Are Americans and lawmakers ignoring leading causes of death and other key factors that may be driving violent crimes? It’s complicated.

By Ben Alonzo

Many would be surprised to learn that America’s top causes for death excludes terrorism and gun violence. The leading cause of death for most Americans is heart disease and cancer. Inside of these two diseases, the high risk factors are cultural hazards, such as overeating and lack of exercise that leads to obesity and diabetes, as well as smoking, drinking, and drug use. There’s a growing trend of overprescription and deadly drug interactions that may be driving many to suicide, gun violence, and higher risks of death from overdosing. In fact, prescription drugs now kill more people than illegal drugs. America has a physical and mental health crisis, some of which is manufactured by inappropriate overprescription, pseudoscience within psychology and psychiatry, and misleading drug marketing. It’s clear that we’re ignoring sound science in the discussion that should be taking place today, regarding natural disasters, domestic terrorism, and depression.

Crisis in America: It’s Complicated

One thing is clear about America: millions of people are unhappy, unhealthy, underemployed, and underinsured. This makes the effects every natural disaster and terrorist attack worse. This environment also breeds the ideologies and mental illnesses that drive acts of violence.

CareerBuilder estimates that at least 78% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, according to a 2017 report. Most Americans are in substantial financial debt. The stress that comes from this is breaking millions of stressed out people. Millions of students are also in unrepayable debt. Americans owe over $1.4 trillion in student loan debt. At least 66% of Americans are overweight or obese. We could go on and on, for hours, to discuss the dismal figures that describe our country today. Serious problems are making people of all ages unhappy.

How could the greatest country on Earth have so much unhappy/unhealthy people and extreme problems?

At least 633,842 people die each year from heart disease (the leading cause of death in America) and another 595,930 die from cancer (second leading cause of death in America), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Experts say these figures are probably much large because we have poor, highly underestimated recording systems. Despite these huge numbers, there’s not much outrage from Democrats or Republicans, nor is social media busy posting memes and trying to blame those at fault for such high amounts of unnecessary disease and death. Unhealthy people also means higher insurance costs, less productivity, and less happy people, resulting in higher rates of depression.

This isn’t a new problem. In 2007, National Institute of Mental Health data estimated heart disease as the number one killer of Americans ages 1-85, followed by cancers for number two, but suicide was around number 10, and homicide was number 15 on the list. Gun violence gets a lot of attention, but it shouldn’t be the only thing on our minds. America has a healthcare, health insurance, and prescription drug crisis – and it’s killing millions every year.

America’s failing healthcare and insurance system will continue to cause more depression and deaths. As more people fill the void of fear and ignorance, because they become more and more desperate, it’s certainly possible to see more violent acts. A large portion of people will likely go untreated or die due to the collapsing Affordable Care Act, which is being purposely disintegrated by political agendas and industry greed. Millions of people feel as if they will receive a death sentence, if politicians turn healthcare into nothing more than a political agenda. America is still arguing over taking care of its own citizens with improved universal healthcare, rather than leaving it as a broken system of expensive privilege.

A large portion of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, which can’t be comfortable or make them happy. We’re insanely busy repeating how owning a lethal weapon is a right but basic healthcare is somehow a privilege. America has all of the signs of a regressive, unhappy, depressed, and financially broke society that isn’t based on sound science. Our problems are getting worse, but not everyone is feeling it… yet.

We are desperate for solutions, but we’re turning to the wrong sources and being taken advantage of by very calculating industries. We go about our lives, but natural disasters and terrorism events seem to constantly remind us that something needs to change. We’re so desperate that we’re taking drugs to erase our memory, ease our pain, and abusing their original short-term purposes. We’re ignoring the root causes of our problems and constantly reacting out of raw emotion. We can’t even think straight, if we’re under the influence of mind-altering substances.

How can we fix a problem, if we’re not willing to admit it exists?

It’s estimated that at least 70% of Americans are on some kind of prescription drug, which is ridiculous and astonishing. This huge number is insane – it should have every scientist, physician, and political leader very concerned. Deadly interactions between prescription painkillers and psychiatric drugs, such as Xanax, account for around 30% of deaths. A large number of children and even toddlers are on potentially dangerous medications. Researchers estimate these numbers are likely much higher due to lack of reporting for this kind of data. (Complete story with scientific sources here)

Legal Drug Dealers

Many general practice doctors and psychiatrists are overprescribing dangerous medications. Experts say that legal prescription drugs are nearing the top for leading causes of death in the US. Many researchers say that we have an overprescription crisis and out of control mental health industry that’s doing more harm than good. In fact, prescription drugs now kill more people than illicit “street” drugs.

