Suicides and personal violence in the military have continued to escalate since some of us first began warning about these problems and their relationship to the simultaneously escalating prescription of psychiatric drugs to active duty soldiers. The Associated Press has reported:
Suicides are surging among America's troops, averaging nearly one a day this year -- the fastest pace in the nation's decade of war.
The 154 suicides for active-duty troops in the first 155 days of the year far outdistance the U.S. forces killed in action in Afghanistan -- about 50 percent more -- according to Pentagon statistics obtained by The Associated Press ... The military also is struggling with increased sexual assaults, alcohol abuse, domestic violence and other misbehavior.
Now the Department of Defense has announced it will be holding a suicide prevention conference in Washington, D.C. on June 20-23. But nowhere in the media coverage nor the description of the conference is there any mention of examining the obvious role of psychiatric drugs, including antidepressants and polydrug treatment.
None of those involved in publicizing the relationships between increasing military suicides and violence and increasing psychiatric drug usage has been invited to present information at the upcoming conference. This seems inexcusable in light of Congressman Bob Filner's (D-CA) hearings on antidepressants and suicide in the military held in D.C. on Feb. 24, 2010. Filner is chair of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs. He decided to hold the hearings after being made aware of my book, Medication Madness: The Role of Psychiatric Drugs in Cases of Suicide, Violence, and Crime. A video of my testimony is available on my website, and retired military psychologist Bart P. Billings' written testimony is available on the hearing's website. In preparation for my testimony I also wrote a paper on "Antidepressant-Induced Suicide, Mania and Violence: Risks for Military Personnel," which was subsequently published.
Estimates vary widely on the numbers of active duty soldiers taking these drugs. In May of this year I made a presentation on psychiatric drugs, suicide and violence at the 20th Annual International Military and Civilian Stress Conference in L.A., organized by Dr. Billings. According to journalist Bob Brewin:
A June 2010 internal report from the Defense Department's Pharmacoeconomic Center at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio showed that 213,972, or 20 percent of the 1.1 million active-duty troops surveyed, were taking some form of psychotropic drug: antidepressants, antipsychotics, sedative hypnotics, or other controlled substances.
Every knowledgeable person I spoke with at this year's military conference believed that the numbers were increasing and now considerably beyond 20 percent for psychiatric medicatons prescribed to active-duty soldiers.
All antidepressants now have a black box warning in their FDA-approved label (package insert) that states that children, youth, and young adults up to age 24 have an increased rate of suicidality when taking these drugs in short-term controlled clinical trials. Of course, young adults up to age 24 includes many soldiers. In addition, the rates will be considerably higher in the army population where the drugs are given for much longer than the six weeks common in clinical trials, where polydrug therapy is routine, where there is often no supervision at all, and even the soldiers' mental health records cannot be tracked. Army regulations permit soldiers to be sent into combat with 180-day supplies of psychiatric medication with no medical supervision. Furthermore, a large body of research confirms an increased risk of suicidality among adults taking antidepressants.
Anyone out there listening? Urge the Department of Defense to give serious consideration to the role of psychiatric drugs in the escalating rates of suicide and personal violence in the military. Our men and women in the armed services, and their families, deserve nothing less.
Peter R. Breggin, MD is a psychiatrist in private practice in Ithaca, New York, and the founder and director of the Center for the Study of Empathic Therapy, Education, and Living. He is author of more than 20 books and dozens of scientific articles. His forthcoming book, Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal: A Guide for Prescribers, Therapists, Patients and Their Families will be published in July of this year by Springer Publishing Company.
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