Chemical weapons in a class war?

Bruce E. Levine has an interesting article over at Alternet on the use of psychiatric medication to tame defiant youth. Some tantalizing excerpts:

For a generation now, disruptive young Americans who rebel against authority figures have been increasingly diagnosed with mental illnesses and medicated with psychiatric (psychotropic) drugs.

Disruptive young people who are medicated with Ritalin, Adderall and other amphetamines routinely report that these drugs make them “care less” about their boredom, resentments and other negative emotions, thus making them more compliant and manageable. And so-called atypical antipsychotics such as Risperdal and Zyprexa — powerful tranquilizing drugs — are increasingly prescribed to disruptive young Americans, even though in most cases they are not displaying any psychotic symptoms.

Many talk show hosts think I’m kidding when I mention oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). After I assure them that ODD is in fact an official mental illness — an increasingly popular diagnosis for children and teenagers — they often guess that ODD is simply a new term for juvenile delinquency. But that is not the case.

Young people diagnosed with ODD, by definition, are doing nothing illegal (illegal behaviors are a symptom of another mental illness called conduct disorder). In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) created oppositional defiant disorder, defining it as “a pattern of negativistic, hostile and defiant behavior.” The official symptoms of ODD include “often actively defies or refuses to comply with adult requests or rules” and “often argues with adults.” While ODD-diagnosed young people are obnoxious with adults they don’t respect, these kids can be a delight with adults they do respect; yet many of them are medicated with psychotropic drugs.

Throughout American history, both direct and indirect resistance to authority has been diseased. In an 1851 article in the New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal, Louisiana physician Samuel Cartwright reported his discovery of “drapetomania,” the disease that caused slaves to flee captivity. Cartwright also reported his discovery of “dysaesthesia aethiopis,” the disease that caused slaves to pay insufficient attention to the master’s needs. Early versions of ODD and ADHD?

In Rush’s lifetime, few Americans took anarchia seriously, nor was drapetomania or dysaesthesia aethiopis taken seriously in Cartwright’s lifetime. But these were eras before the diseasing of defiance had a powerful financial ally in Big Pharma.

It would certainly be a dream of Big Pharma and those who favor an authoritarian society if every would-be Tom Paine — or Crazy Horse, Tecumseh, Emma Goldman or Malcolm X — were diagnosed as a youngster with mental illness and quieted with a lifelong regimen of chill pills. The question is: Has this dream become reality?

Conflict of interest alert: I work for Chelsea Green Publishing, publishers of Levine’s recent book, Surviving America’s Depression Epidemic.