There is a strong link between psychiatric medications, gun violence, and other suicides. The linkages are so strong that numerous research papers have been published and lawsuits have been won against those prescribing unnecessary dangerous medications, downplaying the dangerous and deadly side effects of mental health drugs, and the pharmaceutical companies that market them unethically, sometimes hiding the side effects, misleading patients, and even paying doctors to use their failed products.

In 2012, the huge pharma company GlaxoSmithKline settled for $3 billion ($1 billion in criminal) for off-label promotion, failure to disclose safety data (downplaying side effects), paying physicians to push said products on unsuspecting patients, false and misleading advertisement, and false price reporting. This was one of the largest pharma industry lawsuits in US history. Numerous tearful parents reported teen suicides partially driven by the unlawful and unethical actions of pharma companies. Search the science journals and court cases, where you will find ample evidence of drugs playing a huge role in violent acts.

Billions of dollars have been paid in both criminal and civil causes, all involving false side effects reporting, misuse of medications, paying doctors to push meds on patients, wrongful death, suicide, medicare fraud, and poor manufacturing processes. Associated with these practices are some of the most popular (and potentially dangerous) medications out there: Avandia, Wellbutrin, Paxil, Zofran, Lyrica, Risperdal, Depakote, Paxil, Serostim, Seroquel, Zoladex, Neurontin, and Abilify.

The psychiatry industry is inundated with big pharmaceutical influences, which include cash, gifts, traveling, and luxury resort stays. There’s even a website where you can check to see some of the gifts and money your doctors accepts from pharmaceutical industry sources. In fact, pharmaceutical companies often offer free continuing medical education courses, which are often taught by their staff, are heavily biased towards prescribing their products, and gain the influence of thousands of prescribing doctors. This is incredibly unethical and is no different than a judge being bribed to favor an outcome of a court case.

Some doctors are starting to be held accountable for the suicidal and violent tendencies of their patents, especially after drug-induced rages cause them to harm themselves or others. For example, in 2016, a Georgia psychiatrist, Narendra Nagareddy, was arrested and charged with murder after killing 38 of his patients. Several new charges have been filed. He’s not the only bad mental health doctor. Our legal system often makes it harder for innocent patients to sue as well as parents to sue on behalf of their children.

The overprescription crisis is extremely dangerous because it extends into the mental health industry, which seems to be making outrageous sums of money capitalizing on a large amount of unhappy people. Rather than utilize other proven and less dangerous methodologies, it seems there’s a pill for everything in the US and people want a quick fix. Unfortunately, many of the most popular medications today have serious to potentially deadly side effects, which are often ignored or dismissed as rare by prescribing physicians and the mental health drug marketing industry.

Once we take care of the drug problem, we have to dig deeper into how we think. A single factor doesn’t account for our problems today. Complicate problems mean we have to look deeper, involve experts, and prioritize our actions. It would be a good idea to change how we think.

Fear, Emotion, Violence, and Wild Conspiracy Theories

When we make knee-jerk decisions based in fear and ignorance, especially because we’re emotionally charged over a recent event, it’s another sign that we’re filling the void of scientific ignorance. Our leadership bodies don’t have enough scientists within their ranks. Lawmakers, officials, educators, other leaders, and citizens often react out of emotion – partially because we are human. However, reaction out of emotion or political bias alone doesn’t lead to success or solutions. Our decisions must be made using sound science and nothing else. This becomes important for critical matters, such as national security, public health, lowering depression, education, clean air and water, enacting reasonable laws, and protecting our public. Maybe we should employ more competent scientists in these decision roles — and see if there’s a difference.

Nearly anything can be used as a weapon, according to counter-terrorism experts. We’ve seen buses, cars, trucks, and even human bodies being used as weapons of mass destruction. A single chemical release in an area with a lot of people can kill hundreds or thousands. One bomb made from widely available materials can be used as a weapon of mass destruction. Even a computer can cause mass destruction. The 9/11 terrorists used box cutters and airplanes to kill 3,000 people in one day. We know it only takes one person to cause unspeakable damages.

The role of wireless technology and computers will become more prevalent as tools used to deliver mass disruption and destruction, in the future. If we continue our current way of outdated thinking, we may want to begin discussion about outlawing all forms of communication and power generation. This is the reality we haven’t yet acknowledged. New threats develop each year, and we are defenseless without applying sound science.

