The drugging of America




I’ve blogged about mass shootings and gun control before. This is post is not just about psychotropic drug use in mass shootings. Some say it’s a cause, others deny its impact. There are certainly many people who’ve used these drugs and never killed anyone including themselves. However, as I read more and more, I realized the problem is more wide-spread and not isolated to mass shootings. The president, in his gun control speech, mentioned gun suicide, alluding to gun control as a method to help prevent it. As a veteran, I’m saddened by the rate of military suicides. In reading on this topic, I’ve come across articles linking the increase in drug use in the military with the increase in the suicide rate. I found a huge correlation between military suicide and the prescription rate of these drugs. Correlation is not causation, but damn, it’s just there.   I don’t know if it’s a great technique to write a blog by simply quoting a series of other articles and writers, but that’s what this has become. So, everything is referenced at the bottom of the post if you’re so inclined.

There are many factors related to these topics. However, we are being prescribed, and taking, drugs that alter our brain chemistry at alarming rates. For full disclosure, I’ve never taken any of these drugs, so I cannot comment on any positive impacts they may have had on people’s lives. But, after doing some research, I can’t imagine a situation in which I would take one.

The rise of antipsychotics

The use of second-generation antipsychotics nearly tripled from 1995 to 2008 in the United States, ballooning to more than 16 million prescriptions for drugs such as aripiprazole (Abilify), clozapinel (Clozaril) and quetiapine (Seroquel). More than half of those prescriptions in 2008 were for uses with uncertain scientific evidence, according to a study from Stanford University and the University of Chicago based on more than 1,700 physician surveys (Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety, 2011).

I’ll say it again, their use has tripled. And more than half of those prescriptions were for “uses with uncertain scientific evidence.” So, let’s take a look at the warnings on the drugs themselves. I took these right off their sites. (I’ve linked the sites below). Here’s are a few, I added the bold to highlight the point:


Antidepressants have increased the risk of suicidal thoughts and actions in some children, teenagers, and young adults. Patients of all ages starting treatment should be watched closely for worsening of depression, suicidal thoughts or actions, unusual changes in behavior, agitation, and irritability. Patients, families, and caregivers should pay close attention to any changes, especially sudden changes in mood, behaviors, thoughts, or feelings. This is very important when an antidepressant medicine is started or when the dose is changed. These symptoms should be reported immediately to the doctor. SEROQUEL XR is not approved for children under the age of 10 years.


WARNING Suicidality and Antidepressant Drugs Use in Treating Psychiatric Disorders: Antidepressants increased the risk compared to placebo of suicidal thinking and behavior (suicidality) in children, adolescents, and young adults in short-term studies of major depressive disorder (MDD) and other psychiatric disorders. Anyone considering the use of WELLBUTRIN XL or any other antidepressant in a child, adolescent, or young adult must balance this risk with the clinical need. Short-term studies did not show an increase in the risk of suicidality with antidepressants compared to placebo in adults beyond age 24; there was a reduction in risk with antidepressants compared to placebo in adults aged 65 and older. Depression and certain other psychiatric disorders are themselves associated with increases in the risk of suicide. Patients of all ages who are started on antidepressant therapy should be monitored appropriately and observed closely for clinical worsening, suicidality, or unusual changes in behavior. Families and caregivers should be advised of the need for close observation and communication with the prescriber. WELLBUTRIN XL is not approved for use in pediatric patients. (See WARNINGS: Clinical Worsening and Suicide Risk in Treating Psychiatric Disorders, PRECAUTIONS: Information for Patients, and PRECAUTIONS: Pediatric Use.)


