An Explanation of Madness
By Kurt Joachim von Behrmann
In ten minutes The Route 91 Music Festival became a killing field. When the gun fire ceased, 58 were dead and 489 wounded. The man responsible for one of the deadliest mass shootings committed by an individual in recent U.S. history was found dead from self-inflicted wounds. Stephan Paddock, age 64, left no suicide note. He left no explanation.
Las Vegas, a place built on easy money and relaxed morality, became a sullen city the day after the horrors of October first passed. Streets normally filled with people were vacant. It was as if the city had gone into instant mourning. Even the lure of fast cash and good times, even commerce itself, had to stop and acknowledge that something horrific transpired.
Sympathy, prayers and condolences were offered by the House and Senate as they do in a perfunctory manner, and yet curiously no legislative action. Much like the after math of the Columbine High School Massacre and the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shootings, these events were taken by the government as random rare inescapable horrors as opposed to being harbingers of horrors yet to be.
As each succeeding shooting becomes more horrific, more terrorizing, first Amendment rights advocates remain resolve in reluctance to enact any limitations on the fire arms citizens can acquire. There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that anyone at any time can purchase whatever mass killing weaponry they can. If you can pay for it; it is yours.
It is hard to discern what the citizenry want. The profound disconnect between what is actually in the best interests of the nation and those of the gun lobbyists leave questions. Even when children’s lives are at stake, there is firm reluctance to admit that gun control is the only avenue to effectively stop, or at the very least reduce, the rash of mass murders.
In the case of most mass shootings, there is usually some cause, some trigger, something that turns a human being into a cold blooded killer. What makes the Las Vegas killings so bizarre is that there seems to be no outwardly discernible reason as to why.
Why would an economically successful white male with several residences decide to rent a hotel room and shoot indiscriminately at a crowd of concert goers? With no suicide note, and confliction recollections from those that knew him from being compassionate to being miserly, rude and abusive, there is no character portrait that paints the picture of a madman bent on killing. Why this event? Why Las Vegas? Why now? There are questions desperately seeking answers.
However, there is one clue that has emerged that contains the potential of making the inscrutable Stephan Paddock less so. It maybe speculative, but the past offers some intriguing clues.
Some of Paddock’s unorthodox behavior was revealed in an October 29 2013 deposition where some arresting details emerged. When he fell on a walkway at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in 2011, it was revealed that he was taking Valium. Prescribed by Nevada internist Steven P. Winkler for “anxiousness” it was not clear how much of the drug he was ingesting. It was clear he was drinking while taking the drug.
It was also revealed that Paddock floated from residence to residence leading a nocturnal existence while gambling heavily. Although his full income was not revealed, Paddock did add that wagering as much as a million a night was “not so much money,” or words to the effect.
Attired in flip flops he was witnessed carrying his own drinks as a way to skirt around paying for them, and tipping servers. This is consistent with reports from others citing his stinginess. As frugal as he was, he benefited from the Las Vegas hotel custom of comping rooms and other items as incentives to keep the big players playing.
There are documented cases of how the improper use of valium impacts behavior. Chromic use and abuse of the drug can include side effects such as depression, aggressive behavior, cognitive deficits, and psychotic experiences.
Things become worse when this medication is used in conjunction with alcohol consumption. Alcohol poisoning, dizziness, drowsiness, loss of consciousness, impaired coordination and motor skills, poor decision-making ability, and memory issues are some of the potential side effects.
Valium and Alcohol can prove to be among the most dangerous of combinations. Both substances are depressants. Taking two drugs that have a similar action in the body at the same time can increase the chances that they will work together to slow the central nervous system. It is not a far leap to theorize that mixing both substances and abusing both could lead to erratic behavior.
Psychotropic drugs are normally the exclusive domain of Psychiatrists. Even therapists are not trained to prescribe these medications. Being that an internist was handling Paddock’s case and was on retainer to do so raises some red flags.
Another warning sign was that Paddock was a drinker. It does not appear he stopped drinking while taking Valium.
While it is speculative, it does appear that it is an easy assume that Paddock’s drinking and psychiatric medications combined with his idiosyncratic behavior could potentially lead to violent madness. Clearly, he was aware that something was wrong. It does not appear that he was ever receiving counseling, therapy or even adequate treatment.
Between stigma, lack of awareness and the lack of priority given to mental health, all of these elements are contributing to placing an entire society at risk. It is not unusual for people who are seriously mentally ill to be high functioning. Intelligence and mental illness are not incompatible. When you mix a high functioning person with mind altering medications and alcohol, the potential for collateral damage is great.
It is purely speculative at this point, but it does follow logically that Paddock could have been driven to mass murder either by an existing mental illness that was not treated properly or a condition exacerbated by the mix of alcohol and valium. It is entirely possible that over time he may have taken other medications. This could not only complicate matters, it could be the direct cause as to why a successful man would wreck such senseless violence on a crowd of innocent people.
Minus a document or conversation or anything substantive, we may never know exactly what motived a successful gambler to becoming a mass killer. Paddock may well take to his grave the actual reasons.
There is no way to say with one hundred percent certainty that this horror in Las Vegas could have been avoided. However, when you factor in where we are with health care in general, gun control laws and the stigma and lack of education regarding mental health, continued indifference to these issues may mean greater tragedy to come. It may not be if; it maybe when.
Medical health care is more expensive and less accessible to an increasingly large number of Americans. Along with this, the quality of Mental Health care is suffering. Stigma, lack of detecting symptoms and ignorance about the subject of mental medical care, these things contribute to the potential for more senseless violence. Unless we take action as a Nation, we are looking at staggering costs not only in dollars, but in lives.