Drugs, School and Killers (June 30, 1999)

Remember Soma? It was the drug administered to the citizens of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. I thought of it as a 15-year-old girl attending a very ritzy liberal arts school in the Northeast told me last week that 80 percent of the kids in her class were on Prozac, Dexedrine or Ritalin, either separately or in combo. The pretext used by the school authorities for the legal prescription of these drugs is Attention Deficit Disorder — ADD or ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The student is asked three questions along the lines of “Do you find yourself daydreaming or looking out the window during school?” Say yes, as 100 percent of all kids around the world throughout all human history would obviously do if they were truthful, and the kids’ parents are urged to give the school a go-ahead to pump in the brew of uppers and antidepressants. 

At this particular school, my informant told me, there’s also a flourishing under-the-counter market in the same drugs. She herself had resisted the school’s urgings to take Ritalin, but said there is heavy pressure to do so, not least because a student on Ritalin or Dexedrine can, according to one theory, get perked for the brief period of an exam to perform better than a student who is drug free. She gave a heartrending description of a friend who had, by dint of the usual preposterous questions, had been diagnosed as having ADD, and who had been pushed into taking Ritalin and Prozac by the school and her parents, much against her will. Previously a vivacious and jolly young thing, she is now strung-out, morose, thoroughly dispirited and probably on the way to expulsion. 

I mentioned here a few weeks ago that Eric Harris, one of the Columbine killers, was on Luvox, a fact reported at the time in the Washington Post. Like Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil, Luvox is a selective seratonin reuptake inhibitor or SSRI. The idea is to change the amount of seratonin reaching the brain and thus prevent depression. Kip Kinkel, the kid from Springfield, OR, who shot his parents and two students to death, was on Prozac. 

Back last year, in a syndicated column put out on July 9, the columnist Arianna Huffington cited the case of Julie Marie Meade of Maryland, who was on an antidepressant when she was shot to death by the cops as she waved a gun at them. Also cited by Huffington was 16-year-old Ben Garris of Baltimore, who stabbed his counselor to death. Garris was on antidepressants, as was Kristina Fetters, a 14-year-old from Des Moines, who got a life sentence after she flew into a rage and stabbed her favorite great aunt to death. 

A few years ago I did a lot of work on suicidal and homicidal ideation caused by Prozac and found that few doctors were willing to take on the pharmaceutical industry. There was a brief flurry of stories about Prozac and violence, then silence. An exception was Peter Breggin, author of Toxic Psychiatry, Talking Back to Prozac, and Talking Back to Ritalin. “With Luvox,” Breggin said recently, “there is some evidence of a four-percent rate of mania in adolescents. Mania, for certain individuals, could be a component in grandiose plans to destroy large numbers of other people. Mania can go over the hill to psychosis.” Breggin made these enlightening observations to Jon Rappoport, author of a useful pamphlet put out by The Truth Seeker Foundation of San Diego called Why Did They Do It? An Inquiry into the School Shootings in America. Breggin also said to Huffington last year, “I have no doubt that Prozac can cause or contribute to violence and suicide. I’ve seen many cases. In a recent clinical trial, 6 percent of the children became psychotic on Prozac. And manic psychosis can lead to violence.” 

Dr. Joseph Tarantolo is a psychiatrist in private practice in Washington, DC, and president of the Washington chapter of the American Society of Psychoanalytic Physicians. He told Rappoport that “all the SSRIs relieve the patient of feeling. He becomes less empathic, as in ‘I don’t care as much,’ which means, ‘It’s easier for me to harm you.’ If a doctor treats someone who needs a great deal of strength just to think straight, and gives him one of these drugs, that could push him over the edge into violent behavior.” In a column for the International Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology’s ICSPP News, Dr. Tarantolo described how the Maryland teenager, Julie Meade, called the police back in 1996 “begging the cops to come and shoot her. And if they didn’t do it quickly, she would do it to herself. There was also the threat that she she would shoot them as well.” Five cops duly came and pumped at least 10 bullets into her head and body. It turned out Julie had been on Prozac for four years. The Baltimore medical examiner said he was entirely unaware that the drug could provoke violent impulses. 

A small newspaper, The PG County Journal, first mentioned Meade was on Prozac. Another small newspaper, The Vigo Examiner of Terre Haute, IN, took a long look at the killings in Springfield, when Kinkel first killed his parents, then two students in the school cafeteria, wounding 22 more. The Vigo Examiner’s reporter Maureen Sielaff discovered Kinkel was on Prozac, then checked out an assessment of Prozac in Lewis Opler’s Prozac and Other Psychiatric Drugs, with Opler citing side effects including hallucinations, hostility, irrational ideas, hysteria and suicidal thoughts. 

Ritalin is manufactured by the pharmaceutical company Novartis, the name given to the merger of Sandoz and Ciba-Geigy. It’s given to around two million American schoolchildren for the condition known as ADD or ADHD, for which no organic cause has been found. In his pamphlet Rappoport cites a 1986 article by Richard Scarnati in The International Journal of the Addictions in which Scarnati lists over a hundred adverse reactions to Ritalin, plus one confirming source for each of these reactions in the medical literature. Recalling how many kids are on Ritalin, it’s a pretty sobering catalogue, including paranoid delusions, paranoid psychosis, amphetamine-like psychosis, terror, screaming, decreased sleep and activation of psychotic symptoms. Ritalin can apparently surpass LSD in producing bizarre experiences. 