Suicidality and Antidepressant Drugs

Antidepressant medicines may increase suicidal thoughts or actions in some children, teenagers, and young adults especially within the first few months of treatment. Depression and certain other serious mental illnesses are important causes of suicidal thoughts and actions. Patients of all ages who are started on antidepressant therapy should be monitored appropriately and observed closely for clinical worsening, suicidality, or unusual changes in behavior. Anyone considering the use of ZOLOFT or any other antidepressant in a child, adolescent, or young adult must balance this risk with the clinical need. ZOLOFT is not approved for use in pediatric patients except for patients with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)


As with many conditions that affect the way you think or feel, thoughts of suicide may occur. If you get these feelings, seek help immediately from your doctor, or local emergency room.

So, the warning is right on the product. I’m not sure that could be more clear. Is anyone reading these, or just not taking them seriously? We are seriously altering our brain chemistry in ways that doesn’t seem productive. They put it right on the drugs, for God’s sake. Doesn’t this freak you out a little bit, that we’re prescribing drugs at record levels that has that as their warning? It does me. Is it crazy to think there’s a connection between suicides and mass shootings when people are taking drugs with these warning labels?

So, we’re also drugging our children….

 Almost 20,000 prescriptions for risperidone (commonly known as Risperdal), quetiapine (Seroquel) and other antipsychotic medications were written in 2014 for children 2 and younger, a 50 percent jump from 13,000 just one year before, according to the prescription data company IMS Health. Prescriptions for the antidepressant fluoxetine (Prozac) rose 23 percent in one year for that age group, to about 83,000. (NYTimes)

 The number of children taking powerful antipsychotic drugs has nearly tripled over the last 10 to 15 years, according to recent research. The increase comes not because of an epidemic of schizophrenia or other forms of serious mental illness in children, but because doctors are increasingly prescribing the drugs to treat behavior problems, a use not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). And a disproportionate number of those prescriptions are written for poor and minority children, some as young as age 2. (Consumer Reports)

 Of particular concern is the prescribing of antipsychotic drugs to vulnerable populations, including foster care children and elderly nursing home residents. Foster children are up to four-and-a-half times more likely to receive psychotropic drugs than other children covered by Medicaid, according to a Government Accountability Office report last year. The investigation of foster care programs in five states found that hundreds of children were prescribed multiple psychotropic drugs, including antipsychotic drugs at excessive dosages. Infants also were prescribed psychotropic drugs despite no scientific evidence supporting that use. In response to those findings, the GAO recommended the development of federal best-practice guidelines on the use of psychotropic drugs by foster care programs. (APA)

Why would anyone prescribe any of these drugs to children under two? I can’t imagine. The number of children taking these drugs has tripled? Why? Because doctors are simply prescribing drugs instead of providing other treatment or referrals?

We’re drugging our military

Yet in 2011, a VA study found that 80 percent of veterans diagnosed with PTSD received psychiatric drugs. Of these, 89 percent were treated with antidepressants, and 34 percent were prescribed antipsychotic drugs. (CCHR)

Some 54,581 prescriptions for Seroquel were written for active duty service members in 2011 alone—the vast majority as a sleep aid, a condition for which is it not FDA approved to treat. (CCHR)

2005 – 2011: Military prescriptions for psychoactive drugs increases almost 700 percent. (CCHR)

From the Independent Business Times…

 “Breggin, author of the 2008 book “Medication Madness: The Role of Psychiatry Drugs in Cases of Violence, Suicide and Crime,” told IBTimes that the intensive use of prescription medications came about through the influence of the pharmaceutical industry over the military and VA. Soon after the start of the second Gulf War, Breggin said, “we saw a sea change in the prescribing of these drugs to our troops. This cannot be accounted for by anything other than military decisions at the very top that were certainly influenced by the pharmaceutical industry, which markets from the top down, then the drugs flow to millions.”

Breggin, who has testified before Congress about what he describes as the over-drugging of troops and its consequences, said there is a “disturbingly rampant practice” of prescribing psychotropic prescription drugs to young soldiers both in combat and after they return home. The extent of the military’s use of prescription drugs was quantified in a 2012 analysis by the Austin American-Statesman of nearly every drug purchase made by Department of Defense during that period, which found that spending on drugs ballooned by more than 123 percent, from $3 billion in 2002 to $6.8 billion in 2011, which outpaced by nearly double the overall increase in reported pharmaceutical sales in the U.S. (IBTimes)

 Here’s another excerpted personal story from the Independent Business Times.

