Mental health watchdog joins others in wanting answers to what drives individuals to commit horrific, senseless acts of violence; toxicology tests should be part of every investigation into such acts.
[References are provided in the CCHR INT publication.]
The Mental Health Industry Watchdog
May 30, 2022
As the country reels in the wake of another tragic shooting, the Citizens Commission on Human Rights International joins in sending condolences to the families of lost children and teachers. And, like many others, it questions what could have triggered the mindset of the alleged killer, an issue that needs responding to if we are to truly face preventing more tragedies like this and provide grieving families and the nation with answers.
Media quote experts saying that such individuals are “mentally disturbed,” or have “untreated mental illness,” but that doesn’t explain the level of violence we are seeing or what drives a person to pull a trigger. At the very minimum, CCHR says, mandatory toxicology tests should be required in each deadly incident to determine any prescription or illicit drug use, especially as today, most psychotropic drugs can be purchased from rogue online pharmacies, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Students abuse prescription drugs, with some 2.8 million teen students engaging in illicit drug use. Estimates are that up to 20% of college students abuse prescription stimulants alone.
A review of scientific literature published in Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry regarding the “astonishing rate” of mental illness over the past 50 years revealed that it’s not “mental illness” linked to increased acts of violence, but, rather, the psychiatric drugs prescribed to treat it.
“There is no evidence the shooter is mentally ill, just angry and hateful,” said Lori Post, director of the Buehler Center for Health Policy and Economics at the Northwestern University School of Medicine. “While it is understandable that most people cannot fathom slaughtering small children and want to attribute it to mental health, it is very rare for a mass shooter to have a diagnosed mental health condition.”
One thing is for sure, the country’s mental health system has been an abject failure and investing more in it is not prevention but part of the problem. Listing 20 high profile mass killings since the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado in 1999, or 19 since 2007, including two mass shootings in May this year, in 85% of the cases (17 of 20) or 89% since 2007, there was a potential history of mental health services or current taking of, or withdrawal from, prescription psychotropic drugs involved. In only several of the cases was a toxicology report mentioned.
The FDA’s Adverse Event Reporting System reports that at least 31 out of 484 medications are disproportionately associated with violence, which includes 25 psychotropic drugs. This includes eleven antidepressants, six sedative/hypnotics and three drugs for treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The specific cases of violence included: homicide, physical assaults, physical abuse, homicidal ideation, and cases described as violence-related symptoms.
Experts have consistently raised concerns about this:
“The irritability and impulsivity” from antidepressants, for example, “can make people suicidal or homicidal.” – Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Joseph Glenmullen
“The link between antidepressants and violence, including suicide and homicide, is well established.” – Patrick D. Hahn, affiliate professor of biology at Loyola University Maryland
“Violence and other potentially criminal behavior caused by prescription drugs are medicine’s best kept secret.” – Professor David Healy, leading psychopharmacology expert and professor of psychiatry in Wales
In a study published in the British Medical Journal, in January 2016, Prof. Peter C. Gøtzsche and other researchers reported: “Perpetrators of school shootings and similar events have often been reported to be users of antidepressants….” Antidepressants, including the use of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) and Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs), put at risk the lives of individuals prescribed them. Reviewing numerous studies of five different antidepressants, they found there was a doubling of the risk for both aggressive behavior and suicidality for children and adolescents.
The use of psychotropic drugs in schools is so rife in the U.S. that in 2004, a Prohibition of Mandatory Medication Amendment was necessary when it was discovered that, astoundingly, parents were being threatened with criminal child abuse charges if they refused to put their school-aged child on a psychotropic drug as a requisite for their education, or took them off it.
It is the sudden change in behavior that prompts questions in potential drug-taking. Salvador Romas, responsible for the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas raises questions on why Ramos, experienced sudden behavior changes. Authorities have said Ramos had no known criminal or mental health history. But no toxicology test has been done to determine if he’d acquired or had taken any psychotropic substance—licit or illicit.
Ramos had been a student at Uvalde High School but he dropped out of school and was not on track to graduate this year. It is unclear what social services he may have undergone given the number of police visits to his home. He apparently had a history of being “the nicest kid, the shyest kid,” according to a friend, but was bullied for stuttering. “He would get bullied hard, like bullied by a lot of people,” a school friend, Mr. Stephen Garcia said. “Over social media, over gaming, over everything.”
