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An opinion piece opposing forced psychiatric drugging.

Those labeled “mentally ill” should be helped, not forcibly drugged

Date Published:

Oct 24, 2006 03:00 AM

Author: Al Galves, PhD

Source: Las Cruces Sun-News, New Mexico, USA

There’s a movement in New Mexico to adopt a state law that would authorize courts to forcibly administer neuroleptic drugs to mentally ill people against their wills, even those who live in their own homes.

It’s called Kendra’s Law or, more formally, Mandated Outpatient Treatment (MOT), and it is an attempt to solve a real problem. It is true that seriously mentally ill people are slightly more likely to commit violent acts than others, especially if they are abusing illegal substances. However, those who are diagnosed with serious mental illnesses commit less than 5 percent of the violent acts in the country. More than 95 percent of such acts are committed by people who have not been diagnosed with a mental illness.

The big problem with the law is that it forces individuals against their wills to be injected with substances that are very harmful to them. Neuroleptic drugs with names such as Zyprexa, Abilify, Seroquel, Risperdal, Clorazil and Geodon cause tardive dyskinesia, a horrible disease of the extrapyramidal system which impairs people’s ability to walk and talk and causes uncontrollable facial twitches and drooling and rigidity of muscles and movement; neuroleptic malignant syndrome which causes muscle stiffness and rigidity, irregular heartbeat, high fever, high blood pressure, psychomotor inertia and, in some cases, death; shrinkage of the brain cortex (the seat of our reasoning abilities); reduced life expectancy; impaired immune system functioning; and increased risk of pituitary cancer and diabetes.

Kendra’s Law will permit the state of New Mexico to forcibly inject individuals with substances that can do that kind of lethal harm to them. Some experts would have you believe that these neuroleptic drugs are useful in curing mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression with psychotic features and schizoaffective disorder. That is not the case. The only thing that neuroleptic drugs do is bring people down, numb them and turn them into zombies. They are essentially chemical lobotomies, enforcing a form of chemical restraint on people.

The fact is that, if people who are diagnosed with schizophrenia live into their 50s, as much as 40 percent of them recover fully and all the ones who recover fully have stopped taking their medication. The World Health Organization has conducted two studies of schizophrenia. In both cases, WHO found that the recovery rate in the “underdeveloped” world — South America and Africa — is twice as high as it is in the United States and other “developed” countries. Presumably, this is because in poor countries, the behavior that causes people to be diagnosed with schizophrenia is seen as a spiritual emergency, a reaction to trauma or a personal crisis and, instead of being treated with drugs, is treated with family and community support, healing respite and slow, steady social and vocational rehabilitation.

Unfortunately, our country is not willing to provide that kind of treatment — places of safety and nurturance in which patients and staff have time to get to know each other and help patients resolve stress, heal and slowly regain their abilities to express themselves in life-enhancing ways, develop love relationships and contribute to their communities.

The New Mexicans who are supporting Kendra’s Law are trying to find a solution to a real problem. But there’s got to be a better solution than forcing free individuals against their wills to be injected with extremely harmful, sometimes lethal, substances.

I would prefer that people who are judged to be a serious risk to themselves and others be locked up in facilities in which they will be helped and supported rather than be injected against their wills with harmful substances.

I would prefer that dangerous people be forcibly treated but not forcibly drugged.

Al Galves, Ph.D., lives in Las Cruces and is a licensed psychologist in Colorado and a licensed school psychologist in New Mexico.

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Al is on the board of MFI; this guest column was written to reflect his own individual views.