The small group of thoughtful, committed citizens has been drugged.
So, what happens if a society picks out a significant slice of its population, one including many thoughtful and committed citizens, and drugs them?
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) held a first-time, daylong, little-publicized event last September that allowed people to turn in their expired, unused, or unwanted prescription drugs. The DEA reports collecting 242,000 pounds or 121 tons. A second National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day was held in April with 376,593 pounds or 188 tons of pills collected. This is the stuff nobody wants, not the amount that's out in circulation. That amount is no doubt in proportion to the roaring flood of prescription drug ads seen on TV and the Internet. "More Americans currently abuse prescription drugs than the number of those using cocaine, hallucinogens, and heroin combined," says the DEA, and that's just the users considered to be overdoing prescription meds. They also note that individuals who abuse prescription drugs often obtain them from the medicine cabinets of family and friends.
Writer and editorial cartoonist 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 from their government than citizens in other countries. In May the Patriot Act was extended until 2015 with no oversight revisions and hardly a peep of protest. The "Defense Authorization Act" now before Congress would give presidents virtually limitless power to single-handedly wage wars or imprison people. This is the biggest formal transfer of power in the U.S. government since the drafting of its Constitution.
"Like many people," says Rail, "I have often wondered why so many Americans seem so emotionally fiat 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 other factors, such as our education system, our so-called news media, our religiosity, the two-party trap, and the fact that the United States imprisons record numbers of people. But medication 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 ten of the folks you encounter is.
Two years ago a research study out of Columbia University 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, Scientific American reported that close to 10 percent of men and women in the United States were taking drugs to combat depression.
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 star 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 and Adderall to stimulate themselves."
Adderall, Levine explains, is an amphetamine that affects the same neurotransmitters as cocaine (dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine): "If one takes the antidepressant Effexor (affects serotonin and norepinephrine) at the same time one is taking the antidepressant Wellbutrin (affects dopamine), one can sense the hypocrisy in labeling certain psychotropics (drugs that affect neurotransmitters) as 'antidepressants' and other psychotropics as 'ADHD psychostimulants.'" Lots of people--especially young people--are popping 'Addies' (the street name for Adderall), says Levine, "especially during exam time."
Levine is counseling a young man who supplements his income by selling ADHD psychostimulant drugs to his fellow college students. And indeed he does get the best price around final exam time. "Bruce, you've got to do better improving the self-esteem of these young kids who you're counseling" the young drug dealer told Levine. When asked why, the young man responded: "These little brats who are getting their freebie prescription Addies feel so crappy about themselves that they give them away to their older brothers for free just so they'll 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, 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. In fact the evidence shows antidepressants working no better than a placebo at lifting people out of depression.
Antidepressants may bear names as Orwellian as the Patriot Act, but Levine finds the latter easier to talk about with patients and others. "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 Irving Kirsch," whose research has shown that the efficacy of antidepressants is surprisingly low. Abstract political ideologies are far less threatening than people's own ingestion of drugs, Levine concludes. And for those in power, political movements may in fact be less of a threat precisely because of all the drugs Americans use and abuse.
David Swanson is the author of War Is A Lie (2010) and Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union (2009).