A rational, scientific-thinking person also knows that we cannot eliminate all risk in life. Life would be dull, oppressive, depressing, and “lifeless” without some risk. There’s risk staying indoors, lying in bed, sitting down, using a computer, leaving your home, shopping, and driving. Fear and ignorance sometimes can dominate people so much that they miss opportunity. Politically, for a free nation, risk reduction is a comprehensive plan that isn’t a matter of left or right politics. It’s not just a matter of gun control, it’s a matter of public policy, healthcare, wages, safe living, higher education, and more happy people. There are complicated linkages between all of these factors. Nobody will know the exact thinking that goes on inside of an individual’s brain, but we know enough to take action. America’s history and dynamics are different than other nations, and in some cases it makes it difficult to compare our policies to others. It’s not as easy as just saying every single issue can be patched by cut-and-pasting an idea from another country — because this would only work if both countries you were trying to compare had a majority of policies primarily based on sound science.

Thinking differently gives us wider perspective. Our very idea of normal may be flawed – especially because social norms in the US aren’t widely based in modern science, at least as of yet. We encourage already hysterical people to report anything odd they see, but they have no training over what exactly is odd, abnormal, or suspicious. This mass hysteria leads to an unknown extreme amount of false reports, empty leads, and endless circles for officials. No doubt, some of the reports are good, but the majority are a waste of resources and time. Because we’re also not living as a scientific nation, our attempt to feel safe is nothing more than knee-jerk reactions (proven failures) for our sea ports, airports, communications system, and schools. Our excessive invasions of privacy and loss of liberties have not proven to be worth their weight.

A guy holds up a recent magazine issue: There’s a war on science in America.

Without having a scientific basis for our decisions or thinking processes, we can’t even begin to identify the problem or reasonable solutions.


Living out of fear and ignorance is the polar opposite of scientific thinking. We’re starting to see information tools like Google, Facebook, and Twitter, arguably some of the most powerful social media communications platforms in the world, being used to rapidly spread digital lynch mob rhetoric, mass hysteria, and hurt innocent people. For example, during the Las Vegas mass shooting of October 1, 2017 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nevada, millions of people were spreading false information about the shooting suspects and victims. This impacted the investigation, news reports, and rescue efforts.

There were pictures and links wrongfully targeting random people that had nothing to do with the shooting. Self-proclaimed internet experts were passing around random Facebook and social media accounts they thought belonged to the suspect and family members – nearly all were proven false. These innocent people were the target of death threats, unwanted media, and unwanted attention from overly emotional masses of people from around the country. They fear for their family’s safety.

Although social media is a great tool to share, it’s being used to propagate the exact fear and ignorance you would expect from such a large amount of scientifically illiterate public. There are also other motives: ratings, misinformation, and entertainment for trolls. Much of the misinformation spread on social media has reached an extremely dangerous level. The void of ignorance is the perfect place to grow wild and crazy conspiracy theories, which are rampantly spreading after terrorist attacks and natural disasters. A basic science understanding, through applying the scientific method, quickly disproves most of the insane conspiracy theories that exist today.

Unfortunately, the lack of basic science means it’s hard to tell fact from fiction. Again, we have a failure to embrace science problem.

Rather than be outraged about cancer, wars, obesity, heart disease, or suicide, a large chunk of the internet and politicians were focused on who was/wasn’t kneeling at NFL football games. People are more concerned about worshiping fabric or other objects. Objects still mean more than people and humanity to far too many people. There are other major issues that you would think are of more importance, both domestically and internationally.

Social media has become the modern digital version of a conventional lynch mob. Thankfully, most people are only typing comments. What’s worrisome is those comments are being read by insane people, willing to act on them, which endangers the lives of millions. In a country full of emotional people that constantly react out of hypocritical blind outrage, fear, and ignorance, it only takes one social media post for people to ruin a person’s live, compromise their security, harm their family, destroy their reputation, or even cause them to commit suicide. This is just another example of a void where science could likely fill it and dramatically reduce mass hysteria and digital lynching.

Complicated Fixes

America has a science crisis. The lack of embracing sound science has given us terrible healthcare problems, endless wars, ongoing pollution issues, high obesity and cancer rates, lots of unhappy people, continuation of blatantly insane conspiracy theories and talk shows that propagate them, endless political bias from both ends of the political spectrum, and more attention than ever before to violent events. Most people have cameras and it’s easy to upload video to the internet, giving millions the chance to see things they may have never experienced before. However, most are looking at today’s current events through the eyes of ignorance, fear, and emotion – sound science is absent from the discussion – and this is our number one problem.

