404: Information Missing From Your Daily News
Summaries of under-reported news, short updates on previous Monitor stories
Yet for all the print and broadcast time dedicated to this story, surprisingly little attention was paid to the anti-depressant, Luvox, prescribed to killer Eric Harris. Often it was mentioned only to explain that useage was why he was rejected by the Marines just five days before the attack. While it's unlikely that Luvox had any connection with the long-planned mass murders, there are still important questions that should have been raised.
First, some background: like Prozac and Zoloft, Luvox is a "serotonin reuptake inhibitor" (SRI) drug that regulates the brain's flow of seratonin and makes the patient feel better. These drugs are leaders among the anti- depression medications currently prescribed for adults -- and about 900,000 children in the U.S. Trouble is, Luvox is not approved for treating depressed kids; in 1997, the FDA only gave the nod for its use in children with obsessive-compulsive behavior. But because it's FDA approved, doctors can prescribe it for depression, premenstrual syndrome, general anxiety, or anything else they see fit. (See our 1996 feature, "Better Learning Through Chemistry .")
As of this writing, nothing is known of Harris' psychiatric problems. He could have been prescribed Luvox because he compulsively washed his hands a hundred times a day, or he could have been taking the drug for suicidal depression -- at this point, it's academic. But could Luvox have played a role in the killings? A search of the medical literature reveals it can't be dismissed.
More formally known as fluvoxamine, one of the few studies involving adolescents found about one-third taking the drug developed "manic or hypomanic symptoms." The behavior noted in the 1998 University of Pittsburgh research included impulsive behavior, delusions of grandeur, and lack of inhibition. The study warns "clinicians are advised to be aware of the risk and to be vigilant" for manic behavior, even at low doses. A similar 1991 study found it can "induce mania in some patients when it is given at normal doses."
While some studies find mania in fewer than 10 percent of the cases, a 1993 Israeli study of eight patients found all of them developed "manic-like behavior" while taking the drug, behavior that ended when fluvoxamine was stopped or the dosage was reduced. "Our case series suggests that fluvoxamine may have the ability to induce or unmask manic behavior in depressed patients. Clinicians are alerted to monitor for this "switching" effect, especially in patients ... exhibiting characteristics of obsessive-compulsive disorder."
These studies and others should have placed the SRI drugs as part of the debate over causes of Littleton, but news coverage that mentioned Luvox quickly dismissed any possible tie-in with the killings: "No suicide link to drug taken by Eric Harris" (New York Times), "the drug ... does not lead to violent behavior" (Denver Rocky Mountain News) "pharmaceutical specialists have said they do not believe the drug played a role in the killings" (Boston Globe).
Credit the Kansas City Star for being the only newspaper to make an interesting connection between the Colorado high school shootings and last year's rampage by Kip Kinkel, the 15-year-old Oregon kid who murdered his parents and then shot up his school cafeteria, killing two students. Kinkel was on Prozac, another one of those safe SRI drugs. (May 3, 1999)
Genetic Engineering Produces Superweeds In August of 1998, we published news of a university study that found weeds easily cross-pollinate with genetically-altered crops to create superweeds resistant to many herbicides. Researchers said the superweed looked just like the regular sort, so a farmer would have to spray all weeds with regular herbicide and see which ones survive -- but that's a bad idea, because it just gives the superweeds more room to grow. It's a thorny problem.
Although biotech giant Monsanto has long claimed that it won't modify plants that could create these kind of superweeds, on April 25 the company admitted to the London Independent that "resistance can develop." Gary Barton, PR director for Monsanto biotech, told the newspaper that it wasn't a worry because those superweeds could always be killed with other weedkillers.
Enviros took this as a "groundbreaking" admission because it proves that Monsanto knew about the dangers to the environment of genetically engineering plants, according to the paper. "This is the first time Monsanto has admitted there are any problems with their crops and so it's a landmark for those who have been warning of the dangers of hybridization for years," said Pete Riley / Friends of the Earth. said.
The admission by Monsanto followed a revelation in the previous week's Independent that Brit scientists had discovered superweed varieties of wild turnip near a test plot of genetically-altered canola plants. (April 29, 1999)
House Hackers After war protesters changed military, NATO, and White House web sites to protest the Kosovo War, familiar mutters were heard in Washington about the lawless Internet. Buf if there are malicious hackers attacking web pages, they're only following the example of House Republicans.
The incident happened as Repubs were hunting for a post-impeachment outrage that might rile the masses. (Read this March 8 Monitor commentary.) One theme tested just after Clinton's State of the Union Address was that his FY2000 budget was "a slap in the face of every veteran" that ignored the increasing costs of caring for aging vets. While that tune might have been a hit in geriatric Republican circles, there was one little problem: it was the GOP that was blocking increased funding. The Demos had joined veteran groups like the VFW to recommend spending an extra $3+ billion for veterans' benefits and services -- roughly twice what the Republicans offered.
Budget disputes like this are heard every day by Congress, and normally resolved with little controversy. But the March 11 meeting of the Republican- controlled Committee on Veterans' Affairs turned it into a nasty partisan fight. On a party-line vote, the GOP majority refused to allow the Demos to present their budget proposal for consideration. Eager to show the public their generous budget, Democrats then posted it to the House's official Committee on Veterans' Affairs web site. And eager to make their miserly budget look good, the Republicans quickly deleted almost all of the Demo web pages. All of those pages were soon restored, but only after it was pointed out to the GOP that their censorous little stunt violated House policies.
A couple of weeks later, the Committee passed an "unprecedented" $1.1 billion increase -- exactly one-third of the amount wanted by the Democrats. Budget Subcommittee Chairman John Kasich (R - Ohio) took the occasion to issue a press release that they had "saved veterans from Clinton/Gore cuts." If that wasn't hypocritical enough, the Chairman for the whole Veterans Committee, Bob Stump (R - Arizona), said, "As historic as this increase is, I would have liked an even higher figure. We could have gotten it, too, with more of the bipartisanship we usually have on veterans' issues."
Some of the background for this story, by the way, was gleaned from the "Outrages of the Week" web page produced by the office of House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, which offers short commentaries on the latest Republican tomfoolery. Highly recommended! (May 12, 1999)
The Prison Years What will future historians think of our era? It's a question we often explore in these 404 sections. Will the sordid details of the Impeachment Year be remembered? Or course not; Monica Lewinsky will share an obscure historical cranny with Belle Livingstone, who was probably better known to every American in the decades surrounding WWI. (What, you don't recognize her name?)
It is quite possible that these last years of the Twentieth Century will be remembered as The American Decade of Prisons. Consider:
Maybe even more worrisome, the prison industry is determined to control the flow of information about what happens behind bars. Stories abound of journalists seeking to interview prisoners or obtain prison documents, only to be thwarted by secretive bureaucracies or wardens. For more on this, see the special resource pages by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) on prison access.
No one knows these problems better than Peter Y. Sussman. For thirty years a San Francisco Chronicle editor, Sussman has long championed prison journalism and the right of the public to know more about prison conditions. In the 1980s his Sunday Punch section of the Chronicle published an astonishing series of essays by prisoner Dannie Martin. The moving articles -- later collected in the book, "Committing Journalism" -- so angered prison authorities that Martin was placed in solitary, then transferred to a federal prison in another state. Republican Governor Pete Wilson also rubber-stamped radical new policies that blocked journalists from talking to prisoners, or prisoners from writing to journalists.
It's the latter rule that recently landed Sussman in deep water. Prisoner Robert Woodard sued the state because he was removed as editor of a prison newspaper for writing to a journalist . (He was not writing to Sussman, by the way.) Sussman, who had written of Woodard's case and helped him obtain pro bono legal counsel, received subpoenas from the California Dept. of Justice. According to the SPJ press release, it was "a sweeping four-page subpoena for documents, the state Justice Department ordered Sussman to produce any and all financial, phone, editorial and computer records relating to anything the journalist has written, said or electronically posted regarding prison access policies in general and Woodard in particular. This includes, amazingly, anything related to his 'opposition, either as an individual or as an officer or former officer' of SPJ to changes in prison media relations."
Even more chilling, the Dept. of Justice wanted copies of all Sussman's e-mail and Internet discussions on the topic of media access to prisoners.
Sussman was also deposed for 14 hours by the state. According to SPJ, "much of it spent in questioning him on personal and professional matters bearing no relation to the issues in the legal case."
It was harassment, plain and simple, as well as a cheap broadside from the former ultra-conservative Attorney General. But fortunately, it has a happy ending; the new A.G. promised this month to drop the case.
Even better news, the California Assembly today passed AB 1440, SPJ's bill to override the Calif. Dept. of Corrections and restore the right of the news media to interview specified prisoners face to face. Always the activist, Sussman's victory note to his supporters looked to the future: "There are a lot of prisoners suffering abuses they shouldn't have to -- and without the assistance or attention I had." (May 12, 1999)
Albion Monitor Issue 61 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor)
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