To the average person, when discussing the topic of school violence, the first things that come to mind are gun laws, violent movies, video games, and even child abuse. While these are all valid factors that contribute to violence in schools, there are numerous other aspects that are just as critical and should be brought to attention. Over the past decade, the number of school shootings has increased dramatically. All over the media, conclusions are being drawn about the root of this statistic. Perhaps not enough energy is being focused in the right area. Perhaps the correct corresponding statistic is being over looked. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder can be diagnosed in a child at an age as low as 4. The ADHD diagnosis rate rose from 7.8% of children in 2003 to 11.0% in 2011. The national Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) recently reported that the use of antidepressants by teens in the United States has exceeded almost 400% since the late 1980s. The act of prescribing psychiatric medications such as Zoloft and Prozac to treat ADHD, depression, and anxiety at young ages is causing the development of irrational neurological effects which are responsible for an increase in school violence.
The fact that medication could be linked with school shootings is not unknown. Seung-Hui Cho, the man who killed 32 innocent people at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 2007, was prescribed Prozac prior to his rampage. James Holmes, responsible in 2012 for the mass shooting in Aurora, CO, had possession of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications in his apartment. Eric Harris, one of the well-known shooters at Columbine High School, had been prescribed Luvox. This cannot be a coincidence. In fact, these types of medications have been linked with over 30 school shootings.
Prozac, a common SSRI (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) is used to treat depression and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. SSRI’s work by manipulating the flow of neurotransmitters (specifically Serotonin) which is responsible for regulating mood and emotions. In 2011, an Article published by Time Magazine rated Prozac as the number 2 prescribed drug linked with violence and even went as far to say that, “Prozac is 10.9 times more likely to be linked with violence in comparison with other medications.”
In the early 2000s, after extensive studies on the effects of antidepressants, the FDA went as far as to place a Black Label Warning on antidepressants. This meant that taking such medications could increase the likelihood of suicide and violent thoughts. Clearly, if these medications are associated with violence and suicide, they should not be prescribed. An occurrence that confirms this happened in 2001. Christopher Pittman, age 12, felt a burning sensation in his skin after taking his prescribed Zoloft. Not long after, he was driven to shoot both of his Grandparents and set fire to their house. Pittman faced a charge of voluntary manslaughter and is serving a 25 year sentence. These events are not random. These are not just troubled young souls acting out, there has to be something pushing them over the edge. The effects of antidepressants impact neurological function. If the goal is to eliminate depression, there should not be an associated risk of amplifying the symptoms. There needs to be alternatives and solutions to this issue.
In Eric Harris’ Journal, he angrily references Luvox, a drug used to cope with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which his doctor had prescribed, “My doctor wants to put me on medication to stop thinking about so many things and to stop getting angry…”  This quote clearly emphasizes that the medication was affecting the way Harris’ thought process. Throughout the journal, there are numerous entries in which he discusses the ideas of violence and suicide. Although there was never real actual evidence that Harris had been diagnosed with OCD, he did indeed take the drug prior to the Columbine tragedy. Before Luvox, Harris had been also prescribed Zoloft. This situation is testament that once psychiatric drugs are added to the equation involving a troubled child, violence or suicide will result. Had Eric not been prescribed these medications, there remains a likelihood that his thoughts and actions would have been more benign. While that chance might be small, all other factors of youth violence must be considered. I propose that that these psychiatric drugs can push an individual over the edge, resulting in more harm than good.
When looking at the argument that antidepressants and other psychiatric medications should not be prescribed to children aged 4 – 17, naturally some disapproval arises. One might argue that the act of not prescribing a child medication to deal with troubles is insensitive. After all, in the majority of cases, these medications can cure mental issues. Unbiased studies reveal that Zoloft and other medications can improve symptoms of depression in two-thirds of patients. I believe that with the rapid development of a child’s brain during maturing, it is easily plausible that these drugs are causing neurological disadvantages. If alcohol has the ability to affect the development of one’s brain, so could a psychoactive drug. To refute that alcohol is a drug and is not used by many as a crutch to deal with depression would be comical. Throughout the process of mentally maturing, a child should abstain from substances. This is even the reason for a drinking age of 21 in the United States. To ensure a healthy cognitive development and conquer mental illnesses, alternatives should be introduced. Several natural remedies have proven effective. First and foremost, diet should be evaluated. Deficiencies in B-Vitamins can lead to poor production of neurotransmitters. Another valid RX is exercise. Dr. Madhunkar H. Trivedi, a Psychiatric Professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical center conducted an experiment involving patients who experienced depression and were taking SSRI’s. He prescribed doses of exercise and success to some degree was achieved. These alternatives provide a natural remedy, working as the human body was designed. Also these alternatives are more cost efficient.
