Beta-blockers may be the right prescription to stop violent crime

OXFORD, United Kingdom — Rising crime rates are a major concern in cities across the United States, but scientists may have the right medicine for the problem. A new study finds beta-blockers have the ability to make people calmer and less prone to violence. Researchers say people using beta blockers display lower rates of violent behavior in comparison to when they were not taking the medication.

“In a real-world study of 1.4 million persons, β-blockers were associated with reduced violent criminal charges in individuals with psychiatric disorders,” says Seena Fazel, a professor of forensic psychiatry at the University of Oxford and study co-author, in a media release. “Repurposing their use to manage aggression and violence could improve patient outcomes.”

Beta-blockers are a common prescription drug which manage a number of health conditions including high blood pressure, heart problems, and anxiety. Some research suggests they also could provide a benefit to people with clinical depression and aggression. However, the studies surrounding clinical depression and aggression have provided conflicting results.

The study authors looked at the psychiatric and behavioral outcomes of 1.4 million people living in Sweden taking prescription beta-blockers. Over an eight-year period, they compared their rates of hospitalization for psychiatric conditions, suicidal behaviors, death by suicide, and any charges for violent crimes while taking the drug versus when they did not take the medication.

Beta-blocker usage leads to a significant drop in crime

People taking beta-blockers displayed a 13-percent lower risk of facing charges for committing a violent crime. They were also eight percent less likely to need hospitalization for a psychiatric disorder or for suicidal behavior compared to the times when they were off of beta-blockers.

It’s important to note, however, that these associations depended on what type of psychiatric diagnosis the person had, their history with psychiatric disorders, the severity of the condition, and the reason why doctors prescribed beta-blockers in the first place. For example, people with cardiac problems like heart failure and arrhythmias commonly take beta-blockers. Some past research suggests that cardiac issues can increase a person’s risk of depression and suicide.

Right now, there are a lot of other variables that could explain why people on beta-blockers show less violent behavior than the times they are not taking the drug. Study authors say to prove this link exists will require clinical trials testing violent behavior outcomes in people with the same health conditions in a random trial featuring beta-blockers and placebos.

The findings appear in the journal PLoS Medicine.

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About the Author

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

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