Medicating the military has deadly side effects


We have a serious problem in the military: The troops are using psychotropic drugs heavily, which can result in "aberrant behavior,"other health issues, and even death. Prescription drugs are being taken by military members who suffer from stress, depression, anxiety, you name it, and all too often those who take them are suffering not only from the effects of the drugs themselves, but from neglect by those who should be monitoring them.

War wounds are both physical and psychological, but the harm and devastation caused by so-called remedies often go unnoticed.

The L.A. Times has a front page, above-the-fold report that is a must-read:

After two long-running wars with escalating levels of combat stress, more than 110,000 active-duty Army troops last year were taking prescribed antidepressants, narcotics, sedatives, antipsychotics and anti-anxiety drugs, according to figures recently disclosed to The Times by the U.S. Army surgeon general. Nearly 8% of the active-duty Army is now on sedatives and more than 6% is on antidepressants — an eightfold increase since 2005.

One huge problem is that once a soldier is treated, he isn't examined after having been on prescribed drugs for extended periods, and so he or she can become addicted:

Follow-up appointments in the battlefield are often few and far between. Soldiers are sent out on deployment typically with 180 days' worth of medications, allowing them to trade with friends or grab an entire fistful of pills at the end of an anxious day. And soldiers with injuries can easily become dependent on narcotic painkillers. [...]

[T]he modern Army psychiatrist's deployment kit is likely to include nine kinds of antidepressants, benzodiazepines for anxiety, four antipsychotics, two kinds of sleep aids, and drugs for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to a 2007 review in the journal Military Medicine.

Some drugs, like mefloquine, which is used in Afghanistan to treat malaria, can cause paranoia, suicidal thoughts, and violent anger.

"Prior to the Iraq war, soldiers could not go into combat on psychiatric drugs, period. Not very long ago, going back maybe 10 or 12 years, you couldn't even go into the armed services if you used any of these drugs, in particular stimulants," said Peter Breggin, a New York psychiatrist who has written widely about psychiatric drugs and violence.

"But they've changed that.... I'm getting a new kind of call right now, and that's people saying the psychiatrist won't approve their deployment unless they take psychiatric drugs."

Reliance on prescription drugs is all too common among civilians, but the damage to the troops is also more than a little worrisome. Sleeplessness, the extreme anxiety of being in combat, and other symptoms are increasingly being treated with pills and then overlooked or even forgotten.

The Times' report gives example after example of families being destroyed, elevated risks of suicides, misdiagnoses that resulted in killings, becoming incapacitated, accidental overdoses, and more.

Even Republicans have to agree that, at least in cases like these, more oversight, not less, can be beneficial, to say the least. When human beings are put in situations of killing other human beings, when they are face to face with the ravages of war, a little extra supervision and care can mean the difference between life and death.