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Prozac is focus of rampage defense

The lawyer for Michael M. McDermott is exploring an insanity defense that would place the blame for Tuesday's workplace shooting rampage on anti-depressant medication _ including Prozac _ that McDermott was taking at the time he allegedly gunned down seven co-workers.

"The medication is an issue," said defense lawyer Kevin Reddington of Brockton, Mass. "It certainly has been written about and studied in the medical literature. It will be explored in this case."

Reddington said he met with his 42-year-old client Thursday to discuss defense strategy, and he said McDermott will soon be evaluated by psychiatric specialists for the defense. "We will be working very diligently on his behalf," Reddington said.

Reddington would not discuss specifics of McDermott's psychiatric diagnosis or medication, except to say that McDermott has been taking medication for more than a year.

The Boston Globe reported that people with knowledge of McDermott's medical history have confirmed that he has been prescribed Prozac and other drugs in a class known as selective seratonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs, the best known of which is Prozac.

The drugs generally work by shoring up the brain's level of seratonin, a beneficial neurotransmitter, by preventing the body from prematurely siphoning it out of the central nervous system.

In the past decade, numerous defendants across the country have used what has now become known as the Prozac defense, with little success.

Just this year, however, a Cambridge, Mass., psychologist's new book and a patent application have renewed questions about Prozac's side effects and whether the drug causes increased instances of suicide and a severe form of anxiety and agitation called akathisia.

Drugmaker Eli Lilly, which earned more than $2.5-billion last year from Prozac, has reportedly admitted in a patent application that the current form of Prozac has "significant" side effects that a forthcoming, improved version of the drug will not.

New Haven, Conn., lawyer John R. Williams is credited with having mounted one of the few successful Prozac defenses.

His client, Christopher DeAngelo, 30, of Wallingford, Conn., was given a 10-year suspended sentence in August by a judge who ruled that he committed two robberies while suffering from a "mania" induced by alcohol and prescription drugs, including Prozac.

Yet Williams said the case was unlike scores of other criminal cases involving Prozac because he was able to prove that DeAngelo was prescribed abnormally high dosages of the drugs.

Some lawyers say the Prozac defense has rarely succeeded because it has been overused. One Florida lawyer has even claimed that Prozac caused his client to suffer from nymphomania, which led to her arrest on prostitution charges.

"If a lawyer goes in and says Prozac is some sort of TNT and anyone who takes it is going to explode, that's just crazy, and no judge is going to buy it _ or a jury," Williams said.

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