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Drugging Deportees: Being the “Evil that We Deplore”

Debbie says:

Laurie and I generally try to stay away from blogging about the horrors of the U.S. incumbent government, because 1) so many people do that well; and 2) most of it isn’t directly related to body image (even though that’s not always what we blog about). This particular outrage, however, is, among other things, a body image issue.

The U.S. government has injected hundreds of foreigners it has deported with dangerous psychotropic drugs against their will to keep them sedated during the trip back to their home country, according to medical records, internal documents and interviews with people who have been drugged.

The government’s forced use of antipsychotic drugs, in people who have no history of mental illness, includes dozens of cases in which the “pre-flight cocktail,” as a document calls it, had such a potent effect that federal guards needed a wheelchair to move the slumped deportee onto an airplane.

Involuntary chemical restraint of detainees, unless there is a medical justification, is a violation of some international human rights codes. The practice is banned by several countries where, confidential documents make clear, U.S. escorts have been unable to inject deportees with extra doses of drugs during layovers en route to faraway places.

Internal government records show that most sedated deportees received a cocktail of three drugs that included Haldol, also known as haloperidol, a medication normally used to treat schizophrenia and other acute psychotic states.

They were also given Ativan, used to control anxiety, and all but three were given Cogentin, a medication that is supposed to lessen Haldol’s side effects of muscle spasms and rigidity.

Haldol gained notoriety in the Soviet Union, where it was often given to political dissidents imprisoned in psychiatric hospitals. “In the history of oppression, using haloperidol is kind of like detaining people in Abu Ghraib,” the infamous prison in Iraq, said Nigel Rodley, who teaches international human rights law at the University of Essex in Britain and is a former United Nations special investigator on torture.

There is, sadly, lots more.

Other people are writing very appropriately writing about this outrage as a civil rights violation, as doing the things we demonized our old enemies for (as Barbara Lee said after 9/11, “Let us not become the evil that we deplore.”) Also, of course, although some Europeans have been affected, you know this is enforced racially, with people of color bearing the brunt.

I don’t want to lose sight of our officials’ vast and deep disregard for health and the human body. Far far too strong a drug for this purpose, Haldol, or haloperidol can have a variety of short-term and lasting side effects, up through and including fatal ones. “The potentially fatal neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS) is a significant possible side effect. Haloperidol and fluphenazine are the two drugs which cause NMS most often.”

If a) restraints are necessary for safety, and b) physical restraints are not appropriate for some reason (two very big “ifs”), there are lots and lots of pharmacological steps before Haldol. We need only look at our prisons to remind ourselves that we don’t live in a world that offers any respect whatsoever to the bodies (or minds) of the people we incarcerate, but this is a particularly nauseating example.

Now that the story is in major U.S. newspapers, anyone know of any groups or activists organizing around this issue? I’m interested.

Bittersweet thanks to alibi shop for the link.

One Response to “Drugging Deportees: Being the “Evil that We Deplore””

  1. Lynn Kendall Says:

    I am not a doctor or pharmacist, but I have some familiarity with the way these drugs work, and using Haldol and Ativan together struck me as potentially a bad idea without close medical attention. So I checked the drug interaction resource at http://www.drugs.com/drug_interactions.php

    Results:

    Haloperidol and Ativan (lorazepam) (Moderate Drug-Drug)
    MONITOR: Central nervous system- and/or respiratory-depressant effects may be additively or synergistically increased in patients taking multiple drugs that cause these effects, especially in elderly or debilitated patients.

    MANAGEMENT: During concomitant use of these drugs, patients should be monitored for potentially excessive or prolonged CNS and respiratory depression. Ambulatory patients should be counseled to avoid hazardous activities requiring complete mental alertness and motor coordination until they know how these agents affect them, and to notify their physician if they experience excessive or prolonged CNS effects that interfere with their normal activities.

    Now, maybe respiratory depression doesn’t sound that serious, but as an asthmatic, I know it can be life-threatening to some people. Moreover, asthmatics who are flying have a much harder time breathing anyway. Add respiratory depression to long air flights, and you could have a real emergency.

    The hypotension also mentioned as a side effect sounds positively healthy — look, it lowers blood pressure! But that can be disastrous during air travel, too.

    But these side effects are incidental. Ativan and Haldol have some side effects that can be extremely useful to the Guantanamo jailers. They are well known to cause sedation, confusion, and memory loss.

    Effectively, these prisoners are so drugged that they cannot speak out to anyone while they’re traveling. And when or if they do speak, their stories will be suspect, due to the confusion caused by the drugs. If they can even remember what happened to them — they might not be able to.

    Mind and body are intimately entwined. Drugging these prisoners makes them less able to speak, less believable, and less aware of what really happened to them.

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