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Psychiatric drugs are a common culprit as people search for answers following horrific violence. But experts say there is no credible research linking medications to mass shootings.
The unproven claim has different variants, but they share an assertion that the common thread among mass shooters is that the assailants were on psychotropic drugs, medication that is capable of affecting the mind or emotion.
One widely shared Facebook meme featured photos of some of the most notorious killers in recent memory, including the Charleston shooter Dylann Roof and Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza, along with a caption that reads: "All of these mass shooters were on psychotropic drugs but I don’t hear anyone calling for stronger prescription control."
We reached out to two experts who have studied the relationship between mass shootings and mental illness. They told us the claim has no scientific basis.
"I’m not aware of any evidence that has demonstrated a credible connection — causal or otherwise — between psychiatric medication and mass violence," said Grant Duwe, research director for the Minnesota Department of Corrections. Duwe has authored a history of mass murder in the United States.
Michael Rocque, a professor at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, added that one of the Facebook posts — which blames benzodiazepines for the July 28 shooting in Gilroy, Calif., at the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival — is particularly at odds with the evidence. Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs that has a tranquilizing effect.
"In fact there is some work showing benzodiazepines decreases violence," Rocque said.
Facebook post, Aug. 4, 2019
Email interview with Grant Duwe, research director for the Minnesota Department of Corrections and author of "Mass Murder in the United States: A History," Aug. 5, 2019
Email interview with Michael Rocque, a professor at Bates College, Aug. 5, 2019