By an Army estimate, some 20,000 or more soldiers in the Middle East – nearly 30 percent of the total – are taking prescription antidepressants and sleeping pills to help them “cope” with the stress of battle. A major side effect of antidepressants, an increased risk of suicide, may be why twice as many soldiers commit suicide now than before the war. And for those who survive both the war and the side effects of drugs, drug detox may need to be the first stop when they get home.
The FDA has had official warnings placed on antidepressant labels about the increased risk of suicide among children, adolescents, and even young adults ages 18 to 24, the age group that makes up the majority of our fighting forces. in the Middle East and those most likely to be. he prescribed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac and Zoloft. These antidepressant drugs often lead to dependence and the need to detoxify them to quit safely.
A recent Time magazine article suggests there may be a link between increased antidepressant use and increased troop suicides in Afghanistan and Iraq. By the end of 2007, army suicides had reached 164, double the 2001 rate. The article says that at least 115 soldiers committed suicide last year, including 36 in Iraq and Afghanistan, the highest suicide rate since. which began keeping records in 1980. And nearly 40% of army suicide victims in 2006 and 2007 received psychotropic medications.
An Iraqi veteran told Time that “you continue to use drugs constantly.” He said the drugs combined with the stress of battle create “unfit soldiers … There were more than a few convoys leaving in a total daze.”
Antidepressants have created almost as many problems as they are supposed to solve, and not all scientists agree with their use. For example, a British study confirmed that the new generation SSRIs do not offer clinically significant improvements, and found that they are hardly more effective than any drug. Academics in Britain and the US wonder whether patients with mild and moderate depression, which would include most troubled soldiers, should be prescribed such drugs.
Antidepressants not only lead to dependence and the need for drug detoxification, but are also characterized by serious and dangerous side effects, but have been implicated in hundreds of suicides and violent episodes of various kinds. This has led a growing number of antidepressant users to seek medical drug detox to stop drugs and seek safer forms of therapy.
Meanwhile, some 20,000 soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq are taking prescription drugs for stress, the Time article reports. The Army estimates that the use of licensed drugs is split roughly fifty percent between troops taking antidepressants and those taking prescription sleeping pills like Ambien.
But even medical professionals have their doubts about the practice. Dr. Frank Ochberg of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies asks, “Are we trying to bandage up what is essentially an insufficient fighting force?” And Dr. Joseph Glenmullen of Harvard Medical School perceives a link between army suicides and antidepressant drug use. “The high percentage of US soldiers who attempt suicide after taking SSRIs should raise serious concerns,” he said.
For soldiers in the Middle East, an antidepressant may initially feel like a welcome relief. But like a concealed sniper shot, the lethal damage from antidepressants can strike when you least expect it and with potentially the same results: sudden violence, rage, or suicide. But unlike sniper shooting, there’s an advantage: As long as you’re alive, a medical drug detox program can help you get off the drug safely.