The heroin-overdose death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman has caused the media to focus, however fleetingly, on America’s drug problem.
News accounts of the Oscar-winner’s tragic demise typically reference the startling increase in heroin-related deaths in the last four to five years. The problem, reporters explain, is the vast number of Americans addicted to prescription pain meds like OxyContin, many of whom discover heroin to be both cheaper and easier to obtain than the prescription opioid drugs to which they initially became addicted.
That’s accurate as far as it goes. But by following the trail further, we arrive at a place far more shocking and consequential. We discover that not only has the traditional distinction between illegal “street drugs” and legal “therapeutic prescription drugs” become so blurred as to be almost nonexistent, but between America’s twin drug epidemics – one illegal, the other legal – well over 70 million Americans are using mind-altering drugs. And that number doesn’t include abusers of alcohol, which adds an additional 60 million Americans. So we’re really talking about 130 million strung-out Americans. How is this possible?
Of course, most of the drug news we’ve heard lately has been about pot. It started with medical marijuana, with state after state successfully defying the federal ban. Then on Jan. 1, flat-out legalization took center stage, when Colorado and Washington opened their doors to exhilarated pot-smokers, while numerous other states – from Alaska, Oregon and California in the west to Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C., in the east – announced plans to push for legalization in the coming months.
As a result, stock prices for cannabis companies soared (“The demand for marijuana is insatiable,” says one entrepreneur, “you have a feeding frenzy for the birth of a new industry”), the New York City-based publication “High Times” announced a new private-equity fund to “raise $100 million over the next two years to invest in cannabis-related businesses,” and ad agencies geared up to support “an industry estimated to already be generating revenues in the billions of dollars.”
The dramatic change in Americans’ attitude is reflected in a recent CNN poll headlined “Support for legal marijuana soaring.”
Somehow, in all the hoopla, it apparently doesn’t register that pot use lowers the IQ of young people. A massive, four-decade study published in 2012 by the National Academy of Sciences, titled “Persistent cannabis users show neuropsychological decline from childhood to midlife,” followed more than 1,000 subjects from birth until age 38! The researchers’ core finding? Repeated marijuana use by teenagers lowers their IQ – permanently.
Yet, according to a 2010 study by the federal Department of Health and Human Services, over 22 million Americans use illegal drugs, comprising marijuana/hashish, cocaine (including crack), heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants and prescription-type psychiatric and opioid drugs used without a prescription. And of those, fully half admit to driving on the public roadways under the influence of drugs!
Of course, when we think of driving “under the influence,” our minds turn to alcohol, so fasten your seatbelts: In 2010, nearly one-quarter of all Americans aged 12 and up participated in binge drinking, about 58.6 million people, and heavy drinking was reported for 16.9 million people. And an estimated 11.4 percent of persons 12 or older drove under the influence of alcohol at least once in the past year.
Bottom line, according to HHS: “In an average year 30 million Americans drive drunk [and] 10 million drive impaired by illicit drugs.”
‘Fastest growing drug problem’
So with more than 22 million Americans stupefied on illegal drugs and another 58 million with a serious drinking problem – that’s 80 million souls – and 40 million of them driving under the influence of intoxicants, the nation undeniably suffers from a massive “substance-abuse” problem.
But there is another parallel drug problem, the devastation of which is arguably just as severe and detrimental to American society as that involving illegal drugs and alcohol abuse – and some would say it’s actually worse.
And that is the astonishingly vast, and rapidly increasing, number of people taking medically prescribed but poorly understood, mind-altering psychiatric drugs. Indeed, today one in five adults – approximately 50 million Americans – take prescription psychiatric drugs.
Ironically, after marijuana (which is rapidly becoming legal), the most-abused drugs in America are prescription drugs, obtained and used “non-medically,” that is, without a prescription from a doctor.
As revealed in a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in one recent year “approximately 27,000 unintentional drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States, one death every 19 minutes.”
“Prescription drug abuse,” announced the CDC, “is the fastest growing drug problem in the United States.”
The skyrocketing rate of drug-overdose death rates “has been driven,” says the report, “by increased use of a class of prescription drugs called opioid analgesics” – drugs like hydrocodone (brand names Norco, Vicodin), hydromorphone (Dilaudid, Exalgo), oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet) and morphine (Astramorph, Avinza).