This is the psychostimulant so beloved by some social agencies that they often blackmail mothers and fathers into okaying its use on their children by threatening otherwise to take the children away from them on the grounds they’re unfit parents. As noted above, school authorities also love Ritalin. 

In 1998 the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) decided to hold a big conference on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder aimed at settling forever the doubts about the diagnosis of ADHD and about prescription of Ritalin. In the event, the official panel reporting the proceedings of the great powwow was scathing in its conclusions. One panel member, a Massachusetts pediatrician named Mark Vonnegut, said, “The diagnosis [of ADHD] is a mess,” and the panel even doubted whether ADHD is a “valid” diagnosis of a broad range of children’s behavior. It said there are “no data to indicate that ADHD is due to a brain malfunction,” and that Ritalin resulted in “little improvement on academic achievement or social skills.” Rappoport tells us that Brookhaven Labs ran PET scans and found that Ritalin can decrease the flow of blood to the brain by some 20 to 30 percent. 

One particularly gloomy view of Ritalin comes from the Drug Enforcement Agency, which issued this statement after a 1996 conference on ADHD and Ritalin: “[T]he use of stimulants [such as Ritalin] for the short-term improvement of behavior and under-achievement may be thwarting efforts to address the children’s real issues, both on an individual and societal level. The lack of long-term positive results with the use of stimulants and the specter of previous and potential stimulant abuse epidemics, give cause to worry about the future. The dramatic increase in the use of [Ritalin] in the 1990s should be viewed as a marker or warning to society about the problems children are having and how we view and address them.” Forward to Columbine!

LSD and The CIA 

In an earlier era the National Institute of Mental Health collaborated with the CIA in the famous experiments with LSD at Harvard. This brings us to Ted Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber. In his recent book The United States of America vs. Theodore John Kaczynski, discussed by my colleague John Strausbaugh last week, Michael Mello notes that while at Harvard between 1958 and 1962 Kaczynski agreed to be the subject of a psychological experiment. All that Mello seems to know, or cares to state, about the chief researcher for this study was that he had been a lieutenant colonel in the war, had worked for the CIA’s predecessor organization the Office of Strategic Services and then for the CIA. Mello correctly notes that in the Harvard experiments CIA researchers often dosed students with LSD, sometimes without their knowledge. The effects of this on the career of one such participant, Timothy Leary, is well known. Mello also correctly remarks that the CIA’s interest in LSD concerned mind control and the utility of the drug in interrogation. 

The man in charge of the program in which Kaczynski was a participant (code named Lawful) was Henry Murray, who died in 1988 at the ripe age of 95. Murray was a curious emblem of the shrink industry. Born rich in a townhouse now occupied by the Rockefeller Center, he became preoccupied by psychoanalysis in the 1920s, drawn to it by a fascination with Melville’s Moby Dick, which he gave to Sigmund Freud, who duly made the exciting diagnosis that the whale was a father figure. Murray was then analyzed by Carl Jung. 

After spending the 1930s developing personality theory, Murray joined OSS in the war, applying his theories to the selection of agents and also presumably to interrogation. Then he went to Harvard, where he worked for the rest of his professional life. Today one can find a memorial to this deeply unappetizing melding of the intelligence and educational sectors in the form of the Henry A. Murray Research Center at Radcliffe College, which researches cognitive, social and personality development, with particular attention to women. In its own literature the center emphasizes its collection of “data sets that include women of color, lesbians and working class women.” 

Murray was a life member of the American Psychopathological Association, shoulder to shoulder with such horrors as Brock Chisholm, who developed germ warfare and who was a founding member of the World Federation of Mental Health, promoting the destruction of minority races and “the complete eradication of the concepts of right and wrong.” Also in the APA with Murray was Winfred Overholser, head of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, also deeply involved in CIA mind control experiments, and Leo Alexander, a shrink who was trained in Germany and who worked for U.S. Army Intelligence in World War II. Alexander studied Nazi mind control experiments in the concentration camps, then worked with the CIA in improvements on what the Nazis had discovered. Also in the APA was Dr. Paul Hoch, involved in the mind control death of Harold Blauer at the New York State Institute for Psychiatry in the 1950s. 

In the 1930s Murray invented the so-called Thematic Apperception Test, or TAT, intended, in Murray’s words, to “expose the underlying inhibited tendencies which the subject...is not willing to admit, or can not admit because he is unconscious of them.” In a very interesting article in The Atlantic Monthly for February 1994, Nicholas Lemann describes the drawings and photographs in Murray’s TAT thus: “Here we have a series of black-and-white drawings and photographs reproduced on stiff cardboard, which have the unsettling quality of tapping into some reservoir of insoluble anguish within every human soul. An unconscious naked woman with big breasts and flowing hair lies on a bed; next to the bed stands a man in a necktie turned away from her, his face buried in the crook of his arm. A teenage boy dressed in a suit stands in an operating theater where a doctor holds a knife poised over a patient’s abdomen; a large rifle floats across the edge of the picture. A woman stands in a doorway, shakily, with her head in her hand. A beautiful, seductive woman embraces a handsome, supermasculine man, but he turns away with a look of dread on his face. A witch or crone stands just behind a woman who may not notice her but nonetheless appears troubled.” 

Such was the imagery conceived by the man fooling around with Kaczynski’s psyche at the start of the 1960s. 

One Response to "Drugs, School and Killers (June 30, 1999)"

  1. Taurus Ballzhoff   February 25, 2020 at 6:28 am

    An interesting subject, and a decent account, which degrades into insanity and object pointlessness. You missed it, son, the target has moved. Next time, write the piece, and THEN take your drugs…

    Reply

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