School Shooting: Signal Wider Social Malady


The horrific mass murder at the Parkland, Florida high school has left 17 people dead, a dozen injured, and a nation reeling in shock. The exact story of why and how Nikolas Cruz, aged 19, committed this tragedy is still being worked out. At this time, conflicting details and testimony leave his personal confession as the only reliable evidence of what happened. Unfortunately, time will only confuse the details and solidify what may be an untruthful account of the school shooting.


Of course, Cruz is not alone in his bloody endeavor. In fact, any attempt by him to gain immortality through infamy will fail. His name is already lost among the dozens and dozens of other troubled young men who took up a weapon and cold-bloodedly slaughtered classmates and teachers. Only the originals are recalled with any great ease: Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine killers.

Yet, the fact that these tragedies are now a stable portion of the American news cycle seems to go unquestioned. Debating the role of guns in American society takes over the airwaves. Motive and cause get no attention. What makes a young man want to commit mass murder?

Ever since the Columbine school shooting in 1999, there has been only one consistent thread tying all but two school mass-shootings together: The perpetrators had a prescription for anti-psychotic medications.

The rise of Ritalin and Atenolol began in the 1990s as a means of subduing restless young children, particularly boys. An entirely new market unified the efforts of child psychiatrists and big pharmaceutical companies to make the idea of medicating young, developing children a normal and rational thing.

And, with the ease of medicating children came stronger medications. Maturing boys, many of whose emotions and minds must have been affected by these drugs, were found to have anxiety disorders that had to be treated with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac, or Celexa. Each new course of medications guaranteed more and more profits to the producers and prescribers. But what effect were all these drugs having on young Americans? A proliferation of school shootings since the advent of youth medication told whole volumes.

Still, the psychiatrists were quick to defend themselves. For, every time a school shooter was reported to have taken an anti-psychotic medication, their psychiatrist swiftly declared that their patient had stopped taking their medicines. This implies that they were entirely responsible for their actions. Had they continued their course of medications, there would be no mass murders, the professionals contend. Perhaps.

But that response clearly suggests that the anti-anxiety medications do great harm to the psyche of the patient. They damage them in such a way that they cannot function without them. In effect, the will and desire to commit mass-murder is part of the withdrawal effect of the medication. Such a will and desire never existed before medication commenced. However, the pharmaceutical industry and their fellow travelers in psychiatry have their alibi: “he was not on his medications when he committed the crime”. Period.

Another question is: Why do the perpetrators discard their medications if they need them so badly? The answer is the side-effects.

These side-effects include a whole range of physical, emotional, and spiritual problems arise from taking antipsychotic medications. Nausea, insomnia, diarrhea, nervousness, agitation or restlessness, dizziness, headache, and blurred vision mix uneasily with sleeplessness, bad dreams, hallucinations, voices, all haunt the individual. Also what is often described as “abandonment by God”, a feeling of spiritual loss or estrangement, torments them. 

The side effects are so severe as to warrant continued monitoring by professionals to prevent relapses. Many cannot handle the regimen, and simply drop off the medications. They spiral into a withdrawal that involves terrible physical and emotional trauma, as well as a feeling of evil sweeping over them. Action seems to be the only way to escape the taunts of what many have described as “demonic voices”. Some put guns to their own heads to silence the voices. Others decide to obey them. This is what Nikolas Cruz did, and what many others had done before him leading to another school shooting. 

There is a crisis in America, and it goes far beyond the debate of gun control. There has been an entire generation of youth growing up on medications and electronic devices as a substitute for good parenting and strong spiritual and social values. And, we are seeing the consequences now.


Sidney Petron is a historian and political analyst situated in New Haven, Connecticut.

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