When former U.S. Army Specialist Kyle Wesolowski returned from Iraq in December 2010 following a brutal yearlong deployment, psychiatrists at the Fort Hood army post in Texas gave him “a cocktail of seven different drugs” for his anxiety, depression and other war-related mental health issues.

More than three years later, Wesolowski has come to an uncomfortable conclusion about the unintended consequences of ingesting those medications: They made him homicidal.

 While desperately struggling to taper off the drugs without an exit strategy from his military doctors, Wesolowski contemplated murdering a young woman he met in a bar near the base. “When she talked to me, I put on a fake smile and tried to be nice,” Wesolowski said, though in reality he recalled hating her for being happy and carefree, and now says that due to the side effects of his drug cocktail, he felt violent urges. “I began to fantasize about killing her,” he said.

 Stories such as Wesolowski’s generally remain submerged unless they end in tragedy, as happened at Fort Hood on April 3 when Iraq war veteran Ivan Lopez shot and killed three people and wounded 16 others, then killed himself.

 The violent tendencies of some mentally traumatized soldiers and veterans cannot be written off as an aberration, said Dr. Peter Breggin, a psychiatrist and author who’s written extensively about the potential dangers of the use of psychotropic drugs to treat mental illness among servicemen and servicewomen. Breggin contends such episodes are the result of what he describes as a “massive prescription drug epidemic” that encompasses the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs, in which tens of thousands of soldiers and veterans returning from traumatic tours of duty ingest drugs – in some cases multiple varieties – that can have significant side effects, including intensifying feelings of rage.

I just have to say this. I’m not a doctor, but prescribing drugs whose side-effects are suicidal thoughts to depressed and mentally disturbed people doesn’t make sense to me.

So, I’ve not even written about mass shootings. I’m not going to. There’s a Huffington post article linked below that argues why psychiatric drug use doesn’t have anything to do with mass shootings.

All you have to do is read the warning labels.


13 comments on “The drugging of America

  1. Maggie Rousis PharmD 2017 says:


    I found this blog post difficult to read because it seems that you did not take the time to fact-check or research your topic beyond a cursory Google search, relying on newspaper articles based on surveys, which have the lowest level of accepted strength of evidence.

    Regarding the black box warnings (the bolded sections from the drug manufacturers), the basis of the antidepressants’ increased suicidality came from an early study in which four patients on an SSRI (I believe it was paroxetine) committed suicide, whereas two in the placebo group committed suicide. This led to a class warning for all SSRI’s; this means that even SSRI’s that have no documented suicide risk for that specific agent include this warning. Further studies showed that suicidal thoughts tend to be present in patients before they go on medication, and that in some cases said patients gain the energy to get out of bed and get closer to a baseline of functioning, but the depressive symptom resolution takes at least 4-6 weeks. This is why Major Depressive Disorder guidelines call for frequent monitoring particularly in the beginning of drug therapy and any time a dose is changed.

    The SSRI’s do not include antipsychotics. In fact, your quote from Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety includes clozapine (incorrectly spelled clozapinel); clozapine is a last-resort antipsychotic indicated only for treatment refractory schizophrenia. It has a nationwide REMS program and requires frequent monitoring not just for resolution of schizophrenic symptoms but also for white blood cell counts.

    I completely agree that risperidone and quetiapine should not be prescribed to children under two. In that situation, I ask where on earth the pharmacist was who allowed this to happen.

    Finally, I have read several of Peter Breggin’s books. While his review of history is accurate, and his concerns about the overuse of antipsychotics have led to numerous reforms in prescribing guidelines, his paranoia and bias remain intact.