His behavior had apparently recently begun to deteriorate, with him admitting to cutting his face with a knife over and over for fun. About a year ago, Ramos posted on social media photos of automatic rifles he would have on his wish list. The teen had hinted on social media that an attack could be coming, one state senator told reporters. “He suggested the kids should watch out,” a lawmaker said.
In the wake of the Sante Fe High School shooting in 2018 that left eight students and two teachers dead, the Texas Senate approved a school safety bill to prevent another such tragedy from happening. It established threat assessment teams to help implement safe ways to identify dangerous students. Every Texas district is required to have a behavioral threat assessment team tasked with preventing horrific acts like the Uvalde shooting at local schools. Of the 1,022 total districts – 80% (818) reported their board of trustees established a team. Of the 818 districts that reported establishing a behavioral threat assessment team, over 90% reported members appointed to their behavioral threat assessment team and were expert in behavior management (793), special education (n = 790), counseling (n = 783), and mental health/substance use (n = 746).
Unfortunately, like mental health services, behavioral threat assessment is not based on science, but mostly conjecture and such an inexact “science” means prediction can be futile. In the sample of 20 cases cited here, it was unclear how many may have been involved in social media well in advance of the act of mass violence. One “Big Brother” program in the U.S. scans billions of social media posts for indications of harm and violence, and relays messages in near-real time to safety and security professionals. It uses a software program that can examine language written on posts. It reaps the company up to $5 million a year in revenue.
Even an article on Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Psychiatry Online pointed out that “Computer-generated recommendations may carry a false authority that would override expert human judgment” and “raises false hopes that machines will explain the mysteries of mental health and mental illness.” However, the real point is that psychiatry and psychology’s ability to diagnose any mental disorder is not based on science but on arbitrary whims that AI can only exacerbate this.
The use of AI and acceptance of AI and Applications (Apps) in mental health could contribute to the problem. AI is now marketed as a means to “prevent” or quickly identify the “growing” numbers of people, including children and youths, said to be mentally ill. Add to this, surging digitalization and growing smartphone & internet use increase the use of mental health apps. Peter Foltz, a research professor at the Institute of Cognitive Science stated: “Language is a critical pathway to detecting patient mental states,” says Foltz. “Using mobile devices and AI, we are able to track patients daily and monitor these subtle changes.”
AI identifies and diagnoses from speech patterns of young children and says it can monitor everything from their googling, texting, Facebook use and Twitter. One system asserts it can detect cyber-bullying, self-harm and grief sentiments in students’ emails and in Google/OneDrive. There is no standardized process for evaluating the validity of such research.
“It’s a recipe for disaster,” said Ann Cavoukian, the distinguished expert-in-residence leading the Privacy by Design Centre of Excellence at Ryerson University in Toronto. “I say that as a psychologist. The feeling of constantly being watched or monitored is the last thing you want.”
No amount of money expended on mental health services could have prevented what occurred in Texas. In 2021, Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) received more than $210 million in federal emergency grants from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for mental health and substance use disorder services. For the 2022 fiscal year, Texas Community Mental Health Grant programs saw increased funding of $2,910,409. For the same budget period, federal funding increased by $41,103,876. The 2022-23 budget has a projected $8.1 billion for mental health services.
Mental health screening and surveys in schools have notoriously been criticized for lack of science and validity. The late Karen Effrem, M.D., a renowned pediatrician and researcher, found that increased screening results in “the increased psychiatric drugging of children and adolescents,” with significant evidence of “harmful, if not fatal side effects, including suicide, violence, psychosis, hallucinations, diabetes, and movement disorders.”
Drug proponents argue that there are many shootings and acts of violence that have not been correlated to psychiatric drugs, but that is exactly the point. It has neither been confirmed nor refuted, as law enforcement is not required to investigate or report on prescribed drugs linked to violence, and media rarely pose the question. This is one reason why compulsory toxicology testing should occur and record of any drugs found added to all databases on acts of mass violence.
Read CCHR’s comprehensive report, Psychiatric Drugs Create Violence and Suicide.