Another argument that could be brought up is the fact that Doctors are professionals. They know what is best for their patients and should therefore be trusted. If the drugs were not safe, they would not be prescribed. While this too is a valid refutation, there are some flaws. There are risks to taking any sort of medication. Listen to the ads on television and you will hear a list of side effects that sometimes add up to sounding worse than the original problem. While Doctors should be trusted, their profession is called a Practice. It is impossible to argue that medication works equally on all patients. For instance, take the concept of an allergy: One person can eat peanuts all day and enjoy them to their hearts content. While peanuts are delicious and should be enjoyed, 0.6% of the United States population could have fatal reaction during consumption. While this idea translates over to medication, it should be brought to attention that not all Doctors prescriptions are beneficial to patients. In the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, published in April, 2013, a study concluded that 38.4% of patients used in the study did not qualify and meet certain criteria pertaining to a depression diagnosis benchmark. It was stated that over 5,000 patients had been misdiagnosed. One would think that better care would be taken when evaluating patients and prescribing doses of psychoactive drugs that are linked with violence and suicide.
One other significant argument is that other factors are far more influential in school violence/shootings. These other factors might include western culture, violent movies, video games, or abusive parents and home life. These are all plausible factors and I do not refute that they play a role. James D Garbarino is a national expert regarding the impact of family and community on youth violence. He refers to the outbreaks of youth violence and suicide as an “Epidemic.” In his paper titled, The Epidemic of Youth Violence, Garbarino mentions a “tipping point” – a social epidemic which he portrays as a germ increasing the rate of infection. This section of his paper goes into detail about how violence arises in inner-city “war zones” where there is the presence of gangs and poverty. This connection is valid and it may be indeed the factor that contributes to youth violence in urban areas. I believe however, that the true “tipping point” is psychiatric drugs. Not all shootings and acts of school violence occur in urban areas. Several of the most significant incidents (i.e Columbine, Aurora CO, Clackamas Oregon) occurred in suburban areas where there is a strong sense of community and family value.
The process in which today’s youth are diagnosed and prescribed strong medications for mental illnesses needs to be reformed. A child’s brain has not yet fully developed and is not able to sustain a healthy development process while being affected by potent medications. Not only has the rate at which children are being prescribed these medications increased over the past decade but also so has the amount of incidents involving school violence. This correlation of data is vital and should not be overlooked. While Doctors may have our best interests at heart, society should not be so quick to decide that psychiatric medication is best remedy to cure depression. Several alternatives have proved to decrease symptoms of mental illnesses. These include 5-HTP (a supplement for enhanced mood), diet, and exercise. While there are many factors that contribute to the epidemic of youth violence, the medication variable is one, if not the most significant. If these medications were taken out of the equation, incidents and reports of violence would surely decrease to some extent. When the lives of innocent people are at stake, it is time for doctors and pharmaceutical companies to work carefully, diagnosing accurately and produce safe medications. Antidepressants and other pills that affect neurological behavior should be treated like alcohol, which has proven to interfere with brain development. After 30 school shootings/ acts of violence being connected with medication, it is time to decrease the dosing and lower the risk of future fatalities. By eliminating one variable with troubled youth, new opportunities for evaluating other ones can be presented. After reviewing these studies, it is apparent that the NRA or gun laws are not fully responsible for the acts of violence. It is apparent that it is not the guns that people are holding which have caused so much grief but really, it is the people that are holding the guns.
 “31 School shooters/school related violence committed by those under the influence of psychiatric drugs.”Citizens Commissions on Human Rights International . N.p.. Web. 22 Jan 2014. <http://www.cchrint.org/school-shooters/>.
 Szalavitz, Maria. “Top Ten Legal Drugs Linked to Violence.” Time Magazine . 07 01 2011: n. page. Web. 21 Jan. 2014.