Interesting Question: Are We Medicating People into Active Shooters?

Study on whether psychotropic drugs increase the risk of psychosis. I’ve heard it suggested that even if the drugs don’t increase the risk of psychosis in and of themselves, they help people who do develop psychosis stay at a high enough functioning level to be able to plan and execute mass murders.

It’s an interesting question for researchers to explore. I tend to blame the media environment for encouraging mass killers. If you ask me what the independent variable is, I would offer that up. If the 24×7 cable news cycle wasn’t enough, social media might just have made it worse.

The big issue those who want to blame gun access is that gun access in this country has never been more restricted, and school shootings were unheard of in the era when kids took guns to school as a matter of routine, and guns were far more readily accessible to kids.

28 thoughts on “Interesting Question: Are We Medicating People into Active Shooters?”

  1. That’s been a long time theory. It’s pretty much accepted that antidepressants increase the suicide rate due to raising the functional level of depression sufferers to the point at which they can act on their plans

  2. I think we over prescribe our boys. This ADHD issue tends to be only aimed at boys! Most of schools are now women teachers by a huge majority, so boys tend to be called out as rowdier. Back in my day the boys ran it out on the playground. Our nuns seemed to let the boys run off the energy.
    Today it is pills. God only knows the damage we have done. (Why they call medicine a practice?)
    I have 4 sons, 2 were diagnosed by the school as ADHD. I would not permit my sons to be prescribed meds. I handled it at home. All graduated. 1 of the problem children is now in England working as a Physicist!

  3. I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. I defer to Robb Allen on this one.
    Who gets crazy people drugs? Crazy people.
    Who thinks that murdering a lot of people is an appropriate solution to their personal problems? Crazy people.
    What’s the common denominator? Crazy people.

    People who are so jacked up that they murder others generally don’t wake up one day and decide to be a mass killer out of the clear blue sky. That means that they generally have prior contact with the psych people. Psych people prescribe psych drugs. But crazy people aren’t crazy BECAUSE of psych drugs. They’re crazy despite psych drugs.

    Teenage years are when psychosis and psychopathy start becoming obvious, so people believe that their children are being acted upon by some outside force. They aren’t. They’re mentally broken.

    1. I agree
      The meds aren’t a causation, the meds were on board someone who was predisposed to acting out in a negative way.

      It could also be said the some people who were predisposed to act out were prevented from doing so by the same drugs.

      there ae huge numbers of ppl on meds , yet very few act out and i would bet they would have hurt others whether they were on meds or not.

      1. The wrong drugs can be prescribed as well. I’ve heard that people with bipolar disorder often will be prescribed antidepressants because they seek help when in the depressive phase. Of course antidepressants do nothing to stop the manic phase and can sometimes cause it it arrive sooner.

        1. Yup. Happens a lot because SSRI anti-depressants are so low risk that family physicians feel good prescribing them. They only see these patients in the depressed phase. The result is enhanced mania.

    2. Yes, but…

      One documented side effect of many antidepressant and antipsychotic medications is suicidal ideation.

      In broad strokes, many of these rampages seem to be elaborate and messy suicides at least in part fueled by the degree to which the media covers these events.

      TLDR: I think it’s something worth investigating/researching, even if the result is definitive evidence to disprove the hypothesis.

  4. I have some cautionary thoughts about that idea.

    I seem to recall it being popularized at and after the time of the Columbine shootings in 1999. Yet, it seemed not to get any long term traction. It may be worth researching to see if it lost traction because it was discredited by research, or by Big Pharma lobbying, or for some other reason, before committing to it too strongly, again.

    It also needs to be kept in mind that in the worst case, it could result in anybody who ever took a psychotropic drug being disbarred from firearms ownership, even if it was in their childhood, decades ago. So, don’t commit to it too strongly as a defensive argument for gun rights, if it could backfire and have unintended consequences. Even if psychotropic drugs were banned, the legislation would never go away.