“Opioid analgesics suppress your perception of pain,” explains WebMD, “and calm your emotional response to pain by reducing the number of pain signals sent by the nervous system and the brain’s reaction to those pain signals.”
For the last decade, “more overdose deaths have involved opioid analgesics than heroin and cocaine combined,” reports the CDC. In addition, “for every unintentional overdose death related to an opioid analgesic, nine persons are admitted for substance abuse treatment, 35 visit emergency departments, 161 report drug abuse or dependence, and 461 report nonmedical uses of opioid analgesics.” In other words, it’s an epidemic.
America’s traditional drug paradigm has long been something like this: On the one hand is the respectable, legal, medical world where enlightened doctors prescribe their patients wonder drugs that relieve their symptoms and make them feel more comfortable – OxyContin, anti-anxiety drugs (Valium, Xanax), sleeping pills, stimulants, mood stabilizers and, more recently, marijuana, hallucinogens and so forth.
On the other hand is the sleazy, criminal world of drug pushers who supply low-life users and addicts with drugs to satiate their habits, make them feel better and relieve their stresses, troubles and anxieties – drugs like OxyContin and other illegally obtained psych meds, marijuana, stimulants, cocaine, hallucinogens and so forth.
If the distinction between legal and illegal seems disturbingly indistinct and fluid – in some ways even unreal – keep reading, because it gets much more bizarre.
A recent news story originating at The Fix, which features coverage on addiction and recovery, had this interesting headline:
“America’s Number One Prescription Sleep Aid Could Trigger ‘Zombies,’ Murder and Other Disturbing Behavior.”
The report includes true stories of murderers and other offenders who had taken the popular sleeping pill Ambien – classified as a “hypnotic” drug – and relates how their defense lawyers successfully argued that adverse drug effects from Ambien should be considered a mitigating factor. The drug reached national notoriety in 2006 when then-Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., had a bizarre nighttime car crash, telling police he was running late for a vote (which actually had occurred six hours earlier) and that, because he took Ambien, he had no recollection of the night’s events.
The current Ambien label reads as follows (see Page 20):
What is the most important information I should know about AMBIEN?
After taking AMBIEN, you may get up out of bed while not being fully awake and do an activity that you do not know you are doing. The next morning, you may not remember that you did anything during the night. You have a higher chance for doing these activities if you drink alcohol or take other medicines that make you sleepy with AMBIEN. Reported activities include:
- driving a car (“sleep-driving”)
- making and eating food
- talking on the phone
- having sex
Let’s be clear: This is not fine print about “rare adverse events” (negative side effects that occur in less than one in 1,000 people taking a medication). These are instructions given to users of Ambien describing what they should expect.
So, drugging people into becoming sleepwalking, sleep-driving, sleep-eating, sleep-talking and sleep-sexing zombies with no memory of what they have done while in a hypnotic trance, this is a good thing? Really?
In case that went by too fast (or in the event you were on Ambien and slept through it), we are talking about “sleep-driving”! The frequency of motor vehicle accidents caused by people on Ambien is reportedly why the FDA is now recommending women take lower doses of such sleep aids, which were prescribed for Americans 60 million times in 2011.
Although psychiatric drugs take various forms – antipsychotics, antidepressants, hallucinogens, mood stabilizers, stimulants, anxiolytics (anti-anxiety drugs), hypnotics (for inducing sleep) – by far the most prescribed psych meds in America are antidepressants.
In fact – and this will perhaps be hard to swallow – according to the CDC, in 2010 more than 250 million prescriptions for antidepressants were written for Americans.
Of all the disturbing side effects of antidepressants – and the irony here is profound – the most notorious is that this ubiquitous medication for depressed people can cause the user to want to kill himself. Indeed, every single antidepressant sold in America today, regardless of manufacturer or brand, bears a mandatory “black box” warning label – the FDA’s most serious drug warning – of “increased risks of suicidal thinking and behavior, known as suicidality, in young adults ages 18 to 24.”
