Friday, May 25, 2018
News Roundup

In Aurora movie shooting case, judge approves truth serum; does it work?

A Colorado judge has approved the administration of "truth serum" to accused mass killer James Holmes, should he plead insanity. The unspecified drug would be used to assess Holmes' state of mind at the time of the shootings and potentially reveal whether he is faking mental illness. Can you prove that someone is sane by drugging them?

Not reliably. The most likely drug that prosecutors would use on Holmes is sodium amobarbital, also known as sodium amytal. It has dozens of psychiatric applications, but it doesn't seem to do any of them particularly well. In Holmes' case, prosecutors would use it to prove that he's malingering, or feigning illness, psychiatric illness in this case. Doctors first attempted to use the chemical for this purpose in the 1940s, when a psychiatrist claimed to get several drugged soldiers to admit their malingering. These days, psychiatrists are less sanguine about the drug's effectiveness for this purpose. Sodium amobarbital lowers a subject's defenses, and thus makes it easier to catch him in a lie, but a person can continue to lie under the influence of so-called "truth serum." In addition, the drug may increase a patient's susceptibility to suggestion, raising the possibility that a truly disturbed patient could falsely admit to malingering.

To conduct a so-called narcoanalytic interview, psychiatrists put the patient on an intravenous drip of sodium amobarbital until he slurs his speech or shows some other manifestation of the drug's effects. The questions are easy at first - What is your name? How old are you? Where are you right now? - then progress to the incident the interviewer is focused on. The psychiatrist often uses emotionally evocative questioning to startle the subject into disclosing suppressed memories of the event. While experts debate the procedure's effectiveness in general, everyone agrees that narcoanalytic interviews are useless on certain people. Some subjects fall asleep before the interviewer gets to the important questions, while others are so punchy that their responses are gibberish.

Sodium amobarbital has been used in insanity pleas before, although usually to prove insanity rather than disprove it. In the late 1980s, for example, attorneys for a New Jersey man who had shot his ex-girlfriend at point-blank range in view of dozens of bystanders used a narcoanalytic interview to have his murder sentence cut in half. In a sober state, the defendant mentioned having visions of the devil but had no memory of the shooting. Under the influence of sodium amobarbital, he claimed that his girlfriend morphed into a horned, flame-breathing devil just before he opened fire. Although the judge didn't allow the psychiatrists to mention sodium amobarbital or "truth serum" in court, they were permitted to offer their opinions of the defendant's mental condition, which were based in part on the narcoanalytic interview. (Most judges treat narcoanalytic interviews like polygraph examinations and keep them out of evidence.)

The oddest part of the Colorado judge's decision to force Holmes to submit to truth serum is that there are better ways to identify malingering, and they don't require the medical risks and ethical complications of chemical intervention. Psychiatrists typically subject patients to round-the-clock monitoring, because it's difficult to fake insanity all the time. Interviews go on for hours, testing the malingerer's endurance and consistency. A useful technique is to suggest highly unlikely symptoms to see if the patient will quickly adopt them. (One doctor suggests asking the patient whether he believes automobiles are "members of an organized religion.") In general, malingerers tend to be less straightforward in interviews, and fail to exhibit classic psychiatric symptoms that are difficult to fake, like word salad.

Comments
Indianapolis 500: How Danica Patrick changed racing

Indianapolis 500: How Danica Patrick changed racing

Tampa's Carlie Yent was at a racing banquet a few years ago when someone asked her to name the driver who influenced her the most.The answer was easy and obvious: Danica Patrick."She was someone I could look up to," Yent said, "and she was the most i...
Updated: 18 minutes ago
After Danica Patrick, why arenít there more women in auto racing?

After Danica Patrick, why arenít there more women in auto racing?

If you assumed Danica Patrick's success would lead to a tidal wave of female drivers into racing's top series, you're not alone."I kind of thought the Danica thing would bring out a lot of people, honestly," said Tampa's Megan Rae Meyer, a 21-year-ol...
Updated: 19 minutes ago
The Daystarter: Latest on potential tropical system; taking action along dangerous Bayshore Boulevard; Denis Philips talks hurricanes and beer; Memorial Day things to do

The Daystarter: Latest on potential tropical system; taking action along dangerous Bayshore Boulevard; Denis Philips talks hurricanes and beer; Memorial Day things to do

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what to know today.ē Todayís forecast calls for warm and humid weather up until lunch time. Then in the late afternoon thereís an up to 80 percent chance of thundershowers and the rain wonít let up until ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Denis Phillips, hurricane season guru, talks his signature beer, suspenders and Rule #7

Denis Phillips, hurricane season guru, talks his signature beer, suspenders and Rule #7

SAFETY HARBOR ó Denis Phillips cracks a pop-top and pulls a can that looks a lot like him to his lips."Itís got that citrusy feel to it," he says. "Which is a Florida thing. Thatís not bad." Indeed, thereís a grapefruit finish to Rule #7 Hurricane Sa...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Felled by fire, popular tower at Wall Springs Park to reopen soon

Felled by fire, popular tower at Wall Springs Park to reopen soon

PALM HARBOR ó The long, strange saga of the Wall Springs Park observation tower is finally coming to a close as county officials hope the rebuilt structure, along with refurbished decking leading up to it, will be open in time for the Fourth of July....
Updated: 2 hours ago
Carlton: Senseless death on a street like no other

Carlton: Senseless death on a street like no other

On a Wednesday morning, a mother and her little girl, not quite 2, went for a stroll along one of Tampaís prettiest streets.It was nearly lunchtime when they were crossing back over Bayshore Boulevard, headed to the home nearby where they were stayin...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Calvary Christianís record win streak ends in state final

Calvary Christianís record win streak ends in state final

FORT MYERS — One of the most impressive streaks in high school baseball came to an end early Friday morning.Calvary Christian lost the Class 4A state championship 5-1 to Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian at Hammond Stadium in a game that ended ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
National NAACP leader to speak at Clearwater banquet

National NAACP leader to speak at Clearwater banquet

CLEARWATER ó The NAACP Clearwater Upper Pinellas branch will have a heavy hitting guest for its 44th annual Freedom Fund Banquet on June 1. National NAACP President Derrick Johnson will be the keynote speaker at the fundraiser, which will be held at ...
Published: 05/25/18
At Pinellas Parkís iconic model train store, an ownership change goes off the rails

At Pinellas Parkís iconic model train store, an ownership change goes off the rails

PINELLAS PARK ó The iconic model train store that has sat at U.S. 19 and Haines Road for close to 30 years announced on its website it will be moving to another location."Itís difficult trying to stock a store thatís bigger than the reality is these ...
Published: 05/25/18
Editorial: Filling Rocky Point lagoon to build townhomes is an empty-headed idea

Editorial: Filling Rocky Point lagoon to build townhomes is an empty-headed idea

One of the worst ideas in a long time in the field of urban planning received a blessing this month when the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission approved a land-use change for a project that calls for filling three acres of water insi...
Published: 05/25/18