the risk increased by 206%.
The risk was elevated even further among young people. Among those under the age of 26, benzodiazepines increased the risk of homicide by 95%, while opiates increased the risk by 223%. The study’s authors point to previous research suggesting that painkillers may interfere with emotional processing. Likewise, benzodiazepines can weaken impulse control. It’s unlikely, then, that these drugs cause murders by themselves. Instead, they may weaken the resistance toward violence among people who already have strong feelings of aggression or anger.
- Cascade, E., & Kalali, A., MD. (2008). Use of benzodiazepines in the treatment of anxiety. Psychiatry, 5(9), 21-22.
- Opioid painkiller prescribing. (2014, July 01). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/opioid-prescribing/
- Use of certain painkillers linked with increased risk of homicide. (2015, June 1). Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/294676.php
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