Sadly, among U.S. soldiers and veterans, there are on average 22 suicides per day, and astute physicians have been asking how big a role psychiatric drugs might be playing. After all, as Time reported in 2008, “about 20,000 troops in Afghanistan and Iraq were on such medications,” roughly half on antidepressants and the other half on Ambien and similar sleeping pills. Add to that the fact that antidepressants’ suicidality warning label is aimed at “young adults ages 18 to 24″ – the core age group for the military – and the only reasonable conclusion is that the stresses and traumas of war, along with the hazards of the drugs, can be a lethal combination.
Even more ominous is the fact that, where there are suicidal thoughts, homicidal thoughts may not be far behind, especially in a particularly deranged and angry person – which brings us to one of the most disturbing correlations between psychiatric drugs and violent behavior.
It is well documented that most perpetrators of school shootings and mass murders in our modern era were either on – or just recently coming off of – psychiatric medications, most commonly antidepressants. Hundreds of other criminal cases are documented here.
Drugging the kids at school
While we stress over our kids’ pot-smoking and binge drinking, at the same time we force millions of them – between four and nine million by most estimates, mostly boys – to take Ritalin or similar dangerous psycho-stimulant drugs for a medical condition that didn’t officially exist a generation ago, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
According to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, Ritalin, a trade name for Methylphenidate, is “a Schedule II substance, [with] a high potential for abuse and produces many of the same effects as cocaine or the amphetamines.” Indeed, other Schedule II substances include cocaine, amphetamines, opium, methadone, oxycodone, morphine, codeine and barbiturates.
“The controlled substances in this schedule,” the DEA adds, “have a high abuse potential with severe psychological or physical dependence liability, but have accepted medical use in the U.S.”
Yet because of disturbing evidence – including dozens of suspicious deaths – that Ritalin and similar stimulants are harmful to the heart, members of a federal advisory panel announced in 2006 that they “wanted to slow the explosive growth in the drug’s use.”
Alarmingly, Dr. Steven Nissen, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic and FDA panel member, said, ”I must say that I have grave concerns about the use of these drugs and grave concerns about the harm they may cause,” reported the New York Times. Added another panel member, Curt Furberg, a professor of public health at Wake Forest University, “Nowhere else in the world are 10 percent of 10-year-old boys diagnosed and treated for ADD,” according to Time magazine.
Despite twin controversies over the drugs’ proven dangers and their wild over-prescription, the CDC reports a radical escalation in recent years.
Incredibly, 19 percent of high school-age boys in the U.S. are being diagnosed with ADHD and about 10 percent are currently being prescribed drugs for it, while 10 percent of high school-age girls are being likewise diagnosed.
“Those are astronomical numbers. I’m floored,” says Dr. William Graf, a pediatric neurologist in New Haven and Yale medical professor, according to the New York Times. “Mild symptoms are being diagnosed so readily, which goes well beyond the disorder and beyond the zone of ambiguity to pure enhancement of children who are otherwise healthy.” Adds CDC director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, “Unfortunately, misuse appears to be growing at an alarming rate.”
Many more such examples of completely out-of-control psychiatric drug prescribing and use could be cited here, but focusing on just these few – and forthrightly acknowledging their disastrous and often heartbreaking results – should at least demonstrate that America has a serious legal drug problem.
‘Brain disorders’ on every street corner
Although there are countless enlightened and gifted psychiatrists, overall psychiatry has been institutionally transformed over time from a quest to facilitate the patient’s self-understanding and healing (via traditional talk therapy) into a massive drug-dispensing bureaucracy. A new paradigm has evolved, characterized by an ever-expanding repertory of “personality disorders” and “mental illnesses” all in need of drug “therapy.”
Many psychiatrists are openly rebelling against the latest version of their own diagnostic “bible,” the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” or DSM, published by the American Psychiatric Association, whose most recent fifth edition (DSM-V) pathologizes – that is, labels as “disorders” – behaviors and conditions once considered just part of life, while de-pathhologizing conditions that are obviously disordered.
Likewise, Americans’ almost religious belief in medical and scientific experts – according to which psychiatric “priests” tell troubled souls, “You have a brain disorder, it’s not your fault, take this wonder drug and it’ll heal you” – is disintegrating under its own weight.
