Local Woman Among Dead screams the blood-red bordered front page of the Times Heral Record today. A 19 year old Minisink girl was among the victims of gunman Cho Seung-Hui, a man the paper has inexplicably decided to refer to by his first name.
A "Killer Profile" piece offerss a peek into "Cho's" demented young mind. HIs creative writings were filled with twisted violence, it says, causing alarm among his professors and fellow students. It then brings up the subject of this posting with the sentence: "News reports said that he may have been taking medication for depression and have been becoming increasingly violent and erratic."
The last couple decades have been breakthrough years for research into psychoactive pharmaceuticals. You've seen the commercials on TV that offer sunny green fields to replace your rainy-day mind. Ask your doctor if <insert drug here> is right for you. The sped-up voiceover rattles off an aurally invisible list of horrifying side-effects that you'd shudder at if they were presented comprehensibly. Then back to the green fields and out.
These are a category of wonder drugs. Amazing alchemist's concoctions that offer relief to real people who suffer real depression and really need help. Little understood, extremely powerful and wildly overused, these drugs have created a whole new societal issue to replace the problem of individuals suffering clinical depression. A few of these depressed people seem to lose connection with that magical evolutionary gift of compassion, and then lose connection with the reality they and others live in, and their lives seem to take on a violent video game surreality that involves real guns and dozens of real-live dead people. The catch is, the hero can not win this game, and his last man almost always dies by his own hand.
I'd always speculated that pharmaceutical-addled mass muderers like Harris and Kliebold in Columbine had some sort of mental breakthrough in their last moments during which they realized or understood the incredible horror of what they'd done, and in an overwhelming rush of realization, killed themselves.
But I am now convinced that I was wrong.
The time that passed between parts 1 and 2 of the Virginia Tech atrocity was long enough for "Cho" to contemplate what he'd done, decide he wanted more, insert another quarter in the game and start playing again.
And maybe when he realized he was 1) running out of ammo and 2) a dead man as soon as the first cop arrived, that there was no way he could win. And maybe he thought that somehow, after this game was over (by his own hand), another quarter would buy him another play.
It makes me think about Columbine, and the many other anti-depressant-related horrors (read some here). Maybe we have been plain old dumb-lucky that these guys weren't carrying 10,000 rounds, because the sense-of-morality check that's in place in a "normal" mind simply isn't there anymore in someone whose mind has been sufficiently altered by one of these wonder drugs.
We live in a society that's changed from "take two aspirin and call me in the morning" to "let me write you up for this new anti-depressant. Take it for a month and call me, or call me if you feel any side effects". Of course, one whose mind is profoundly altered is not one who can reasonably assess his side effects from the perspective of normalcy. One seems to reach for a rifle instead.
Doctors are being evermore squeezed for productivity by insurers. They are offered "low-maintenance cures" for common ailments like depression. A 5 foot tall woman receives the same dose of an antidepressant as a 340lb linebacker. They're both told to experiment on themselves with dosages without having any measure against which to judge results.
It took years for the FDA to get "suicide" listed as a side effect on one drugs' insert.
A Scientology front organization called the Citizens Commission on Human Rights demands data on "Cho's" depression drug history - they make the connection that others seem not to.
But I don't blame the pharma companies. It's their job to develop and sell drugs of all kinds. And this class of drug is a wonder drug, though I would never in a million years permit a member of my family to take one for any reason. But we were cursed with a cultural disadvantage: being good Irish stock, we will doggedly suffer anything until our antagonist dies, or we die of cirrhosis!
My finger points straight at the doctors who prescribe incredibly powerful drugs, with a profoundly deep reach, as though they are no more powerful than aspirin, and rate about as much follow-up observation. It's a time when a doctor will put a 5 year old child on chronic meds for ADHD at the request of a bleary-eyed overworked, under-siege kindergarten teacher. Doctors whose sum total knowledge of these drugs is a one-sheet from the pharma. The insert, clinical trial data and studies go unread.
The villain in this story is the doctor who wrote the Rx for "Cho", then cut "Cho" loose, expecting "Cho" to somehow be sane and courageous enough to tell him he was feeling violent and erratic for the months leading up to critical mass.
Let "Cho", Harris, Kliebold and the hundreds (or thousands) of murders and suicides perpetrated by people on these drugs be a warning to every doctor who writes a scrip for one of these drugs: you break it, you bought it.