Late Breaking News
Senate Concerned About Increased Prescription Use in Military
- Categorized in: May 2010
WASHINGTON, DC—A Senate panel voiced concern last month of an apparent increase in prescription drug use in the military. “We have seen recent reports of increased prescription drug use that are deeply troubling,” said Sen Jim Webb, D-VA, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel.
Webb suggested that an increase in prescription drug use may be an indicator of the long-term stress on the military. “Nine years of conflict have stressed our military in ways that were not contemplated at the inception of the all volunteer force.”
Sen Benjamin Cardin, D-MD, who testified before the subcommittee, said that there has been an “alarming increase in the use of antidepressants.” He said that it needs to be determined why there is a spike in the use of prescription drugs in the military.
In 2005, there was a little over 4,000 combat troops using antidepressants, and by 2007 that number grew to over 19,000, he said. He also pointed to an Army report showing that about 12% of troops in Iraq and 17% of those in Afghanistan were taking antidepressants or sleeping pills. “There is a real question as to whether they are receiving the proper medical supervision and the proper monitoring.”
Military Leaders Address Prescription Use
Military medical leaders testified that they are concerned about prescription drug use, but noted there are a variety of factors that could account for an apparent increase, such as an increase in prescription drug use in the nation as a whole. “Men and women of our military are drawn from the population in the United States, and the use of psychotropic medications in the nation as a whole has increased. It is difficult to turn on the television without becoming convinced that you are bipolar or have some other problem for which there is a drug,” said Dr Charles Rice, who is performing the duties of the assistant secretary of defense for Health Affairs.
Navy Surgeon General Vice Adm Adam M Robinson Jr, MD, pointed out that the military has made efforts to decrease the stigma and increase the number of servicemembers receiving mental healthcare, and that their care would include the utilization of prescription medications when needed. “We are making a huge effort to destigmatize mental health issues and their treatment.”
Army Surgeon General Lt Gen Eric Schoomaker, MD, said that he did not think that the prescription drug usage numbers are as high as Cardin stated. He cited data that indicated that between 3% and 6% of soldiers deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan were on a drug for mental health or stress. He said another survey of all services, the 2008 DoD Survey of Health Related Behaviors Among Active Duty Military Personnel, reported that about 8% of the total force (non deployed and deployed) was being treated for anxiety, insomnia, or depression.
There is broader use of sleep medications, Schoomaker acknowledged. He said like many others, he takes the prescription sleeping pill Ambien when he goes overseas, which would likely be reflected in the military’s prescription drug data.
Sen Lindsey Graham, R-SC, an Air Force reservist, stated at the hearing that he was scheduled to do reserve duty overseas on the weekend and that he had already ordered his Ambien. “I feel guilty already. I’m spiking up the numbers.”
Graham and Webb asked if each service could provide more detailed statistics on the use of prescription drugs among their personnel so that Congress would have a clearer idea of the scope of drug usage in the military.