Consider, for example, the orthodox mental-health “dogma” that depression involves a physical problem with the sufferer’s brain chemistry – a notion that, admittedly, is comforting to patients who are thereby absolved of any responsibility for their condition. But today, with literally tens of millions of Americans taking antidepressants, that assurance – echoed by the National Institute of Mental Health when it proclaims “depressive illnesses are disorders of the brain” – is recognized by more and more people to be a logical impossibility. After all, it would mean that one in four middle-aged American women (23 percent of all those 40 to 59) have organic brain disease – physically defective brains. That’s obviously absurd.
Thus it is that ever more doctors, articles and books – like acclaimed psychiatrist and psychopharmacologist David Healy’s “Pharmageddon” and psychotherapist Gary Greenberg’s “The Book of Woe: The DSM and the Unmaking of Psychiatry” ( summarized recently in the New Yorker) – are now exposing the delusion that underlies much of modern drug-based psychiatry.
All of this is not to deny that psychiatric medications can have a genuine value; there are some people – a relative few – who, very simply, really require them. In fact, one of the reasons we tolerate the absurd overuse of psychiatric medications in America is our deep-down realization that we need these drugs to control, sedate and manage the relatively few people who truly need them. We also desire a better solution for the severely afflicted than the stark asylums of yesteryear that warehoused hundreds and sometimes thousands of seriously disturbed people. And also, very frankly, we would rather not have anything to do with truly crazy characters, and so we kind of appreciate the fact that there are medications to chemically control them.
But none of that justifies the creation of a nation state wherein a massive part of the population – including much of the functional, productive middle class – is dependent on mind-altering drugs to get through life.
The desire for drug profits – combined with the profound blindness that results from a de facto atheistic orientation for healing human minds and souls – have taken our nation to a bad place. When our “healers” do not understand human nature, when morality and sin don’t even enter into our thinking about how our mental-emotional problems originate and are fed, when we completely ignore the reality of God’s laws (which reliably results in falling into the grip of dark forces), we compensate by creating our own quasi-”religious” beliefs and “priests” (experts), with their own peculiar “sacraments” and “salvation.” All of which leads us, individually and as a nation, ever more into darkness, rather than into the light.
Looking to the future, it is shaping up to be – if we keep going in this direction – indistinguishable from the most terrifying science fiction thrillers.
“How Scientists Are Learning to Shape Our Memory.” That’s the headline of a recent Popular Science article, ominously subtitled, “The next treatment for trauma could be spotless minds.”
Noting that painful memories – “roadside bombs, childhood abuse, car accidents” – have the potential to “shape (and damage) us for a lifetime,” the article cites new studies claiming “we’re on the verge of erasing and even rewriting memories.”
For example, since “both PTSD and addiction disorders hinge on memories that can trigger problematic behaviors,” current research predicts future drugs that will cure such conditions by simply eliminating the problem memories: “Several studies have found chemical compounds that can be used to subdue or even delete memories in mice (and maybe someday in people). In June, a report led by an Emory University researcher showed that SR-8993, a drug that acts on the brain’s opioid receptors, can prevent a fear memory from forming.”
The article ends by acknowledging, “The idea of scientists manipulating memory does, naturally, sound a bit creepy. But it also points to some possible good: treatment for millions of people tormented by real memories.”
Meanwhile, groups like the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, or MAPS, are lobbying hard to legalize all of the psychedelic drugs of the 1960s – not just marijuana, but LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, mescaline and so on, as well as the more modern “rave” drug Ecstasy, or MDMA.
“Psychedelic-legalization supporters say that the American public has been misinformed about the dangers of psychedelic drug use,” claims MAPS, “and … like marijuana, psychedelics have a medicinal benefit that may be a treatment option for groups suffering from mental health and psychological conditions such as autism, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia and alcoholism.
“A 2011 study from the Center for Autism at the University of California-Los Angeles examined the psychedelic drug MDMA – ecstasy – and found that persons with autism using the drug often report an increase in socialization and strong feelings of empathy that last even after the drug has worn off.”
So as America approaches the final stage of metamorphosis into a totally godless and drug-dependent state, legal and illegal merge, the border line disappears, just as the line between drugged and normal, and between sanity and insanity, becomes increasingly blurred. Finally, all becomes drug-induced madness wherein man, cut off from true life and direction and meaning from within, becomes his own stupefied god.
“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.” – 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 KJV