We’re using our most powerful information tools (social media, search engines, etc.) to spread mass hysteria, misinformation, and wild conspiracy theories – which only divides people and ruins relationships.

If you don’t have a basic science background, just what exactly would you believe? It’s scary to think people can be swayed into doing something potentially violent just from hearing imaginary voices or something they were told by a conspiracy theorist host, website, or social media account. But this is where we find ourselves today. A single social media account can do incredible damage, recruit a terrorist, encourage illicit drug manufacturing (unproven home remedies, elixirs, etc.), physically attack innocent people, or spread other misinformation that harms innocent people.

Crazy ideas spread like wildfire through social media.

Without science, we find ourselves unable to defend against misinformation, pseudoscience, terrorism, and other irrational ideologies that lead to these things. Lawmakers act out of fear and emotion, attempting to legislate common sense, which cannot be done. We end up with a police state, prison industrial complex, and an unhappy country. There’s a failure to address where our failures begin.

It’s also scary that without the inability to tell fact from fiction, people take the intellectually lazy way out and just go to a biased source to be told whether something is true or not. Having someone fact-check everything for you because you don’t want to is as anti-intellectual as you can get. This is really dangerous and is also unscientific. The scientific method always involves multiple sources, tests, repetition, verification, strong evidence, theory, scientific education, experience, systematic organization, standardization, and universality – something you will always find lacking from every single conspiracy theory website and self-proclaimed internet expert.

The scientific method isn’t just for scientists in a lab, it’s for everyone and it can be used in nearly every aspect of life: healthy living, efficiency, using smart technology, reducing carbon footprints, cleaning up our environment, enacting laws, economy, trade, security, transportation, clean power, better personal preparedness, and much more. Pseudoscience kills and it also puts ideas into the heads of already weak-minded people that are capable of unspeakable acts. Unfortunately, pseudoscience has even found its way into official science journals and new media, making our science crisis even worse. America needs science more than ever before.

It may come down to a matter of choosing sound science over outdated documents. For many, they are just not willing to update or amend very old laws. No amount of death or destruction will change their minds, which is completely irrational and counterproductive to America’s future survival and advancement in the global arena. We may have to look at more reasonable gun laws, but a large amount of issues are being ignored that focus more on the root cause of problems. An analogy would be people trying to save a burning man from a home on fire, without removing the fuel for the fire, without putting out the fire, and without removing the guy from the home on fire, which puts everyone else at risk as well – everyone dies in the end, and the death count was likely preventable. America’s priorities are baffling to scientists because some of the solutions are very clear and effective, yet they are being ignored again and again.

We’ve let our problems grow for decades. We’ve failed to embrace sound science as a nation. This means our problems continue to get more complicated. Overly emotional people, some who have good but misguided intentions, are reacting out of pure emotion after major events. Sound science doesn’t involve emotions, fear, or ignorance in decision-making, at least it shouldn’t. Our problems are complicated and require an overhaul to our laws, healthcare, education, and economic system, in order to transform them into scientific-based successes.
In an irrational society, feelings are more important than health, progress, security, advancement, or success. Emotions cause some to run around saying “it’s too early to discuss this” or we get our feelings hurt when scientists repeatedly tell us problems and share great solutions. It’s never too early to have a sound science discussion.

No event in life should cause us to halt scientific thoughts, ideas, discussions, or application. We have a crisis that’s killing millions of our fellow Americans. Somehow, the outrage is never applied consistently. It’s the chaos and inconsistency of fear and ignorance that keeps us in a perpetual circle of outrage and emotion. Perpetual outrage and blind emotion are not good qualities for leaders, citizens, news media, scientists, educators, or anyone else.

We also cannot ignore our problems through censorship. Willful ignorance is never the answer. In science, the more objective information we have, the stronger we become. The sooner you learn about something, the more time you have to build upon it. This leads to another fact: public world events, even violent ones, should not be hidden from historical records or online media. People need to live in reality and realize that these events occur daily. As Americans, we live in comfort, observing issues that don’t seem to have any impact on us from the safety of our couches, entertained, and we enjoy fast food services as an impatient society, nothing else seems to matter. We enjoy violent movies, but act shocked when it happens in real life. The irrational thinkers rear their heads after violent events by suggesting we ban books, movies, games, erase history, censor videos, and solve the problem by essentially ignoring it. Some of these superficial actions seem born of genuine motive, but they are never deeper than the surface and they are never effective in the long-term.

