Reported by: Sonyo Estavillo
Watertown— Over the past decade, the military has spent $1.6 billion on painkillers (opioids) such as Oxycontin and Hydrocodone. $2.7 billion has been spent on anti-depressants and more than $507 million on sleep medications such as Ambien.
According to the National Academy of Sciences, prescription medication has been abused along with alcohol in the last few years. Prescription drug abuse, mostly the use of painkillers tripled since 2002. The military substance abuse program has seen an overall increase in the amount of individuals enrolled in their program.
Since 2006, the number of soldiers who enrolled in the Army’s substance abuse program jumped 40% with 23,000 enrolled in 2010. Research has shown that prescription drug misuse is the second most illicit drug problem next to marijuana in the nation. According to the Army Office of the Surgeon General/Medical Command, the rise of psychotropic medications, as well as opioids is not solely related to Veterans with PTSD.
Soldiers also receive psychotropic medications for sleep disturbances, anxiety issues and depression. The increase in medication use parallels the increase in the amount of soldiers receiving behavioral health care and are therefore in treatment for behavioral health issues.
Per the Army Office of the Surgeon General/Medical Command:
“FDA approved medications, particularly antidepressants such as SSRIs (sertraline, paroxetine, etc.) are effective medications for the treatment of depression, PTSD, and other anxiety disorders. There are a number of other medications that are critical in the treatment of bipolar, schizophrenia, and various other conditions. Medication for these issues may be in tandem with cognitive behavioral therapy or other treatment. Treatment for our soldiers has to be individualized.”
According to the Nation Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA), military physicians writing pain reliever prescriptions to military members quadrupled from 2001 to 2009, nearly 3.8 million. In an ongoing effort to prevent drug abuse and assist military members with anxiety, trauma, depression, and sleep disturbances- the NIDA has made it their mission to continue their research. The main focus of the NIDA’s research is prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and recovery for military men and women who have served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
“In 2012, Jefferson County had 6 opioids overdoses, CDC (Center of Disease and Control) has this formula, that for every death due to prescription drug overdose, there are 10 admission treatments for abuse, 32 emergency room visits, 130 people abusing or dependent, 825 who are non-medical users” said Anita Seefried-Brown, Director of Community Prevention at the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Council of Jefferson County.
According to CDC Formula, 6 overdoses equal the following figures:
· 60 admissions for treatment due to prescription drug abuse
· 192 emergency room visits
· 780 individuals dependent on prescription drugs
· 4,950 non-medical users
From 2006-2009, the Army reported 139 soldiers accidentally took their own lives, while a third of Army suicides were due to prescription medication.
The Army Office of the Surgeon General/Medical Command continued to explain that the Army has worked very hard to decrease the stigma associated with seeking behavioral health care. As a result, more soldiers are being treated for issues that previously might have been dealt with through self-medication and alcohol abuse. An increase in soldiers being treated for PTSD and other psychological issues has also resulted in an increase in medication use.
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