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America’s Brave New World or are we drugging ourselves into slavery.

“…there will be within the next generation or so a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda, brainwashing or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods.”

~Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1959)

Coming from an era where the strongest thing thing one usually took to help one chill out was alcohol or cigarettes or coffee or Valium (mostly women here), I have oft wondered what effects  the rise in certain prescription psychotropic drug use is having on our society.

Dr. Ronald Dworkin tells the story of a woman who didn’t like the way her husband was handling the family finances. She wanted to start keeping the books herself but didn’t want to insult her husband.

The doctor suggested she try an antidepressant to make herself feel better.

She got the antidepressant, and she did feel better, said Dr. Dworkin, a Maryland anesthesiologist and senior fellow at Washington’s Hudson Institute, who told the story in his book “Artificial Unhappiness: The Dark Side of the New Happy Class.” But in the meantime, Dworkin says, the woman’s husband led the family into financial ruin.

“Doctors are now medicating unhappiness,” said Dworkin. “Too many people take drugs when they really need to be making changes in their lives.”

For Dworkin, the proof is in the statistics. According to a government study, antidepressants have become the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States. They’re prescribed more than drugs to treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma, or headaches. CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen discusses the CDC study on antidepressants

In its study, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at 2.4 billion drugs prescribed in visits to doctors and hospitals in 2005. Of those, 118 million were for antidepressants.

High blood pressure drugs were the next most-common with 113 million prescriptions.

The use of antidepressants and other psychotropic drugs — those that affect brain chemistry — has skyrocketed over the last decade.

Adult use of antidepressants almost tripled between the periods 1988-1994 and 1999-2000.

And we are giving them more and more to our children.

Children and teens in the U.S. are more likely to be prescribed stimulants, antidepressants, and other psychotropic drugs than their counterparts in two western European nations, according to a cross-sectional study.

The prevalence of prescription psychotropic drug use was 6.66% among American youths compared with 2.9% and 2% in Dutch and German youths, respectively, Julie Zito, Ph.D., a professor in pharmacy and psychiatry at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, and colleagues reported online in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health.

Use of more than one of these medications at a time occurred in 19.2% of the U.S. cohort, but only 8.5% and 5.9% of Dutch and German children and teens, respectively.

“Differences in policies regarding direct-to-consumer drug advertising, government regulatory restrictions, reimbursement policies, as well as diagnostic classification systems and cultural beliefs regarding the role of medication for emotional and behavioral treatment are likely to account for these differences,” the researchers said.

Over the past decade, prescriptions for psychotropic drugs have been rising across western Europe and in the U.S., according to the researchers.

This all makes me wonder if all these psychotropic medications that we are giving to our children and ourselves are having and effect with the way we are handling our problems. Or not as the case maybe. Are we drugging ourselves so that we no longer have to face our reality ? David Swanson wonders as well.

Ted Rall suggested drugging to me as a possible explanation for the big mystery staring us in the face, namely why Americans sit back and take so much more than other people from their government. The Patriot Act is being put on steroids with hardly a peep of protest. The “Defense Authorization Act” now before Congress would give presidents virtually limitless power to single-handedly make wars or imprison people. This is the biggest formal transfer of power in the U.S. government since the drafting of its Constitution. This undoes the American War for Independence. But perhaps we’d still be 13 colonies if Prozac and Zoloft had come along sooner.

“Like many people,” says Rall, “I have often wondered why so many Americans seem so emotionally flat and politically apathetic in response to a political and economic landscape that cries out for protest, or at least complaint. Could it be that our society’s most angry — justifiably angry — are being medicated into quiescence?” It does seem possible. I don’t mean to discount the fact that the United States imprisons record numbers of people. I’m willing to share some blame with our education system, our so-called news media, our religiosity, the two-party trap, and several other likely factors. But drugs looks like the big one that is nonetheless hardest to see. People don’t usually tell you they’re drugged, but chances are at least one in 10 people you meet is.

Two years ago, a study found that “the number of Americans taking antidepressants doubled to 10.1 percent of the population in 2005 compared with 1996, increasing across income and age groups.” One year earlier, another study had found that close to 10 percent of men and women in America were taking drugs to combat depression, and that 11 percent of women were taking antidepressants.”

Author and clinical psychologist Bruce Levine tells me this may be even worse than it sounds. “If you are around certain populations,” Levine says, “that 10 percent stat seems very low, especially among healthcare professionals and college students.” College students? I can remember them getting pretty thoughtful and committed in times past. “And that 10 percent,” Levine adds, “only includes the ‘official antidepressants’ such as Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Lexapro, Wellbutrin, Effexor, etc. This stat doesn’t include people using ADHD drugs such as Ritalin, Adderall, etc. to stimulate themselves.”

Not only that, it has become a big black market business as well.

Levine said he’s counseling a young man who is supplementing his income by selling ADHD psychostimulant drugs to his fellow college students. He gets the best price around final exam time. “He told me, ‘Bruce, you’ve got to do better improving the self-esteem of these young kids who you are counseling.’ Why, I ask him, why do you care? ‘Well,’ he says, ‘these little brats who are getting their freebie prescription Addies feel so crappie about themselves that they are giving away their Addies to their older brothers for free just so they will hang out with them, and all those freebie Addies on the market are driving price down for me.”

Levine stresses that Adderall, like nicotine or caffeine or cocaine, provides a buzz that antidepressants do not. In fact, he points out, the so-called antidepressant drugs make people twice as likely to commit suicide. Levine concedes that some people swear antidepressants have saved their lives, but points out that people will say that about a placebo as well. The evidence, Levine says, shows antidepressants working no better than a placebo at lifting people out of depression.

Antidepressants may bear as Orwellian a name as the Patriot Act, but Levine finds the latter easier to talk about with people. “I get less grief,” Levine tells me, “when I talk about something like anarchism and Emma Goldman than when I talk about antidepressants’ effectiveness and [author] Irving Kirsch, as abstract political ideologies are far less threatening than people’s very own drugs.” Political movements may in fact be less threatening to those in power, because of people’s drugs.

An interesting situation that really needs to researched more, I think.




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