After the Newtown (CT) school shootings, Internet forums were invaded by angry protesters demanding to know what psychiatric drugs Adam Lanza was on. The message was very clear. Although a radical gun control law was needed, the REAL question was about the mental health of the shooters. Were these meds actually causing the suicidal thoughts and hallucinations which were tipping these fragile youngsters over the edge? Was there an alternative to ADHD meds and other psychiatric drugs?
The never ending list of shooters
Long lists appeared of school shooters starting with the Columbine massacre. A very disturbing pattern is evident. Over 90% of the shooters were on psychiatric drugs. It is impossible to say whether these were responsible because there are too many variants involved. But it is no harm to ask some questions about these medications.
Why did Chris Fetters aged thirteen who was on Prozac kill his aunt? Was Paxil to blame when Farred Viktor stabbed his grandmother to death? He had been on that medication for only five days when the tragedy happened. Kip Kinkel shot his parents dead and then went on a rampage at school where he injured 22 children. He was on Prozac and Ritalin. There is no need to go on.
Are these drugs responsible?
Let us have a quick look at the most common drugs for treating ADHD and depression. Paxil is ten times more likely to cause violent and aggressive behavior than other meds. Prozac has about the same potential while all the amphetamnine meds that treat ADHD such as Ritalin and Vyvanse are 9.6 times more likely to be connected with violent crimes than other meds.
There is however reassuring news in that the National Institute of Mental Health released figures from a study they did on 10,000 adolescents in the USA who were between thirteen and eighteen years old. They found that there is no evidence to suggest that Americans are being massively overmedicated for psychiatric and mental disorders.
There is a need for a federal investigation
But the fact is that these psychiatric drugs can cause side effects which range from homicidal ideation, suicidal thoughts, manic episodes, aggression, psychosis and hallucinations. There are petitions now organised on the Internet calling for a federal investigation into the fact that psychiatric drugs could have a greater role in these tragedies than was previously thought. While the National Institute for Mental Health can provide us with some comfort, I would strongly support the need for more research into the side effects of these drugs.
The Swedish study on psychiatric drugs
On the other hand, there is now a study from Sweden which actually shows that people on ADHD medication are less likely to commit violent crimes while taking their meds. This study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine recently – it was a large study as it examined the criminal records of 25,000 people so it deserves some attention.
While on medication (mostly Ritalin for ADHD) men were 32% less likely to commit a crime while the figure for women rose to 41%. The crimes that were monitored ranged from homicide to more minor offences such as dug dealing, assault and robbery.
Let us keep these facts in mind
But before we rush to any conclusions, the following facts should be borne in mind :-
the study in Sweden involved mostly adults and not young adolescents
the study tells us nothing about American or British adolescents
- medication is as effective for ADHD as behavioural therapy. This is the view of Dr. William Pelham (a world renowned expert on ADHD) at the Center for Children and Families at Florida International University. Natural ADHD solutions should be getting much more attention.
ADHD meds do not have positive long term effects on the condition and once stopped, symptoms will reappear. Not even the new ADHD medications can resolve these issues apart form being extended release.
- the effects of ADHD will tend to wear off after three years, making them less and less effective. This is the view of Dr. William Pelham who conducted extensive research on this while at the University of Buffalo.
There is no correct answer or procedure here. Mental illness is a reality and has to be treated and done in such a way as to minimise certain side effects which can cause enormous damage and tragedy.
10 Tips To Keep On Track
Here are some ways we can rationalise the whole issue. If our child or children need treatment for any mental disorder, we must do the following:-
look at alternatives to ADHD meds and then decide what is best for our children
educate ourselves on side effects and health risks
make sure the diagnosis is correct. Seek a second opinion as there was a 24% jump in ADHD diagnosis in a 10 year period according to the NBC.
take seriously into consideration getting parenting skills up to scratch. The research shows that it is more beneficial in the long term and it has no side effects except raising nicer kids!
if our kids are on the psychiatric meds, we should be carefully monitoring them, especially in the first month or two of treatment
we will watch out for any unusual patterns of behavior such as increased depression and also any mention of suicide and we will immediately report these to the doctor
give our children support and encouragement and make sure that they have healthy outlets through physical exercise and a social community
use counselling if and when necessary
seek help from other parents and join online and offline support groups.
think outside the box and be aware that all meds have side effects and severe limitations in mental illness.
There is no easy solution but at least if we aware of what is going on and the risks associated with certain meds, then we are doing our best. We will not just be caring parents but also responsible citizens trying to make society a safer and a happier place.
Robert Locke MBE, is an award winning author and has written extensively on ADHD and related child health problems. You can visit his blog on ADHD natural treatment and other problem kids issues to find out more.