My last post considered the over-prescribing of psychoactive medications. Your responses suggested that I was not alone in my belief that highly-addictive painkillers and sedatives are prescribed far too easily, for a specific symptom instead of for the benefit of the person as a whole, and sometimes causing side-effects worse than the original complaint.
There is currently a debate raging in the US which queries the links between psychiatric medication and violence. Various articles link recent shootings to prescription medication, and a substantial piece of research (carried out by doctors who have all made money by testifying this in court, ahem) has been published which looks at acts or threats of violence carried reported as serious adverse drug events to the American Government. This research found that drugs most likely to lead to violent behaviour were varenicline (a stopping smoking aid), antidepressants, some ADHD drugs, and good old sedatives. (Interestingly, for geeks like myself, it seemed to be drugs that affected dopamine or serotonin levels.)
Now, as you know, I have some issues with taking a drug to ‘take things away’. They don’t go away, they just get hidden, and along with them often come an array of unexpected and potentially damaging side-effects. I got stuck on the Pill aged 12 by my GP to ‘regularise’ my periods, and it was only when I decided to stop taking it, aged 24, that I realised – hormones make me MENTAL. Information I would probably have benefitted from in my teens.
However, even by my standards, the articles from the US make some hefty claims. One article quotes a neurosurgeon and a security expert, both of whom, in the wake of recent shootings, point towards antidepressants as potential causes for this impulsive and violent behaviour.
Now I think that the suggestion of a causal link may be somewhat presumptuous. Even if there is a link between some medication and violence, how can the medication and not the original complaint be implicated? One of the diagnostic criteria for depression is ‘recurrent thoughts of death’ (although admittedly normally one’s own death). I’m not saying depressives are prone to killing sprees (or at least not ones that can’t be controlled by thumbs and forefingers) – I’m just saying that one’s thoughts do tend to go a bit squiffy when clinically depressed.
Another queriable factor is the number of Americans who take mental health medication. Anyone who saw Louis Theroux’s crazy documentary ‘America’s Medicated Kids’ will know that psychiatric meds are not just for adults over there, oh no, over there they’re smashing them down little kids too. One family he interviewed had their 10-year old son on separate medications for ADHD, bipolar (which, I’m pleased to say, is still not really used as a label for children in the UK… yet), and ‘impulsiveness’ – which isn’t even a psychiatric diagnosis. His mother was on antidepressants and his father was on medication for bipolar, which he “may or may not have”. From what I can gather, they’re all bang at the happy pills over there.
Now, if mental health medication caused violence, this is the equation I think we should be seeing in America: everyone on medication + shit loads of guns everywhere = a serious amount of death. When I see the news, I definitely see some death, but not shit loads. Maybe I’m just not looking hard enough. Not a massive death fan.
However, some of the articles I have read claim that the lack of focus in the news on the link between psychiatric meds and violent behaviour is because it detracts from the current anti-gun agenda. I have to say this seems a somewhat naive standpoint – no matter how mad they are, no-one has ever, as far as I’m aware, committed mass murder with a pack of Prozac.
It seems far more likely to me that the lack of coverage on this issue is as a result of back-handers to the media by the ever-present and largely omnipotent drug companies. As we all know, whether it’s doctors getting sent on golf weekends for over-prescribing sedatives, or news editors cutting stories that implicate antidepressant use in murder cases – drugs reps drive very nice cars.