During the war in Vietnam, the use of illicit drugs like marijuana and heroin by U.S. military personnel deployed overseas was no secret, as young men were sent to a strange land where the substances were readily available in the midst of a brutal and traumatic conflict.
A new drug-related issue affects soldiers deployed to combat zones. This time, the “pusher” is not always a foreign drug dealer eager to capitalize on new customers, but rather doctors within the medical establishment back home. As more and more American service members face longer deployments wherein they are faced with evermore brutal realities, the medical establishment has demonstrated no whims in mass doping.
According to a recent report by The Los Angeles Times, more than 110,000 active-duty Army troops were taking prescription cocktails on a daily basis with ingredients ranging from prescribed antidepressants, narcotics, sedatives, antipsychotics, anti-anxiety drugs and amphetamines. About 8 percent of active duty Army personnel are taking sedatives and 6 percent antidepressants — eight times more than in 2005.
“We have never medicated our troops to the extent we are doing now… And I don’t believe the current increase in suicides and homicides in the military are a coincidence,” said Bart Billings, a former military psychologist who hosts an annual conference on combat stress.
When service members break under psychological stress and commit suicide or go on shooting rampages, defense lawyers often argue the the soldiers have become the victim of major stress and improper medication. The most recent case is that of Sgt. Robert Bales, the soldier accused of 17 counts of premeditated murder resulting from a nighttime shooting rampage in Afghanistan. Bale’s lawyer recently told The Associated Press that his client had been under treatment for severe anxiety and depression and dealt with pains from past physical injuries for which he also received medication.
Some critics of medicating U.S. service members to the extent that the Defense Department is allowing in order to hold on to manpower as wars perpetuate, say it is being done at high cost to the troops. Suicides compounded by about 80 percent among troops between 2004 and 2008, and a rise in addiction to narcotics is also a growing concern.