    You claim that you are not a doctor, and you don’t believe that correlation is the same as causation, yet you then write with precisely the line of thinking that has led uneducated minds to favor conspiracy theorists over preventing diseases with vaccines. Please consult an expert (or more than one Google search) before writing about such an important topic.

  2. whatshupp says:

    Thanks for your comments, I find them informative and will continue to educate myself on this topic.
    See, I’m not an expert. There are things you don’t need to be an expert for. What I know is that the military suicide rate continues to increase, and these drugs are over-prescribed for uses they are not designed for. They are also being prescribed to children at alarmingly increasing rates. Both of those sounds mystifying and dangerous. And despite your defense, they still put those warnings on the labels, don’t they. I’m sure by your protestation they don’t need them there, but they still put them there, don’t they? I’m a veteran, and when in the military, one of my colleagues committed suicide, and he was taking one of these drugs. (part of the reason this spurs my interest) I’m sure he had suicidal thoughts before, but apparently the drugs didn’t help, did they? Last week, I personally talked to a veteran suffering from PTSD who told me he’s been prescribed three of these drugs, and he’s not doing well. That’s what spurred me to “do a cursory Google search.” (I’m a smart ass too). Yea, maybe Breggin has an axe to grind, but it seems like a decent one. Apparently big pharma has convinced the military to buy and prescribe these drugs by the millions. I’m not sure it’s the right thing. Myself, I prefer a good run, a martini, and a quiet evening to deal with my problems. I understand some people need help. I don’t believe that’s what’s happening here.
    By the way, here’s from the NIMH you cited,
    “However, about 4 percent of those taking SSRI medications experienced suicidal thinking or behavior, including actual suicide attempts—twice the rate of those taking placebo, or sugar pills.” Also…“A black-box warning is the most serious type of warning in prescription drug labeling.”
    …but, I guess you don’t think that’s serious. So, I have to “fact check” a warning label?
    Honestly, I tried to avoid being “conspiratorial” because I’m genuinely concerned, and I believe there’s a serious issue here. But for God’s sake, you have “PharmD” in your name. Talk about conspiratorial, try being a little less bought-off.
    I support vaccinations, you sound educated, don’t make ignorant assumptions.
    You know, sometimes I also come across blogs that are hard to read. I don’t read them.
    But thanks for your comments.

    • Maggie Rousis PharmD 2017 says:

      Did you ever wonder why there are warning labels in the first place? Also, why do you think I am bought off? Do you know what pharmacists do? Do you think I will get a cut of the profit whenever a patient is prescribed any medication, psychiatric or otherwise? Hell, I’m still a student; I won’t break even on my loans for years.

      Nina has a fantastic point. You claim you are no expert, but you have an extremist following who will likely believe anything you write. I’ve never commented on a post before because I knew it wouldn’t matter; you would remain bigoted no matter what I said. I thought I could help you understand what goes into the medication approval process. Research. Please research primary literature (original studies, not rehashed news stories) when you write on a life-or-death topic.
      You claim these conversations are not in “the public sphere.” What does the public sphere mean to you?

      • whatshupp says:

        These drugs are being over-prescribed to vulnerable populations (children, particularly, and the military) for uses they are not authorized for. That’s not debatable. I don’t need to be a scientist to figure that out. I don’t know why you have a problem with me saying that. Why do they put warning labels on drugs? Perhaps to warn people of their side-effects for simpletons like me. You know, “suicidal thoughts.” Are they not supposed to get my attention? But really, Maggie, we’ve jumped the shark. See, when you start calling names, “bigot” well, it tells me who you are, and there’s really no where left to go. You know, when you point fingers, you have a couple pointing back at you.
        But I’m sure you’re a genius and knuckleheads like me have no business commenting on matters of public health. Cause, damn, it’s just our lives, too.
        Maybe you should read “Technopoly” by Neil Postman, which, quite frankly, is a direct throw down to people like you, who think we should trust science over our own common sense.
        FYI, I’ve been called worse names by better people than you. It occurred to me you probably have too. Good luck with your student loans!

