Forecaster Forum: Guns don't cause violence, but prescription drugs do

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I’ve given gun safety issues a lot of thought over the years, perhaps more than most.

I grew up around guns; my grandfather was Maine’s chief game warden, and also a decorated infantry general, a veteran of both World Wars. But I also lost my brother 40 years ago to an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound.

So I’ve done a lot of thinking about gun issues. And my perspective on guns in American culture is informed by my bachelor’s degree in American Studies.

So it occurs to me that, as President Obama strives to make America safer for our children, shouldn’t he be asking what’s causing the phenomenon of mass shootings of the last 20 years? Shouldn’t he be asking why it’s happening now, but wasn’t a problem before? Why the world has gone mad?

Guns haven’t changed much in the last 100 years, but for some reason, many Americans have been flipping out. In the 1990s, we even coined a new phrase for it: “Going postal.” We seem to be accepting this psychological phenomenon as a given, but we shouldn’t. We need to know why this is happening.

We have a similar epidemic of suicidal and “postal” behavior in our military. And certainly, availability of guns in the military hasn’t changed. No one, including President Obama, is suggesting that the National Rifle Association, the gun lobby, or availability of guns is responsible for the suicides or shootings in the military. We aren’t going to solve the problem in the military by taking their guns away. Clearly, there is a deeper cause, and availability of guns is not it.

Maybe it’s because the pharmaceutical industry is saturating our population with mind-altering drugs, which often cause depression, suicidal thoughts, and aggression.

Big Pharma is marketing the use of prescription drugs almost from the cradle to the grave. It starts when children are small: Big Pharma created an affliction known as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, and sells Ritalin to “treat” it. The long-term effects of Ritalin are not known – or maybe we are learning now. Big Pharma starts us off on a lifelong journey, taking mind-altering drugs, and their profits depend on the notion that there is a “magic bullet” or pill to treat every problem.

Depression, high cholesterol, erectile dysfunction, smoking – just take the pill, and gamble with the known side effects. Shootings have become routine. And so have these meds. Big Pharma’s ad campaign is de-sensitizing us to the deadly side effects of these drugs. “If you experience depression, changes in behavior, mood swings, or suicidal thoughts, call your doctor.” We are numbed by the ads. They are becoming the norm, hand-in-hand with the daily violence.

In “Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America,” Robert Whitaker describes anti-depressants as actually manufacturing bi-polar patients. I’ve read about the side effects in detail; I have the certification to hand out these prescription meds, which are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. They cause depression, suicidal thoughts, and aggressive behavior. They are also not very effective in treating depression.

There is growing evidence that SSRI’s often do more harm than good, and the recent widespread proliferation of SSRIs in our culture offers the best explanation as to why we live in this recent culture of violence. The pilot of Malaysian Flight 370 was on SSRIs. The grandmother who was recently murdered in a Saco supermarket was killed by someone on SSRIs. The man in Oakland who recently killed three people and himself had been taking several SSRIs. The pharmaceutical industry sells $9 billion worth of SSRIs per year, and over $4 billion worth of ADHD meds.

Is everyday life in our country so depressing that so many people need to be medicated? Or are we dangerously over-medicating our citizens? Big Pharma is making bank on these drugs every day. And, of course, Big Pharma is a huge contributor to political campaigns. President Obama seems unaware of the connection between his biggest contributors and the violence in America. Big Pharma won’t like it, but if we want to stop the violence, we need to face this problem, and stop or limit the wholesale distribution of these drugs.

William Linnell grew up in South Portland, served four years on the Cape Elizabeth Town Council, and has worked as a commercial fisherman, lobsterman, contractor, handyman, and boat carpenter. He also is a former Green Independent Party candidate for the Maine Legislature from Portland, where he now resides.