The investigation and reporting of the Atlanta Spa Shootings committed by confessed killer, Robert Aaron Long, are on-going. Already some themes in the news have gelled but with truck-size holes in them.
The first assumption that hit the news was that these were generally racially motivated, having been committed by a white kid sporting a wannabe Taliban beard. Given the geography and the percentage of victims that were of Asian-decent, one can see why this assumption might be put forth.
But then we drop off the data cliff. In comments that are now being widely—an correctly—criticized, Captain Jay Baker of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department dismissed reports that Long’s actions were racially motivated, instead saying Long simply had a “really bad day.”
The shooter himself reportedly said he suffered from “sex addiction” and was shooting women to get rid of temptation. This is probably one of the most insane murder motivations since the “Twinkie defense” used by the defense attorney of Dan White for the murders of San Francisco city Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. White’s defense was that he suffered diminished capacity as a result of his depression, a symptom of which was a change in diet from healthy food to Twinkies and other sugary foods. In a word, nuts.
One has to ask, if he was “suffering from sex addition,” was he going through withdrawals? Equally stupid.
What are we missing?
It takes a lot to send someone over the edge into a spree—I actually hate that word for this—of killing multiple people. What can push someone so far from his humanity that killing people seems like a good idea? Well, one word comes to mind, drugs.
There has been no mention in the reporting on the investigation of anyone asking about what drugs—if any—Long may have been taking. What was in his pockets? In his system? In his medicine cabinet? I am not just taking recreational or street drugs. Some of the most dangerous drugs for our society are prescribed to us.
We are well acquainted with the unlamented demise of Purdue Pharma for their perpetration of the expansion of the opioid epidemic. But opioids mostly kill their users. There are drugs that cause violence and the death of others at the hands of their users—psychiatric drugs.
Murders committed by psychiatric drug users are legion. A few examples: Aurora, Colorado, Newtown, Connecticut, Columbine High School. There are far, far too many.
The documentation of the side effects and violence warnings of psychiatric drugs is widely available. The FDA makes this information easily searchable. What’s more, the nasty side effects of these drugs are prioritized on their site. Let’s take Abilify as an example. Click here to read the side effects page for this drug. Note that this is just the first one on the list, out of 1320 entries.
The unasked questions
Investigations go nowhere when the right questions are not asked. And we are seeing no evidence so far that they will be asked in this case given the assumptions of racial motivation or a “really bad day” being bandied about. But add to either of these suppositions the use of mind-altering drugs and we might get somewhere. First you have to actually investigate.
Over the past few decades we have seen an appalling increase in workplace and societal violence and mass murders in homes, workplaces and schools. When the news hits with one of these stories, there is usually a lag of two to three days before any mention of drugs comes into the story. Even in the case of outright terrorism drugs are involved. We would be totally naive to think that suicide bombers and terrorist shooters were totally ideological in their actions. Drugs are used to separate these people from their humanity too. Drugs have been used to prepare assassins since the days of Hassan-e Sabbāh in 1090.
Too often we get a reasonable explanation and look no further for more. We do the victims in this case a vast disservice if we do not look further. And who knows, maybe we can do something like prevention in the future.