A nice even-handed report on the rising use of prescriptions drugs in the military by Melody Petersen in Men’s Health magazine.
The title of the story is U.S. military: Heavily armed and medicated. The title is a flashy one, to be sure. The story leads off with a Marine who woke up 200 meters from his sleeping quarters and unaware of how he got there.
[Corporal Michael Cataldi’s] ordeal was not all that remarkable for a person on that anti-anxiety medication. In the lengthy labeling that accompanies each prescription, Klonopin users are warned against abruptly stopping the medicine, since doing so can cause psychosis, hallucinations, and other symptoms. What makes Cataldi’s story extraordinary is that he was a U. S. Marine at war, and that the drug’s adverse effects endangered lives — his own, his fellow Marines’, and the lives of any civilians unfortunate enough to cross his path.
Now, I certainly don’t want to minimize the issue. It’s clear that our troops have been under a lot of stress for extended periods of time and that problems are not unheard of. But the story notes that 12% and 15% of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan (respectively) reported “taking antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, or sleeping pills” and I’m not sure if this number is unexpectedly large or not.
The Marine that led off the story is a mechanic. Not to look down on mechanics, but I’m sure that if the writer had found a sensational story about a machine gunner or pilot wigging out, she would have used that instead. Apparently, nothing exciting enough turned up.
There there’s this:
Colonel Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, M. D., M. P. H., a psychiatrist and the medical director of the strategic communication directorate in the Office of the Army Surgeon General, acknowledges that writing more prescriptions for frontline troops was a change in direction for the Pentagon. “Twenty years ago,” she says, “we weren’t deploying soldiers on medications.”
Really? Soldiers on medications weren’t deployed to Panama? I’ll bet at least a couple were.