I do not claim to know how to heal the wounds of the tragedy that occurred in Newtown on December 14th, 2012. Nor do I claim to know how to prevent future tragedies of this sort. The intent of this post is to oppose ineffective and inhumane practices, prompted by reactions to the events in Newtown and other communities, that are falsely thought to be effective.
I had hoped that we in Connecticut were done with thinking of forced drugging as an effective and safe way to enhance the safety of our communities. Last winter when Adam Lanza engaged in unspeakable violence and took the lives of 28 people, Connecticut’s advocacy community – along with non-traditional allies and providers – expressed the belief that forced “treatment” does not belong in our state.
I am concerned about how our state will respond to the report of the State’s Attorney on the investigation into the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. The report appropriately attributes accountability for the unconscionable murder to Adam Lanza – not to an “untreated” mental disorder.
“It is important to note that it is unknown what contribution, if any, the shooter’s mental health issues made to his attack on SHES. Those mental health professionals who saw him did not see anything that would have predicted his future behavior” (page 35 of the report).
“In this case the shooter’s mental status is no defense to his conduct as the evidence shows he knew his conduct to be against the law. He had the ability to control his behavior to obtain the results he wanted, including his own death. This evidence includes his possession of materials related to mass murders, his removal of the GPS from his car, his utilization of ear plugs, the damaging of the hard drive and waiting for his mother’s return from New Hampshire . . . The existence of an extreme emotional disturbance for which there is a reasonable explanation or excuse is also not present in this case. It is clear that the shooter planned his crimes in advance and was under no extreme emotional disturbance for which there was a reasonable explanation or excuse” (page 42).
At the same time, while it does a decent job of viewing Lanza’s behaviors through a contextual lens. and uses terms such as ‘idiosyncrasies’ and ‘reclusive’ – which are more contextual and humanistic than controversial DSM disorders – this report may be open to the interpretation that pre-emptively and forcibly drugging individuals is an acceptable and effective way of preventing acts of violence.
“The shooter refused to take suggested medication and did not engage in suggested behavior therapies” (35).
This sentence gives me pause.
Proponents of forced drugging may gain traction from this report, and our allies in opposition to forced drugging may be turning. I am not naïve, and acknowledge that this report presents convincing evidence that community intervention prior to Adam Lanza’s actions on December 14th 2012 would have been appropriate. But reflecting on how society could have potentially helped Lanza, Lanza’s mother, neighbors, and teachers in supporting him before he got to the point of carrying out such heinous actions, does not require writing into law mechanisms that force people who are speculatively deemed to be potentially violent to take tranquilizing psych drugs.
Legalizing forced drugging in the hope of preventing people from being violent in the future presumes two things: One, that pre-emptive forced drugging is Constitutional, and, two, that “anti-psychotics” do more good than harm as a way to reduce violent acts. Neither of these presumptions are true. Rather, Involuntary Outpatient Commitment (which invariably involves forced drugging) is in direct violation of the 14th amendment to the Constitution in that it deprives life and liberty without due process of law and condones unequal protection of the laws.
I get it, though. Even though – because of unintended future ramifications – the government is supposed to abide by a system of laws and not adhere to or disregard the Constitution based on whether it seems better to adhere to or disregard in certain situations – I understand why legislators are considering violating the Constitution in the name of decreasing violence. I am not being sarcastic. I do not agree with the idea of drafting blatantly unconstitutional legislation – but I understand it.
In my personal life, if I believed that unconstitutionally forcing something on someone would do more good than harm to them — and would simultaneously protect the life of my mother – I’d probably do it. But then I haven’t taken an oath to uphold the Constitution, in the capacity of a public servant.
The United Nations, in connection with the passage of its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, has asked the United States to explain how forced drugging does not constitute torture. However, in light of the reality that people might consider a bit of coercion and rights-infringement in exchange for something that they believe decreases the likelihood of mass murder and improves the lives of those it is forced on – we are entertaining the notion that psychiatric drug treatments do more good than harm, and decrease violence. Psychiatric drugs aren’t proven to do more good than harm and decrease violence, though. Psychiatrists, pharma-reps., TAC relatives, and probate judges just say they do.
High-profile individuals and institutions with a range of perspectives are stating just the opposite. Research suggests that individuals accessing public mental health services die on average twenty-five years younger than the general population. Research suggests that individuals taking psychiatric drugs are permanently going on disability at a disproportionately high rate relative to the US population as a whole. Research suggests that akathisia, a common effect of taking “anti-psychotics” often results in its user engaging in violence. The FDA has required black box warnings on “antipsychotics,” “anti-depressants,” and other psych-drugs. These labels outlined in black are the severest warnings drugs can carry while remaining on the market as FDA approved. Black box warnings on psych-drugs include messages about the drugs’ potential to cause increased thoughts of suicide, increased aggression, and sudden death.
It doesn’t seem likely to me that more voluntary, let alone forced consumption of psychiatric drugs will make our communities less violent.
If not in the name of the US Constitution or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I hope that Connecticut will continue to oppose outpatient commitment – because its implementation not only fails to prevent violence or increase the number of upstanding and contributing members of society but also degrades individual human life and the social fabric of our communities. Maybe the violence we are experiencing is a product of the degree to which human life and our social fabric and communities have been degraded.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.