  3. Nina says:

    Hey, while I agree with you that these medications are sometimes over-prescribed, you are severely underestimating the devastating effects mental illness can have when left untreated. It is true that there is a problem with the services our vets receive. In most cases, PTSD responds best to a combination of temporary medication and various therapies, such as exposure therapy, Tetris therapy (it’s real), and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Many veterans only receive the medication, without ever learning about the therapies that can actually heal PTSD instead of just managing it.

    This is partially because of funding issues, and partially because the military has a negative view towards therapy. There are probably other factors too. It’s a complex issue. But doctors, in the meantime, are just trying to manage the patient’s symptoms as best they can, knowing they will never get access to better therapies. The medication is usually a necessary part of the picture though. Just because it’s being over-prescribed doesn’t mean it’s not useful at all.

    The danger with posting on issues such as this from a binary approach is that your words might scare away someone who could be seriously helped by these drugs. I worked as a behavioral counselor for seven years, working with severely mentally ill and disabled children. I worked at a residential school, acting as a last resort for these kids so they didn’t have to go to the hospital or jail. Many of their parents were terrified of the medication, because they had done searches like yours.

    Here is a personal example. Myself and four other staff had to pin one young man to the floor for thirty minutes straight, because he would try to literally beat himself to death. He fractured his skull, broke both hands, and detached a retina, and he just wouldn’t stop. This was a regular occurrence in his life. Finally, we had to draw the line, and send him to the hospital for intensive treatment. The hospital refused to release him until he had been stabilized on medication, and finally, after nineteen years, his parents agreed to try. Two months later, this boy was smiling, playing with his friends, and completing his school work. He graduated three years ago into a less-intensive program. He spent years being locked inside himself, and now, with medication, he can finally live a happy life.

    People with serious mental illnesses need medication in order to regain their quality of life. One third of our homeless population is made up of schizophrenics, and the reason is because they can’t access the medications they need, or because they are afraid to try them after reading blog posts about how dangerous they can be.

    Every brain is different, and there is no way for a doctor to know in advance what medications are going to help each patient. This is why patients need to be monitored closely. The miracle cure for one person, might be completely ineffective for another. In the months, or sometimes years, that it takes to find the right medication and dosage for that person, they are still battling a serious illness every day of their lives.

    Think of it like treating cancer. Both are serious, potentially life-threatening diseases for which there is no known cure. Chemo and radiation can make a patient much sicker in the process of treating their disease. It sometimes takes years of doctors trying different things before any real progress is made. But, in the end, it is worth the struggle if the person is able to reclaim their life.

    I agree that there are problems with over-medication in under-funded programs, such as the VA and the foster care system. But the people in charge of those programs are just trying to help as best they can with limited funding. If you want to be angry, be angry at the government for not providing adequate funding for the therapy that always needs to accompany medication. Don’t be mad at the medications themselves.

  4. whatshupp says:

    I really appreciate your comments and would like to respond.
    I do not think I am underestimating the effects of mental illness. I am questioning the way in which it’s dealt with. I am familiar with cognitive-behavior therapies and agree with your summation that veterans often just get prescribed drugs. Doesn’t make it right. Just because it’s over-prescribed doesn’t mean it’s useful, but it doesn’t mean it’s being harmful as well. Here is your own quote “Every brain is different, and there is no way for a doctor to know in advance what medications are going to help each patient.” But yet, we have no public conversation on this. Doctors are just prescribing drugs. In my opinion, people should be terrified of the effects. If they are reading a blog like mine for medical advice…well. I can’t help that, but it doesn’t prevent me on speaking my opinion of it.
    I’m not mad at the medications. But seriously, you think this shouldn’t be in the public sphere of conversation? C’mon, these drugs change people’s brain chemistry. I understand they help some people, but there’s some problems here.
    I’m not some un-educated rube. I’m a veteran with a PhD that is concerned about the drugging of America and the over-prescription of these drugs. You can’t deny that, and if you do, you have an agenda.

