As U.S. military leaders gathered Wednesday to give their latest update on the rash of Army suicides, new questions are being raised about a U.S. Central Command policy that allows troops to go to Iraq and Afghanistan with up to a six-month supply of psychotropic drugs. Prescription drugs have already been linked to some military suicides, and a top Army official warned last year about the danger of soldiers abusing that medication. Psychiatrists are now coming down hard on the military for continuing to sanction certain psychotropic drugs for combat troops, saying the risk from side effects is too great. “There’s no way on earth that these boys and girls are getting monitored on the field,” said Dr. Peter Breggin, a New York-based psychiatrist who has extensively studied the side effects of psychiatric drugs. “The drugs simply shouldn’t be given to soldiers.”
Army leaders are increasingly concerned about the growing use and abuse of prescription drugs by soldiers, but a Nextgov investigation shows a U.S. Central Command policy that allows troops a 90- or 180-day supply of highly addictive psychotropic drugs before they deploy to combat contributes to the problem.
Drug formulary includes drugs like Valium and Xanax, used to treat depression, as well as the antipsychotic Seroquel, originally developed to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, mania and depression.
Dr. Grace Jackson, a former Navy psychiatrist, told Nextgov she resigned her commission in 2002 “out of conscience, because I did not want to be a pill pusher.”
Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin sent a letter Tuesday to Defense Secretary Robert Gates expressing concern about how antidepressant drugs are being administered troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Cardin was concerned that there may be a connection between the use of those medications and the suicide rate among troops.