    In terms of methodology, admitting I did not subscribe to the online journal so as to read the entire report, it appears it compared results for methylphenidate and amphetamine, without utilizing a control group that was diagnosed as suffering from ADHD (or PTSD), but received only a placebo. Suppose that group turned out to have more psychotic episodes than either medicated group? In that case, if psychoses in ADHD/PTSD populations were a causal factor in mass shootings, there should have been far more mass shootings decades ago, before ADHD or PTSD were even recognized, much less treated.

    I want to blame something for why “things are different today” as much as the next guy, but in this example, I think we still know too little to commit to and run with. Another study, including untreated patients as a control group, appears to be called for. Though, data comparing the occurrence of psychoses in treated and untreated populations may already exist.

    1. It would be a more valid study with a placebo group. I suspect the reason it’s not is because the side effect incident is something pharma companies have to track. So you can do a pretty big study comparing a particular side effect between drugs. There should be data on incidence of psychosis from the placebo group from the clinical trials for the drug, but they wouldn’t be anywhere close to this kind of scale.

  5. Psychotropic drugs seem to be strongly implicated in mass shootings, but it’s also incontrovertibly true that only a tiny percentage of people taking psychotropic drugs commit any kind of violence, shooting or otherwise.

    The entire phenomenon is poorly understood, if at all, and needs much more research before anyone can claim to have insight into why a handful of people a year, out of well over 300 million, pick up a gun and set out to commit mass murder. Barroom and social media conversation is clearly not up to the task. It needs well funded, unbiased scientific investigation.

  6. I am reminded of a Facebook post by Johny Ringo about his wife who had gone a bit crazy after taking a certain drug. I can’t remember what it was, but Ringo pointed out that *any* drug can potentially have nasty psychological affects, so if you’re going on any new drug, you should have people close to you carefully monitor you to make sure you don’t go off the deep end.

    Also, it should be remembered that even if there is a connection, there’s far fewer people who go crazy while on these drugs, than there are who are on these drugs.

    Frankly, I’m more convinced that there’s a stronger connection to (1) the fact that mass shootings have become ritualized, and Columbine is the template for that ritualization, and (2) that not only does media attention encourage copycats, but it makes it so that “normal” people who otherwise wouldn’t execute such an event, are somewhat more likely to actually try.

    I believe Sebastian has had posts describing both theories (particularly the latter one). If true, we would do well to keep news of shooting events local — perhaps even make it illegal to discuss the identity of a shooter, on the theory that the shooter may be mentally ill, and thus should be covered by HIPPA laws.

    Of course, such things would be subject to 1st Amendment challenges, which is a reminder that sometimes liberty preserves the ability for crazy people to do evil things.

    1. ” his wife who had gone a bit crazy after taking a certain drug.”

      Maybe, more drugs than we think.

      I took a common OTC antihistamine drug when I had a cold this winter, and had bizarre hallucination-dreams. The experience brought back memories of my father experiencing waking hallucinations from normal doses of a similar OTC medication when I was a kid.

      When I mentioned my experience to my doctor, his reaction was “sure, everybody knows that.” But I didn’t, and when I looked up the effects of antihistamines, learned for the first time that they are sometimes abused for their hallucinatory effects.

      If they can alter the mind that way with some people, who knows what ways they can alter the minds of others?

  7. I don’t have a clue what leads somebody to murder except a general belief that it is probably different things for different people.

    However, I know what turns a killer into a mass killer. Gun free zones.

  8. I am not particularly convinced that the per-capita mass homicide rate varies all that much from country to country. The 24/7 news cycle has you convinced that there is a problem because they are in the bad-news-sell-newspapers business. The underground pharmaceutical industry has always been violent, so if we are medicating people into active shooters you would think it would show up there. The homicide rate in the USA has declined 50% since the early 90s. Drug dealers and their junkies are just as violent as ever. Not more so. Tell me, was Al Capone a mass shooter on Valentines Day 1929?

