You Don’t Have to Pick Your Poison
By Colin Taufer
January 2019

His final days were spent in a bare jail cell alone — no bed, no mattress, no bench, no sink. His room constantly illuminated by overhead lights, he barely slept — less than 30 minutes over a two day period. He didn’t eat. His toilet was a grate on the floor. Eight days after being admitted and forty pounds lighter, he died covered in his own waste. Marc Moreno was eighteen-years old. He had a history of mental illness.

How does it happen that a teen going through the most desperate time of his young life, a time when he deserves the greatest compassion and care, breathes his final breath locked up, naked, and abandoned on a cold hard floor?

According to the Tri-City Herald, on March 3, 2016, “police were called to take Moreno to a Tri-City hospital for treatment, but he ended up arrested on misdemeanor warrants for driving with a suspended license and failing to transfer a car title within 45 days of a purchase. He was booked into the county jail.”

What happened to Marc Moreno is a worst case scenario of what can transpire when good people in law enforcement are put in the impossible position of having to treat the mentally ill. Unfortunately, jails are becoming the place to warehouse and treat more and more of America’s mentally ill.

The largest mental health facilities in the country are not hospitals or clinics or private practices. They are the biggest jails in the biggest cities, like Rikers Island in New York, Los Angeles County Jail in California, and Miami-Dade County Jail in Florida. Miami’s alone holds more than 2,400 inmates that require treatment every day — about 55% of its total inmate population.

When it comes to treating mental health, we seem to be left with a pick-your-poison choice. On one hand we have the unscientific labeled-and-drugged-for-life choice of the toxic psych wards and hospitals of big pharma, and on the other we have jails, clearly ill-suited to the task yet doing the best they can to clean up the failures of the very same toxic psych wards and hospitals of big pharma.

But there is another option, one where toxic psych wards and hospitals can be shut down and jails can be returned to their true purpose of upholding law and order in society.

There is an entire community of doctors, therapists, and hospitals devoted to drug-free, empathetic treatment of mental illnesses. Long overshadowed by the toxic psychiatry most know today, empathetic treatment has been available in the United States since the 1800s. In fact, as early as 1841 there were sixteen private and public asylums around the country that promised to provide moral treatment to the mentally ill.

Robert Whitaker, in his excellent book Mad in America, detailed the kind and effective approach of these asylums: “By treating the mentally ill in this manner, it was hoped that they would regain the ability to control their behavior and their thoughts, and through the application of their will, maintain their recovery even after discharge. The basic therapeutic principle, said Dr. Eli Todd, superintendent at the Hartford Retreat, was ‘to treat [the insane] in all cases, as far as possible, as rational beings.’”

Whitaker added, “Moral treatment appeared to produce remarkably good results. Hartford Retreat announced that twenty-one of twenty-three patients admitted in its first three years recovered with this gentle treatment. At McLean Hospital, 59 percent of the 732 patients admitted between 1818 and 1830 were discharged as ‘recovered,’ ‘much improved,’ or ‘improved.’”

Today groups such as the Institute for Progressive Medicine, The American College for the Advancement of Medicine, the Institute for Functional Medicine, and the Walsh Research Institute offer alternative approaches to mental health therapy. Craig Wagner’s book Choices in Recovery presents 27 non-drug approaches for treating adult mental health.

Imagine a world where toxic psych wards and hospitals are a thing of the past, shameful relics of long ago.

Imagine a world where law enforcement just enforced laws.

Imagine a world where empathetic mental health treatment is the norm.

Imagine a world where Marc Moreno is laughing with his family, enjoying his life.


Colin Taufer


Welcome to my monthly column. I am a career educator, writer and lifelong advocate for human rights. With each article, I hope to shine a light into the dark world of psychiatry to make stronger champions of human rights, to stir into action, to enlighten. As always, I appreciate feedback from readers. I can be reached at Colin@PsychSearch.net.




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