A Nation of Pill-Takers

By Ilya Galak and Alan Galak

Why is it that our Nation is stricken time and time again with mass shootings? What can be done to counter and prevent future tragedies? In that discussion two central issues arise: gun control and mental health. I won’t touch the issue of guns here; instead I want to focus on the latter. There is a gaping flaw in our mental health system that needs to be addressed.

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In way to many cases, when a person has some mental ailment, or is just in a really bad mood, doctors and psychiatrists put them on medication as quickly as possible. Amongst the most popular and commonly prescribed types of medications are SSRI’s (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor). Serotonin is a chemical in the brain which when is not produced in balanced amounts can lead to things like depression, anxiety disorders, and OCD symptoms. Some notorious examples of SSRI’s include Paxil, Prozac, Zoloft, and Celexa. This is not Tylenol or aspirin we’re talking about here; SSRI’s carry with them some serious side effects. Here’s a quote from www.drugwatch.com:

“Prozac is one of the few antidepressants approved for the treatment of depression in youths. Unfortunately, however, studies on children have linked the drug to increased suicidal thoughts and behavior. As a result, the FDA issued a public warning in October 2004, and two years later extended the advisory to include young adults as old as 24. In 2007, the FDA took an even stronger stance. The agency required antidepressant manufacturers to update existing black-box warnings about the increased risks of suicidal thoughts and behavior during initial treatment, which the FDA defined as the first one to two months.”

The big problem is that these drugs are prescribed without any sort of tests to see if the patient really needs them. In most situations, before a doctor prescribes something – like say insulin – they run a blood test for said substance before coming to the conclusion that the patient needs that particular chemical worked on. Why isn’t the same happening for these drugs? There are so many risks to just stuffing chemicals into the body without knowing all the details. What if for instance, one has normal levels of Serotonin in their brain, and now they are getting even more? I don’t know the technicalities, but I’m sure nothing good or even safe will come of it.

Sadly, blood tests can not be used to test for Serotonin because it is the amount in the brain, not the blood that matters. There is such a thing as a PET scan (Positron Emission Tomography). It technically doesn’t test for Serotonin, but it does show activity in parts of the brain which are usually active / inactive depending on Serotonin levels. The major downside is that the scanning machine emits strong radiation and therefore can not be used casually. In the end it turns out that there is no concrete, fool-proof way of knowing that one needs the said drug, or that the outcome of taking it will be positive.

Is it possible for us to develop such a test in the near future? I can’t say for sure; I’m not a scientist. But I do wonder how something like this would be done. First things first, someone will have to finance the whole thing. The pharmaceutical companies will most certainly not be for it; after all would they like it if they sold less medication? Logically it would be up to our federal government to step in. Seeing as how Congress very gratuitously throws money at things like the “Bridge to Nowhere”, couldn’t they invest it in something which is good for the people and could very well save lives? They have where to start, and I’m sure a lot of neurologists and psychiatrists would love to have their name on a project like this. Come on! Our country leads the world in innovation and science; we are more than capable of doing this.

About the author: An immigrant to this country from the former Soviet Union

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