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The Antidepressant Connection
March 9, 2001

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

Another day. Another shock. We see the same pattern emerge. A dispirited adolescent gets a hold of a gun, forecasts an intended plan, goes to a weapons-free school zone and murders. It is as if we are trapped in a horribly melded version of Ground Hog Day and Natural Born Killers.

Whether or not the recent school shooting in Santee, California, has in common with previous atrocities, an eerie link to antidepressant drugs, is yet to be seen. Nevertheless, because of the strong correlation of prior incidents to schoolhouse brutality, this connection deserves special scrutiny.

Prior to 1980, there were plenty of young males who were disruptive, fidgety and mischievous. We called them boys. When they entered adolescence and their hormones kicked in, we called them class clowns, troublemakers and would-be ruffians. In the worst cases, we thought the root cause might run a bit deeper, and they may have more serious difficulties.

In an effort to avoid any stigma that could be associated with harsh words such as "behavior problems," the sensitive 1980s brought scientific-sounding classifications to the public square. The categories of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and close cousin Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) were created. Never mind that a wealth of hard scientific evidence to prove the existence of these conditions had failed to materialize. Experts, having done such a sterling job with our government schools, now had an excuse to deal with the poor conduct of young boys in a new and innovative manner. They would drug them.

Now we have a situation where literally millions of children have been medicated with the drugs Ritalin, Prozac, Zoloft and Luvox, to name a few. Many parents and public school administrators are unaware that the World Health Organization and the United States Drug Enforcement Agency have placed drugs of this nature in the same category as morphine, opium and cocaine.

Some have looked to use of these substances as the possible common thread to the school shootings. Here are the facts. 18 year-old Jeremy Strohmeyer, who murdered a 7 year-old girl in Las Vegas, Nevada; 16 year-old Luke Woodham, who killed two teenage girls and wounded seven in Pearl, Mississippi; 14 year-old Michael Carneal, who killed three teens and wounded five in West Paducah, Kentucky; 11 year-old Andrew Golden and 14 year-old Mitchell Johnson, who killed four students and wounded ten in Jonesboro, Arkansas; and 15 year-old Kip Kinkle of Springfield, Oregon, who after murdering his parents, killed two students and wounded twenty-two, all took antidepressant psychiatric drugs.

The state legislature in Arizona is concerned enough about these drugs to put together a number of bills, which would require the informed consent of parents when schools or other government agencies wish to place their children on psychotropic drugs for behavioral reasons. The legislature also wants to require government authorities to give parents information about causal factors that may be contributing to behavioral problems. It seems that legislation such as this would serve to empower parents and assist them in making appropriate choices for their children's welfare.

As it stands, in many cases the choice of whether or not a child will be placed on these highly dangerous drugs is not an option for parents, because provision of education is conditioned upon their acceptance of the diagnosis and antidepressant drug treatment. As a result, some children end up being force-fed drugs that are potentially addictive, may have detrimental side effects and may even create a hazard for those around them.

Modern society does indeed suffer from an illness, but it is a malady partly of our own making. We have allowed ourselves to succumb to inconsistent and disordered thinking, spread by contact with less than objective media sources and dubious advice from questionable authorities. We have engaged in a thirty-year war on illegal drugs, spending billions of dollars a year to remove the scourge from our neighborhoods. Yet we have allowed drugs of a similar destructive nature to be dispensed to our children in hopes of promoting positive social skills and an enhanced educational experience.

This approach will not cure our children's ills or those of society. It is time we rely on our own sensibilities, reevaluate the practice of medicating our youth and search for better alternatives.

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James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

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