| 03.19.2018

When are pills the problem


Anti-depressant link to violence requires legislation

When America stops debating the merits of a ban on assault weapons without correlation to the overwhelming levels of gun violence in America, a new proposal must emerge. Coupled with strict background-checking laws and a mandate for health insurance to cover therapy, such as hospital visits, anyone with a prescription for an anti-depressant should be banned from firearm ownership.

This proposition already has legal precedent. The Gun Control Act of 1968 banned users of controlled illegal substances from owning firearms. We must amend the act to include legal users of selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, or antidepressants,  until one year after documented discontinuation.

Depression is the lone mental illness linked to mass shootings, according to the U.S. Secret Service. Should it surprise anyone our preferred method for treating depression has verified links to violence as well?

In 2011, the Institute for Safe Medication Practices released a 69-month study identifying the 31 drugs with the highest statistical correlation to violence. These 31 drugs alone led to 1,527 case reports of violence against another, with anti-depressant use involved in 37.4 percent of all documented episodes. Simply, the study found people on anti-depression drugs such as Prozac were around 10 times more likely to be violent than people on other classes of drugs.

SSRIs have become the default treatment for millions of our depressed, as well as millions who are not.

The Center for Disease Control’s 2011 figures put 11 percent of America on anti-depressants, yet only one-third of these people have a diagnosis involving severe depression. If SSRIs possessed any efficacy with the mild and moderately depressed, this would make sense, but these drugs have consistently shown themselves to be of little use to those without the crippling depression that prevents people from holding a job or leaving the house.

Psychiatry does not shoulder the blame alone. The University of Idaho, like almost all colleges, offers psychotherapy at no additional cost. This isn’t the case for the majority of Americans who, if they’re lucky enough to have health insurance, don’t possess insurance that covers therapy in any meaningful way. It should surprise no one that millions of anti-depressant prescriptions come not from psychiatrists, but from family doctors to individuals without a specific diagnosis.

One concern about such a ban is the potential decrease in anti-depressant users. We should welcome this news. In too many cases, people mistake depression for what once was known as the “human condition”.

Everyone goes through sincerely difficult times, and too often we seek comfort in prescriptions when we need the coping skills found not in Luvox, but in therapy. Do not forget, there’s overwhelming evidence that SSRIs are no better for mild-to-moderate depression than a sugar pill. We’re outsourcing true help to a drug-induced fantasy.

My proposition is two-fold. If you are on an anti-depressant, you cannot own a gun.

If you are a health insurance company, since we all have to buy your product starting in 2014, you have to cover therapy from social workers, psychiatrists and counselors the way you cover regular doctor’s visits. If we limit anti-depressant use while increasing therapy access, we can finally claim we’re doing what everyone from the NRA to Thinkprogress.org has, without specifics, already called for: taking mental health seriously.

Brian Marceau can be reached at arg-opinion@uidaho.edu

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