EDITORIAL: School Kids, with Guns, Part Six

Read Part One

ZOLOFT contains sertraline hydrochloride, an SSRI. Sertraline hydrochloride has a molecular weight of 342.7 and has the following chemical name: (1S-cis)-4-(3,4-dichlorophenyl)-1,2,3,4-tetrahydro-N-methyl-1-naphthalenamine hydrochloride.

Antidepressants increased the risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior in pediatric and young adult patients in shortterm studies. Closely monitor all antidepressant-treated patients for clinical worsening, and for emergence of suicidal thoughts and behaviors…

— from RXList.com

The people of Colorado were stunned by the news, on April 20, 1999, that two Columbine High School students had entered their school armed with a variety of guns and killed 12 students and one teacher, and wounded another 21 students.  The two seniors then committed suicide.

It was later revealed that the two boys had managed to place explosive devices around the school — including two car bombs, and two propane tank bombs — with the apparent intention of killing all of the 488 students who would have been in the school cafeteria for lunch, at 11:17 that day. The bombs, set on timers, had failed to explode.

In the weeks following, anxious conversations took place among school leaders, police, elected officials, state legislators, and the general public. Why had this horrible event taken place? Had school officials and local police failed in their duty to keep students safe?

Who was to blame?

In a lengthy Wikipedia article about the Columbine High School massacre, you can find this short paragraph:

The massacre sparked debate over gun control laws, high school cliques, subcultures, and bullying. It resulted in an increased emphasis on school security with zero tolerance policies, and a moral panic over Goth culture, gun culture, social outcasts, the use of pharmaceutical anti-depressants by teenagers, teenage Internet use, and violence in video games.

That paragraph neatly summarizes the current ongoing conversation, 20 years later, that takes place following events like the very recent Marshall County High School shooting that resulted in two student deaths and more than a dozen injured by a lone gun-toting student.

Of course, Columbine was not the first instance of a school shooting in America. Between 1840 and 1898, for example, the U.S. experienced 28 school shootings, according to this Wikipedia article. The total number of school shooting incidents during the 20th century: 226.

During the first 18 years of the 21st century, (as of February 2018) we’ve seen about 211 school shootings. If that rate goes on unchanged, we will see about 1,100 school shootings during this century.

In 1875, the population of the United States was about 40 million. If we were to compare the number of school shootings during the 19th century — about 1 school shooting event per 1 million citizens during that 100 year period —with the numbers we are seeing so far in the 21st century, we can calculate that the problem seems to have become worse.

But what seems so strange about recent shooting events in America — in schools, in churches, in shopping malls, at country music concerts — is the seemingly random nature of the violence. The perpetrators often seem intent on killing people with whom they have no personal relationship. With killing complete strangers.

That’s not how murder is supposed to happen.

One phrase struck me from the above-mentioned Wikipedia article about Columbine High School:

… the use of pharmaceutical anti-depressants by teenagers…

Not much of the gun violence discussion I hear in the U.S. media addresses this aspect of 21st century American life. Many of us are familiar with amphetamine drugs (“pep pills”) that have been so commonly abused since the 1940s — especially by college students — and with Ritalin (Methylphenidate) which has been used since the 1960s to treat ADD and ADHD in school children. Those are only two of the many mood-altering drugs currently used to treat school kids.

And only two of the mood-altering drugs abused by school kids.

According to the website DrugAbuse.com:

There were 21 million stimulant prescriptions in 2011 for patients aged 10 to 19 years old, out of a total population of 25 million children aged 12-17.

Apparently, these “psychiatric drugs” have side-effects — affecting some but not all users — that go far beyond a mild rash, or an itchy scalp.

The following 11-minute video tells the story better than I could hope to tell it:

Let’s listen to a few short quotes from the video:

“There are side-effects to the use of drugs, and also very damaging and long-term effects, which often psychiatrists don’t consider as being important.”

— Clinical psychologist Dr. Ludwig Lowenstein

“They induce violence. They induce self-violence. They induce distortions of reality leading to hallucinations. They induce a whole variety of psychiatric problems, which are then, typically, treated with more psychiatric drugs.”

— Psychiatrist Rima Laibow, MD

“From the moment I started taking these drugs to the moment that I stopped, all that happened in my life was things got worse. The depression got worse, the anger got worse, the outbursts got worse.”

— Tyler, a student prescribed drugs for treatment of ADHD

“Within four hours of taking 25mgs. of Zoloft, I was standing on a balcony at a church, and again, there was the thinking: I’m going to jump.”

— Annie, patient prescribed Zoloft for clinical depression

From the video, “Psychiatry’s Prescription for Violence.”

Yesterday I shared some of my research into the rising rate of suicide in the U.S. over the past decade, among nearly every age group. The increase has been particularly notable among men and women in the 24-45 age group. Colorado has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation, with more people dying by suicide in this state than in car crashes or homicides. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people ages 10-34. Is this a problem that we, as a community, can address?

Is this a problem we are already addressing? Or is it just too big a problem to get our heads around… so we focus instead on things that will, in all probability, never happen in Pagosa Springs… such as school shootings?

In a previous installment of this editorial series, I shared a clipping from the Pagosa Springs SUN, published on February in response to a school shooting in Kentucky, where a former Pagosa Springs High School student — Hannah Dysinger — was shot by a fellow 15-year-old student. Ms. Dysinger is recovering from her injuries. The shooter allegedly murdered two students and injured 14 more.

Front page of the Pagosa Springs SUN, February 1, 2018.

I am struck by the headline used by the SUN to summarize this article.

“Life’s tragic lessons”

What lessons, exactly, can we learn… from what appears to be a random act of violence?

Read Part Seven…


Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.