Happily Slipping Into Our Straightjackets

By Karen Hunt 03/17/17

The manufacture and dissemination of drugs is an accepted industry, generating billions of dollars to pharmaceutical companies without any concern for the long-term consequences on the human guinea pigs: our children.

A cartoon of a man in a straightjacket with a heart in a speech bubble
Little ADHD pills don't seem like straight jackets--but they are.

As a single mother who has raised three kids on the “mean” streets of Los Angeles suburbia, and as a writer who co-founded a creative writing program for incarcerated youth, I’ve heard countless drug-related stories told by children, both inside juvenile detention facilities and rehab centers, and outside in my own neighborhood.

Here is a small selection of the voices I have heard and some thoughts on the government-sanctioned drugging of our children. I’m not saying there aren’t extreme cases where it’s necessary to medicate children, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.

Jimmy was an ordinary 16-year-old kid living in the exclusive Los Angeles suburb of Calabasas. He was 12 years old when he was prescribed Ritalin for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD.

“It was creepy,” he said. “I could totally just sit in my chair and stare at the teacher for hours and I could hear every single word, like in slow motion. That’s how it is—you can concentrate on stupid tasks but you’re not really there inside yourself. It’s as if something else is controlling you. It was horrible. I started pretending to take my pills but wouldn’t.”

Jimmy had reason to be distracted and depressed. His older sister committed suicide in the mansion his family inhabited. Jimmy couldn’t bear to be in that haunted house, no matter how deceptively beautiful it appeared on the outside.

Jimmy was best friends with my oldest son. The first time my son got into trouble was at the Calabasas Commons, on the one-year anniversary of Jimmy’s sister’s death. Some other kid had been making fun of her and my son beat him up. I remember rushing down to pick my son up the moment I received the phone call from the Commons security guards.

They were surprised to see me. “Most parents around here wouldn’t interrupt their important dinner, or whatever, to pick up their child.”

Jimmy ended up camping on the sofa of our small apartment for the next two years.

“So what happens with all the drugs kids are supposed to be taking?” I asked him.

He eyed me like I was dense. “Didn’t those doctors think about what would happen when they dumped a ton of fucking drugs on us? Eight-year-olds, six-year-olds—they trade pills then start selling them. Little drug dealers growing up to be corporate monsters.”

The manufacture and dissemination of drugs to the general population is an accepted industry, generating billions of dollars to pharmaceutical companies without any concern for the long-term consequences on the human guinea pigs: our children. Academics determine through research funded by drug companies that the public is suffering from myriad mental diseases. Psychiatrists, in turn, prescribe the medications developed by the drug companies. A tidy circle of profit ensues.

Marcia Angell, a senior lecturer at the division of medical ethics at Harvard School of Medicine and former editor-in-chief of The New England Journal of Medicine, states that “there is fairly good evidence that the research has been tainted because of the financial relationships between academic researchers and drug companies.”

Powerful, highly addictive drugs are marketed directly to families through Stepford Wives-like TV and magazine ads, showing smiling, sedated children and their equally smiling and sedated parents, happily ingesting their medication. Just watch Lifetime, where every other ad is pushing a mood-altering medication, complete with a bizarre, creepy little creature following the woman around like something out of the Twilight Zone.

Not long ago I heard one teenage girl telling another, “I don’t wanna be an ‘ad kid.’”

I asked what she meant.

“Oh, you know, those kids who go around school saying ‘I’m on Zoloft, I’m so happy…I’m on Zoloft, I’m so happy.’ I don’t wanna be an ad for a drug company.”

Her friend responded, “Oh yeah, I tried Zoloft. It turned everything gray. The world went gray. I was sick for two days, puking.”

The other morning I was sitting with two girls, 18-year-old Jennifer and 15-year-old Andrea. The topic turned to drugs, as it often does with youth these days. I asked them what they thought was the biggest difference between the drug situation on the opposite ends of the San Fernando Valley, or the SFV: Calabasas and Pacoima. Which had a bigger drug problem?

They shrugged. “You can get drugs anywhere. There’s no difference.”

Jennifer laughed. “Actually, I’d say Calabasas is worse.”

For those who don’t know, the SFV, in Los Angeles, is considered by many to be the most culturally diverse suburban area in the United States. At one extreme is Pacoima, the “hood,” while at the other is Calabasas, made famous by the Kardashians and their hideous reality show.

Urban Dictionary has some colorful descriptions of Calabasas. I love this one—short and sweet:

Dante’s forgotten 10th circle of hell.  

Jennifer: “You can get anything there. Everybody’s dad or mom is a doctor or a lawyer or a psychiatrist. Prescription drugs, being mentally sick, going to therapy, it’s just, like, that’s what you do. So everybody’s either taking pills, selling or both. We’re all drug experts, we know how to access info better than our parents. We know which drugs are used for which effect and what the active ingredients are.”

She took a drag off her legal drug of choice—a cigarette. She pointed her cig at me sagely. “The ‘just say no’ campaign turned into ‘just say yes.’ If a psychiatrist says you need to be on meds, you fucking better say yes or you’re in trouble.”

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