Since the Killing of 17 Afghan Civilians, the Debate of Soldiers on Prescription Medication Has Come to the Forefront
The debate of substance abuse in the military has risen to the forefront of the news lately, with the killing of 17 Afghan civilians and also with 8 opiate overdose deaths among soldiers in Afghanistan. This article explores prescription medication that is often prescribed to soldiers for mental illnesses. Two sides of the coin are presented here, in this debate over prescribing psychotropic or mood altering medications to our soldiers.
The debate on the effectiveness of prescription drugs for soldiers has been heating up since Robert Bales killed 17 Afghan civilians. According to PRI.org, Bales' attorney has asked for a list of the medications his client took at the time of the shooting. So far, there has been no confirmation that the shooter was on any drugs.
Last year, more than 100,000 active-duty Army troops were prescribed anti-depressants, narcotics, sedatives, anti-psychotics, or anti-anxiety drugs. The director of the National Center for Veterans Studies, David Rudd, claimed stress is part of the job in the military. He said, "Part of the issue is that we have to think about and consider what the demands are on the force, that 10 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan and now continuing conflict in Afghanistan has strained the force so significantly that oftentimes what you see is that policy is sometimes dictated by demands, and that means having an adequate number of people to meet the demands of the job."
Bart Billings, a former military psychologist, questioned the effectiveness of prescription drug use for soldiers. He claims that anti-psychotics and anti-depressants are not effective in treating combat stress, and the side effects could be disastrous. Billings claims that these medications can cause suicidally, poor judgement, and anger and hostility that could translate into homicide.
Billings cites a Los Angeles Times' story, describing a soldier who suffered from polysubstance-induced delirium from a combination of alcohol, sleep deprivation, and Dexedrine. He was prescribed the dexedrine by a military doctor. He lost control and began striking a friend in the head, thinking that he was being kidnapped. When the woman giving him a ride pulled the car over, the soldier assaulted her, allegedly looking for terrorists. He grabbed her keys, and took off in her car. He was later charged with auto theft, drunk driving, and two counts of assault.
David Rudd disputes Billings' claims, and he believes medication is necessary in many cases. He does say that they do not want people on these medications for an infinite amount of time, but he has seen these medications save lives. Billings, on the other hand, said he has learned in 30 years as a military psychologist that he should first ask soldiers, "What kind of medication are you on?"
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