We go largely unaware of the violence, hate, and problems that surround us in our own backyards, neighborhoods, cities, states, nation, and around the world. There are humans in other places with problems that require our attention. As individuals and a nation, we are very able to address our most urgent issues and make a difference beyond empty words or repetitive cliché. We are linked in nearly every way to others around us and the rest of the world. It’s important that we know about current events, reality, violence, bloodshed, death, and destruction. Censorship isn’t a scientific quality. We can discuss protecting younger children from seeing realistic war scenes on prime time television, but removing reality from websites, news media, and any other source is a disservice to knowledge, history, education, science, and world progress.

In the case of medicine and mental health, we cannot pick and choose when applying the scientific method. Either something is scientific or it isn’t. It becomes particularly dangerous when pseudoscience (junk science) starts killing our fellow Americans. Professionals everywhere need to start speaking up against this and demanding industry reform. Medicine must be used carefully and appropriately, within the context of sound medical science. Side effects must be truthfully and adequately disclosed to patients so they can make informed decisions. Unnecessary and irresponsible overprescription must stop immediately.

Alternative cognitive behavior therapy must replace the idea that “there’s a pill for everything.” We’re not at the point in medical science that we can treat everything without any negative side effects. This is particularly the case within mental health. Such large amounts of people on prescription drugs is a clear indication of failure to address the underlying issues or prevent them before resorting to deadly drugs. This system of throwing drugs at such subjective issues based on mostly feelings is extremely dangerous — it’s broken and people are dying because of it. Junk science kills.

Our healthcare, mental health, education, economy, and infrastructure are broken. If you look deep enough, you will see that a majority of our problems start in these areas, but we keep ignoring them. We get outraged after an event, display raw emotion, lower our flags, and tell people our “thoughts and prayers” are with them, but then we do nothing tangible to improve or change. The solution is both a top-down and bottom-up one. Individuals have to do their part and the government must transform into something more based upon modern sound science.

The old way of thinking, namely through fear, ignorance, tradition, religion, and superstition, must be replaced by modern thinking that only utilizes the proven utility of sound science. Science has proven itself throughout history and its utility in our lives has only become higher, stronger, and priceless.

When we’re stuck in the past, we hear “it can’t be done”, “that’s socialism”, “that’s communism”, “get a job, if you want healthcare”, and the discussion never moves past thousands of angry people on social media engaged in an endless argument – with no action, change, or improvement to our lives.

One day we will wake up to a better life and we can give some peace to all of the victims (and their family members) of terrorist attacks and natural disasters. We can say this all wasn’t in vain and we haven’t forgotten them. We can tell them we learned something from this and it has made us better, we’ve changed our way of thinking, and we’ve really done things to reduce or prevent it in the future. We can never eliminate risk or natural disasters, but our actions will speak louder than political rhetoric.

People would be so much happier, if we fully embraced sound science as a nation. The sooner we do this, the more we can begin to reduce our problems and increase the amount of happy and healthy people in our country. This will not happen overnight and it will be difficult because it requires a much different way of thinking than we’re used to for so long. How many tragedies and natural disasters does it take to finally convince people to change and accept science? Leaving something we’re so used to doing is difficult, but the benefits clearly outweigh anything else.

More reading: Discussion about junk science in mental health and the harm it does to unsuspecting patients…

More reading: Discussion about failure to embrace sound science: failed infrastructure, disaster preparedness, and insurance industry…

Author: Ben Alonzo is a unique scientist, tech expert, professor, and director of He’s CEO of the sci-tech firm Storm Sector, LLC. Ben holds an M.S. in Information Technology, M.S. in Geoscience, M.S. in Nutrition and Health, and a B.S. in Geoscience. He’s a highly-rated professor that teaches earth science, environmental science, oceanography, meteorology, and public health. His diverse background spans numerous fields, network and computer systems, healthcare, weather forecasting, consumer electronics, and web development. Ben holds numerous professional licenses and certifications, ranging from information technology to healthcare and emergency medical technician. He’s also an FAA-licensed private pilot that loves flying. He’s been writing about science and tech for over 10 years. You can see some of his past articles on the Houston Chronicle, eHow, Hearst, and other networks. In his free time, he loves athletic adventures, scuba diving, traveling, storm chasing, producing videos and writing guitar music. More about author.

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