    In the past if you had a proclivity to kill people you joined the military, and they would take you and send you to kill people. Now its unacceptable for the military to be taking people who actually want to kill people. Now we have psychology tests. Old school: “Join and you will kill some Nazis!” New school: “Join but lets discuss why you might want to actually kill some jihadists”. Plus, if you are assigned to a drone, its more like a video game.

    Human nature and human history being what it is (humans are apex predators who got that way by killing the competition), some of us are simply natural born killers. And there are 77.5 billion of us, so there a lot!

  9. And then we’ve got NJ where the laws pre-date & override HIPAA (you are *required* to sign a mental health records release just for the FID card) & both parties have managed to strip the 2nd from the people in the name of “Safety”. Spartacus’ own powerbase is a proud example of how well it doesn’t work.

  10. Most mass shooters are male, had no real father, and are on some kind of psychotropic drugs.

    Yes, we’re medicating them – and it might be a good idea to encourage nuclear families instead of pretending they’re a tool of the toxic male patriarchy or whatever. Many children without dads become society’s troublemakers.

  11. One question not asked is whether or not there is a correlation in the onset of these mass killings and the availability of the SSRI and other new types of brain drugs. I suspect a match will be found, timewise.

    There have been mass killings throughout history, but it’s not common. Clayton Cramer has been collecting data on mass killing here in the US, IIRC, so he might have some of the data needed.

    As for why you don’t see much investigation on the subject, follow the money. These drugs are HUGELY profitable. Each of the current drugs make $BILLIONS/year for their companies.

    1. IIRC, SSRIs came onto the scene in the 1970s, which means that they likely started hitting the market in force between the mid 1980s and mid 1990s.

      It’s arguable that this tracks reasonably closely to when school shootings started being widely publicized by the media. Depending on your point of view, I suppose that you could argue that the two correlate.

      That said, there are plenty of other things that also correlate reasonably closely to that timeline, like the negative impacts of fatherlessness (2nd & 3rd wave feminism + “great society”), declining family sizes (more intense social isolation of “outcasts”), the changing bias of school curriculum & policy (girl-friendly teaching methods, zero tolerance, etc.), and many other factors besides.

      There’s also the changes in the media brought about by CNN’s introduction of the constant 24-hour news cycle, as opposed to the prior paradigm of periodic TV & radio news broadcasts at distinct times of the day. That took off in the early 1990s, which is when much of the other media started copying that new model and focusing on getting the scoop ASAP vs getting the story right for the 23:00 news.

      I’m not going to totally discount the potential impact of SSRI drugs without good evidence, but I’m not going to bet the farm on that hypothesis when there are so many other factors with potential causative links.

  12. We should look at the people who collect actual data. This guy suggests that spree killers fall into three categories.
    1. Traumatized
    2. Psychotic
    3. Psychopathic


    1. Hey Sebastian, this link is long enough that it’s messing up the page formatting; could you please fix it?

  13. Is it possible that this sort of violence was less prevalent in an era where society was in many ways more structured and less mobile?

    Where, to borrow a phrase that the elderly in western Pennsylvania would use, “people knew their place“?

    Sometimes the scariest thing in the world for some people is a blank piece of paper, full of open possibilities, if only you can figure out what to put down first.

    1. Countries that have very high social pressure to conform typically have low murder rates and high suicide rates (Japan, for example).

  14. I seems to me I recall many cases of people going off the deep end when they stopped their meds without working with their Dr. This could be a factor.

  15. Committing mass murder is not a rational act. If they were medicated prior to the killings, one could infer a connection, but not causation.

    Depression is as much physical as mental, and the first effects of the antidepressant is to increase energy levels and decrease bodily aches; you become more physically capable. Before, you may simply not have had the energy to kill yourself. Now, before your suicidal ideation melts away, you do.

    And none of that even addresses what amphetamines do to the brain. Ritalin (methylphenidate) is one step down from methamphetamine; it’s dangerous and tricky, and Americans rarely pair therapy with the pills.

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