    • Nina says:

      This topic is very much already in the public sphere of conversation. Professionals, like myself, have had to sit parents down time and time again to explain that their child has an actual chemical imbalance that needs to be corrected, and that supplements and therapy alone will do literally nothing if their kid can’t be stabilized first.

      The meds do help people. End of story. There is no maybe about it. A PhD is not a medical degree, and therefore not an indication of your position of authority. What you have is a few personal experience where drugs were over-prescribed. I never denied the over-prescribing of drugs. I actually agreed with you, if you read my comment. But it is an indication of a larger failing, not an evil agenda.

      I have seen the effects of these medications, both as a professional and as a patient. I have schizophrenia, and I used to be homeless, perpetually wasted, and terrified to try any kind of medication, because I thought it was evil. When I finally decided to give it a shot, my life became dramatically better. Finally, for the first time in years, I stopped hearing the voices of my family members being tortured to death. I could actually sleep. I could preform basic functions that had been out of reach for so long. Once I became stable, I was able to learn a lot through different behavioral therapies. But I could never have gotten to that point without first correcting the chemical imbalance in my brain.

      Over the course of two months, I found an apartment, a job, and a way to feel balanced without being high out of my mind. My story is common. One in a hundred people suffers from a severe psychotic disorder, and they make up one third of our homeless population. If you write things encouraging people not to take their medication, you can actually kill them.

      Again, I agree that our vets and foster children need more services than they are currently being given. I agree that medications can have sometimes dangerous side effects, but, like chemo, we still need psych meds because they save lives.

  5. whatshupp says:

    I’m glad you were helped by these. You have your personal experiences, I have mine. Your personal slights aside, an eight-fold increase in the use of these drugs in the military since 2005, and many of the detrimental effects, is not in the public sphere of conversation. You have to look for it. This paragraph “The number of children taking powerful antipsychotic drugs has nearly tripled over the last 10 to 15 years, according to recent research. The increase comes not because of an epidemic of schizophrenia or other forms of serious mental illness in children, but because doctors are increasingly prescribing the drugs to treat behavior problems, a use not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)” is not in the public sphere of conversation. You have to look for it. I’m sure these drugs help people. I’m also sure they hurt people. There’s a serious downside to these drugs.
    They can be dangerous used inappropriately, and are being used inappropriately in record rates. If this was a virus it would be in the 24-hour news cycle. That’s the point of my post. But you suggest I shouldn’t write about it because 1. They help some people and 2. I’m not a doctor. Because if I write about that someone might stop taking their meds?
    I find it laughable that you suggest someone would read this post and stop taking their meds. I mean, c’mon. Let’s neither of us be so high-minded. I would encourage people to do their own research and not take anything at face value. Of course, I’m not supposed to have an opinion on the subject because I’m not in a position of authority or a doctor, right? One of those many, many doctors who are over-prescribing these for unapproved uses in the first place, right? Those are the people you should trust.

  6. Nina says:

    You are clearly not reading my posts completely before responding. Okay, that’s fine. You can go ahead and be wrong over here, and I’ll go back and join Rational Land. Enjoy.

    • MLF says:

      Nina, I have to ask, and forgive me if I missed it, but what are your qualifications? I’ve been reading this with some interest as it effects me in a marginal way but all I’ve seen so far is name calling and bullying, mostly from Maggie. You have disregarded a vet with life experience and a PhD as if those experiences don’t matter.

      And for people like me who ignorant to the subject matter for the most part, and I gotta believe there are more of me then there are of you (people well versed on the matter), your disregard of his opinion and life experience is a little off putting.

      Again I may have missed it so I apologize, but what is your qualification again, aside from being a patient?


    • MLF says:

      Disregard. Just re-read it and found the part about counseling. Carry on.

    • whatshupp says:

      yea, good luck to you

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