Arizona Daily Star
March 26, 2010
A group of U.S. senators has raised concern that the use of antidepressants and other prescription drugs for treatment of mental disorders is on the rise in the military, particularly among troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., who led the Senate Armed Services Committee’s personnel subcommittee hearing in Washington this week, said the apparent increase in prescriptions is “on its face, pretty astounding and troubling.”
Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., who has been speaking out for months about the rise in prescribed drugs and how they may be harmful to younger soldiers, said at the hearing that the military needs to examine whether increased use of medicines has any link to an increase in military suicides.
Department of Defense statistics show that from 2005 to 2008, “there was a 400 percent increase in the prescription of antidepressants and other drugs used to treat anxiety,” Cardin said. And a 2007 Army report showed that about 12 percent of combat troops in Iraq and 17 percent of those in Afghanistan were taking antidepressants or sleeping pills.
In 2009, 160 active-duty Army suicides were reported – a 15 percent increase from the previous year, Cardin said.
“We need the Department of Defense’s help in trying to understand what is happening,” he said. “We have a lot of dots, but we haven’t connected the dots.”
Top medical officers who testified at the hearing took issue with some of Cardin’s statistics but acknowledged that there has been an increase in the use of psychotropic drugs prescribed to treat mental disorders.
“The use of psychotropic medication in the nation as a whole has increased,” said Charles Rice, the acting assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.
“It’s difficult to turn on the television without being convinced that you’re bipolar or have some other problem for which there is a drug ready-made for you.”