Nineteen year old Nickolas Cruz will go down in history as the heinous, young gunman who slaughtered seventeen of his former classmates and wounded numerous others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He will be remembered as the boy whose mayhem sparked one of the most vocal and vicious national debates ever, polarizing left-wing, gun activists and conservative, Second Amendment rights advocates. The result has been an unprecedented level of free-speech censorship across numerous social media platforms.
However, those of us who have studied the common denominator of such violence and mass murder, will be left shaking our heads, wondering how the most important issue needing to be catapulted into the national spotlight can, once again, be swept under the rug, becoming a mere footnote of this horrible event.
What exactly is that common denominator? It is the psychiatric drugs that are associated with dozens of mass murderers, and the well-documented tendency of these drugs to exacerbate violence and homicidal ideation in vulnerable populations, such as young adults and children.
Nickolas Cruz may have been a perpetrator of death and violence, but in many ways he was also a victim. He was the victim of a society that has discarded its communal responsibility for the welfare of our children; A victim of adults, too busy or too ignorant, to spot the warning signs of psychiatric drug effects; A victim of social services, too burdened and overwhelmed to follow or monitor children who are products of a broken system; A victim of federal law enforcement’s negligence in sharing pertinent information with local authorities needed to protect its citizens.
Nickolas and his younger brother, Zachary, were adopted very early in life by an older couple, Lynda and Roger Cruz. The boys shared the same biological mother but had different fathers. Roger Cruz died when Nickolas was only six years old, leaving Lynda, a single mom, to care for the boys on her own. After Lynda Cruz passed away from pneumonia November 1, 2017, the Cruz brothers were placed with a family in Palm Beach County. Reportedly unhappy in their new location, around Thanksgiving they moved in with the family of a friend in Pompano Beach.
Barbara Kumbatovich, the boys’ aunt, told Newsday Lynda was a good, devoted mother to her boys. However, Nickolas had a penchant for getting into trouble, and was no stranger to local law enforcement. Broward County police, and even the FBI, had been contacted by several parties reporting Nickolas’ activities. In fact, records indicate deputies had visited the Cruz home on more than 39 occasions in a span of seven years. Kubatovich also said Lynda Cruz had expressed concern that her boys were “not receiving the right treatment.”
Furthermore, the Sun Sentinel reported that Lynda “told investigators [Nickolas] had been diagnosed with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). He was being treated for depression, had a behavioral disorder and had been taking medication for ADHD, the report said.”
Exactly what treatment(s) Nickolas Cruz was receiving for his co-morbid psychiatric diagnoses remains yet to be uncovered. According to CDC datasets, fewer than half of the children diagnosed with ADHD receive any form of psychological services. More likely, the standard pharmacologic treatment for these disorders would have included amphetamine-like stimulants, antidepressants and/or antipsychotic drugs.
All three of these psychotropic drug categories contain some kind of black box warnings in their labels, which is the strongest alert that can be required by the FDA. All of these drug categories have disturbing psychiatric side effect profiles, including psychosis, suicide and homicidal ideation. Granted, homicidality is less prominent than suicidality in the data collected thus far, and, therefore, listed less often in prescribing information than associated traits like mania, psychosis, hallucinations, altered mental state, aggression, uncharacteristic violence, and self-harm.
Police sources quoted by ABC, said Cruz said he heard “demon voices” instructing him to carry out the massacre. This auditory hallucination phenomenon is not unique to Cruz. Numerous shooters in recent years have reported hearing voices in their head before committing their crimes: the Ft. Lauderdale Airport shooter (Esteban Santiago), the Aurora theater shooter (James Holmes), the Washington Naval Yard shooter (Aaron Alexis), the Florida State University shooter (Myron May), the Antioch TN church shooter (Emanuel Samson); even the Boston bombing suspect (Tamerlan Tsarnaev) feared voices in his head.
Conversely, APA past president, Renee Binder, M.D. recently summarized several studies that suggest serious mental illness is not a specific indicator for risk of violence. Binder notes that such studies have found that people with mental illness are three times more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of violence. Which leaves one to question, if psychotropic drugs were not responsible, what else do all of these mass shooters have in common that could account for this violent predisposition?
Amid the finger pointing at mental illness and guns, and the character assassination of Nickolas Cruz, the covert culprits will take refuge in their corporate ivory towers virtually unscathed by negative publicity. As such, they will be free to continue pushing their dangerous but legal, mind-altering drugs on the most vulnerable among us—our children!