Post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries and depression are common afflictions among soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. By some estimates, more than 300,000 returning veterans have reported such problems.
To treat these patients, military doctors, following the lead of their civilian counterparts, often use powerful psychiatric drugs and painkillers.
But, according to The New York Times, the widespread reliance on medications, along with the ways some drugs interact, are causing problems of their own. The drugs and drug cocktails increasingly are being linked to drug dependency, suicides and fatal accidents among military veterans.
According to the U.S. Army, in 2009 a record 162 active-duty soldiers committed suicide, with one-third of the cases connected to prescription drug use. An additional 101 soliders were killed accidentally by drug combinations that proved deadly.
“I’m not a doctor, but there is something inside that tells me the fewer of these things we prescribe, the better off we’ll be,” Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the vice chief of staff of the Army who has headed efforts to prevent suicides, told the Times.
In response, the Army has established new procedures regarding prescription drugs, including thorough reviews of cases involving soldiers simultaneously taking more than four medications. The military has also taken measures to prevent troops from stockpiling drugs, a common source of overdoses.
In addition to the health consequences of the reliance on pharmaceuticals, the financial burden has also grown: According to one study, military spending on psychiatric drugs tallied $280 million in 2010, double the total in 2001.