Drugs, Shrinks and Shooters

The yellow do-not-cross police tape had barely been hung at Westroads Mall in Omaha before psychiatrist Dr. Harold Koplewicz appeared on CBS’ The Early Show to say that’s depression for you.

Nineteen-year-old Robert Hawkins might have gunned down 13 people with an assault rifle-eight of whom died–but it’s classic depression and suicide.

Not an antidepressant-induced rampage like we saw at Virginia Tech, Columbine, Red Lake and Nickel Mines.

“Every year in this country we lose 5,000 kids to suicide,” Koplewicz told Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith. “This (incident in Omaha) is a suicide, also.”

And, despite changing medical perspectives, web sites devoted to “SSRI” violence, testimony of affected families and Hawkins’ own friend Shawn who told KETV NewsWatch 7 Hawkins was on antidepressants, Koplewicz blames the disease not the drug.

“The psychiatric illness itself really damages them,” he told the TV audience adding “if you leave these kids untreated, these diseases, particularly depression, it only gets worse. It doesn’t get better.”

Hawkins without drugs would have been worse?

Koplewicz is director and founder of New York University’s Child Study Center and author of “It’s Nobody’s Fault, New Hope and Help for Difficult Children and Their Parents,” and “More Than Moody” a book that delineates differences between teenage angst and depression.

He is a defender of pediatric Ritalin use and wrote in a 2000 oped, “Increasing use of Ritalin is not necessarily cause for alarm. The real outrage is that an estimated 20 percent of the nearly 10 million American children and teen-agers who suffer from diagnosable psychiatric illnesses ever receive help.”

But an ad campaign Koplewicz spearheaded for the Child Study Center this month designed to call attention to the “12 million” children who are “held hostage” to autism, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, Asperger’s syndrome and bulimia has backfired.

The ads in New York magazine, Newsweek and on New York City billboards feign ransom notes from the Kidnapper pediatric mental illness with messages like, “We have your son. We will make sure he will no longer be able to care for himself or interact socially as long as he lives” and the tag line, “Don’t let a psychiatric disorder take your child.”

Just as Robert Hawkins would have been worse drug free, the real danger children face is their Ritalin deficiency!

But some parents, like Susan Etlinger of San Francisco whose 4-year-old son has mild autism, find the ads alarmist and stigmatizing.

“This campaign characterizes them [the children] as a series of symptoms rather than as the unique people they are.”

Vicki Forman, whose 7-year-old son is blind and nonverbal, agrees. “The idea of an autistic person being held hostage is a very disturbing and backward image,” she says.

Others are offended by the pharma serving “dose-them” message with so many unanswered questions about psychiatric drug side effects in children and their long term effects on growth and development.

“Even as the world expresses shock by the number of US children being labeled as mentally ill and drugged with powerful psychotropic drugs, Dr. Harold Koplewicz, the founder and director of the NYU Child center makes the following patently false claim,” writes Yonkers blogger Louise Uccio:
“‘Children’s mental disorders are truly the last great public health problem that has been left unaddressed.'”

Does Koplewicz “not make enough money already from private practice, running New York University’s Child Study Center, and doing studies for pharma companies?” writes Philip Dawdy on the popular mental health blog Furious Seasons. “Why has the media quoted this guy for years as an authority on mental illness and its treatment when he’s a co-author of the discredited Paxil Study 329?”

If nothing else, the Child Study Center campaign will may make people think about who has really taken American children hostage.

MARTHA ROSENBERG is staff cartoonist on the Evanston Roundtable. She can be reached at mrosenberg@evmark.org



Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).