What Was Cho Seung-Hui On?

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


The Times reported that Cho Seung-Hui was taking a psychoactive medication. Was it an antidepressant? No doubt antidepressants save many lives, but they also cause side effects. Psychiatrists know that in a percentage of patients, they trigger mania, exacerbate delusional thinking, and agitate suicidal ideation. [See NIH links for data]. In short, they sometimes push troubled people over the edge. Antidepressant manufacturers years ago actually teamed up with district attorneys to make sure the Zoloft defense didn’t fly. As Rob Waters reported:

In the early 1990s, Eli Lilly, the maker of Prozac, started the practice of aiding district attorneys who were prosecuting defendants who blamed the drug for their acts of violence. Lawyers for Pfizer, the world’s largest pharmaceutical company, later created a “prosecutor’s manual” for the same purpose.

The Zoloft manual itself is a closely held secret — and Pfizer has fought hard to keep it that way.

In 2001, a widow sued Pfizer because her husband shot and killed himself after six days on Zoloft. Her lawyers discovered in Pfizer’s records a reference to a document called “prosecutor’s manual,” and requested a copy.

Pfizer fought the request, claiming it was privileged information between the company and its attorneys. The judge allowed the manual to be introduced — noting it was designed to prevent “harm to Pfizer’s reputation” if a defendant successfully raised “a Zoloft causation defense” — but he agreed to thereafter seal the manual and keep it out of the public record.

James Hooper, an attorney for Pfizer, says that “in rare cases”” the company’s attorneys have provided the manual to prosecutors if a defendant “is attempting to blame some sort of criminal behavior on the medicine.” Read on…..

Let’s be clear: Cho may not have not been on antidepressants. If the Times was right that he took a pill around 5 a.m. on Monday, it might have been something else. But it will be interesting to find out.

MOTHER JONES NEEDS YOUR HELP

Straight to the point: Donations have been concerningly slow for our hugely important First $500,000 fundraising campaign. We urgently need your help, and a lot of help, over the next few weeks so we can pay for the one-of-a-kind journalism you get from us.

Learn more in “Less Dreading, More Doing,” where we lay out this wild moment and how we can keep charging hard for you. And please help if you can: $5, $50, or $500—every gift from every person truly matters right now.

payment methods

MOTHER JONES NEEDS YOUR HELP

Straight to the point: Donations have been concerningly slow for our hugely important First $500,000 fundraising campaign. We urgently need your help, and a lot of help, over the next few weeks so we can pay for the one-of-a-kind journalism you get from us.

Learn more in “Less Dreading, More Doing,” where we lay out this wild moment and how we can keep charging hard for you. And please help if you can: $5, $50, or $500—every gift from every person truly matters right now.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate