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Drug-induced psychosis doesn’t need to be deadly

Radspink via Wikimedia Commons

A naked man, apparently high on drugs, was killed this week in Miami while attacking another man on the street. Police believe the suspect, Rudy Eugene, 31, had been high on “bath salts,” a synthetic drug similar to LSD. When confronted by officers, Eugene growled at their intrusion and seemed to be unaffected by the shots fired into his body until officers were able to kill him.

Psychosis induced by drugs, particularly chemical-based drugs, is a common response to overdosing. Emergency room physicians and psychiatric care centers handle psychotic episodes on a regular basis.

“There are a number of drugs, illicit or prescription, which can lead to a psychotic episode,” says S. Charles Schulz, M.D., professor and head of the University of Minnesota’s Department of Psychiatry. Drugs most commonly associated with it are LSD, methamphetamine and Adderall.

While the attack in Miami is not a common expression of these induced psychotic episodes, there are a variety of symptoms that can indicate psychosis. Paranoia, frenzy and other erratic behavior can all indicate a person is heading toward significant psychosis.

So what’s happening inside the body? According to Schulz, it depends on the drug ingested by the patient. Amphetamine-based drugs, like meth, stimulate the dopamine receptors in the brain, which increases paranoia and takes away the capacity for self-control. These patients can usually be treated with anti-psychotic medication. LSD, however, stimulates the serotonin in the brain, and results in patients generally needing a calm and safe place to come down from the high.

Physicians are pushing to understand the “ramping up” phase of a psychotic episode. In theory, catching someone during this building time could help stop a patient from hurting himself or others.

The University of Minnesota is focused on caring for people experiencing a psychotic episode. Check out their website to learn more about the First Episode Psychosis Program, a program dedicated to comprehensive assessment and treatment of psychotic illness.

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