Alarming Study Links Painkiller Prescriptions to Higher Homicide Rates

Carey Wedler
June 9 , 2015

(ANTIMEDIA) A new study released by Finnish and Swedish researchers suggests that prescription painkillers can increase a user’s risk of committing homicide by as much as 92%. The study is the first of its kind to examine a direct connection between the use of painkillers and murder. While correlation does not equal causation, the findings raise significant concerns about the widespread overprescription of opiates.

The report, published in World Psychiatry this month, made use of Finland’s meticulous drug registry, which keeps track of citizens’ drug usage. It studied 1,000 men, women, teens, and adults who had been convicted of homicide from 2003 to 2011. Researchers then cross-referenced the subjects’ drug records to determine if there was a link. When comparing the subjects to control subjects with similar gender, municipality and age, a connection between homicide, painkillers, and benzodiazepines (tranquilizers) emerged.

Researchers also found that antidepressant use increased the risk of homicide by 31%. Sedatives increased the risk by 45%. Shockingly, over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen were associated with a 206% increased risk. Apparently, the use of common anti-inflammatories like Tylenol “may dampen negative and positive emotional responses in some people.

Still, the highest risk came at 223% for individuals under 26 who took opiate pills and 95% for those on benzodiazepines.

Though antidepressants have been shown—at least in some cases—to be a cause of violence, the study suggests that opiates and benzodiazepines are far more dangerous. As Jari Tiihonen, one of the study’s authors and a professor of clinical neuroscience at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, explained,

On the basis of our results, benzodiazepines and painkillers, but not antidepressants, are linked to a significantly higher risk.

Tiihonen suggested that the risk of homicide increases with the use of benzodiazepines because the pills reduce impulse control. He did not suggest the same theory for painkillers, though they can affect emotional processing.

Nevertheless, Tiihonen maintained that addictive benzodiazepines—which include Xanax, Klonopin and Valium— are safe when taken with a correct dosage and for a short period of time. However, this is not how most pills are used—especially in the United States. As Forbes summarized, excessive and long-term use of benzodiazepines can lead to

…’emotional blunting’ (failure to experience normal emotional responses like fear and regret) to increased aggression.

Further, researchers cross-referenced the subject’s records with police reports and found that in 79% of cases, the convicted killers had alcohol in their systems. This is unsurprising, considering alcohol intensifies the effects of both benzodiazepines and painkillers. However, in spite of the alcohol connection, links directly between pill use and homicide were statistically significant. This particular finding highlights the hypocrisy of a system that allows violence-inducing drugs to be legal while banning others that have no connections to physical aggression.

The overall results of the study are particularly concerning because of the highly documented, addictive nature of benzodiazepines and prescription pills. Rates of addiction to painkillers (and related deaths) have reached epidemic proportions, leading to spikes in heroin addiction as well.

The study is the first of its kind—and as such, cannot be taken as absolute fact nor fully confirmed until other, similar studies emerge. The study’s authors believe this may be difficult because other countries to not keep detailed databases of drug use and organized crime is common in third-world countries.

Nevertheless, the current findings are yet another grave sign that the over-prescription and overuse of prescription pills exacerbates and contributes to deep societal ills.

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