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We put so much trust, faith, and hope into our Armed Forces, yet we rarely pay enough attention to their health and overall happiness after they finish their service. There is a horrendous crisis and problem in how we take care of our military veterans and it displays itself in their overall health from a physical and mental standpoint after their service. More specifically, they have an incredible tendency to become addicted to the drugs that we prescribe them, but are supposed to help them.

Statistically speaking, roughly 45% of Americans who serve in America’s military come home with some form of PTSD. This manifests itself in lots of different ways, but unfortunately there’s usually only one treatment. That treatment is highly powerful and highly addictive psychotropic medication.

Mind altering psychiatric medication however is not the answer for a military veteran who is struggling with a return to normal civilian life. What he needs is therapy, counseling, and assistance in readjusting to a different lifestyle. This is truly what is going to help him most, but the current status quo is to simply dope them up with pills instead. This is proven to not be the right answer but the wrong one by the simple fact that more military servicemen and servicewomen die from the suicide than that they commit after their time is served than actually die in active service. Suicide is one of the top side effects of psychiatric medications too, coincidentally.

Members of the armed forces are not by any means at all immune to the substance use problems that affect the rest of society just because they are hardened soldiers. Although illicit drug use is definitely lower amongst U.S. military personnel than it is amongst civilian individuals, heavy alcohol and tobacco use, and especially prescription drug abuse, are much more prevalent and are on the rise in fact, with almost half of all ex-military and active military both having addiction problems to either alcohol or prescription drugs.

Substance abuse is particularly prevalent amongst those military personnel with multiple deployments and combat exposure to any degree.  These individuals are statistically speaking at the greatest risk of developing substance use problems of one kind or another. They are more apt to engage in:

• Heavy weekly drinking and binge drinking
• Alcohol and other drug-related problems
• Greater prescribed use of behavioral health medications
• Resulting abuse of those prescription drugs

The Ruthless Dichotomy

When it comes to military men and women, their statistics when it comes to staying away from illegal drugs like marijuana, heroin, cocaine, crack, meth, stimulants, hallucinogens, etc. are incredibly good as compared to civilian rates.  In fact, according to the 2008 Department of Defense (DOD) Survey of Health Related Behaviors among Active Duty Military Personnel:

“Just 2.3 percent of military personnel were past-month users of an illicit drug, compared with 12 percent of civilians. Among those age 18–25, (who are most likely to use drugs), the rate among military personnel was 3.9 percent, compared with 17.2 percent among civilians.”

Here’s where it gets messy though.  From a distance it looks like military individuals are pretty well off when it comes to staying away from substance abuse.  However, in spite of the low level of actual illicit drug use, the abuse of prescription drugs is incredibly higher among service members than among civilians and is on the increase too, and has been since the turn of the century. Again from the DOD:

“In 2008, no less than twenty percent of service members reported misusing prescription drugs, which was up from just two percent in 2002 and only four percent in 2005. Most of the prescription drugs misused by service members are opioid pain medications, but a lot are psychiatric medications too.”

This cruel and brutal treatment of our armed forces lies in a completely misconstrued idea of how to help soldiers cope with the difficulties that go along with that lifestyle.  The greater overall availability of the medications themselves and skyrocketing increases in prescriptions for them are what overall tends to contribute to their growing misuse by service men and women:

“Pain reliever prescriptions written by military physicians quadrupled between 2001 and 2009, (to almost 3.8 million). Combat-related injuries and the strains from carrying heavy equipment during multiple deployments likely play a role in this trend, but it’s the mis-prescribing them and the fact that the drugs are addictive to begin with that creates the addiction crisis.”

What Happens When Soldiers Abuse Drugs

One word happens when a solider or retired soldier becomes addicted to drugs, especially to prescription drugs.  That word is suicide.  Suicide rates in the military have been probably the single most concerning problem with the American military of the last almost two decades.  Suicide rates were actually traditionally lower than they were amongst civilians in the same overall age range, but in the year 2004, (just three years after American pharmaceutical companies increased the production of prescription drugs by three-hundred percent), the suicide rate in the U.S. Army began to climb, surpassing the civilian rate in 2008, and continuing to climb year after year to its current position at more than three times that of the civilian rate.

Substance abuse is involved in the vast majority of these suicides.  Truthfully, it almost always has to do with a pill of some kind or another.  In the early part of the year of 2013, the official website of the United States Department of Defense announced to all of us that the overall number of military suicides in the year of 2012 had by a long shot far exceeded the total number of those killed in battle, with about 8000 soldiers killing themselves every year.

Even though the U.S. Secretary of Defense called suicide in the military a legitimate, “epidemic”, nothing has been done to cut back on prescribing these individuals the drugs that pushing them to commit suicide.  What’s worse, these suicides almost have nothing to do with active duty, as the facts reveal that 85% of military suicides have not seen combat, and 52% have never even been deployed!

What to Do About It

Soldiers do what they’re told, so when a soldier, active duty or no, deployment or no, current serviceman or no, is told to take a pill, he or she will probably take it.  The American pharmaceutical industry makes billions off of hooking millions of American servicemen and women on their pills, and the result is rampant addiction and continuous suicides.

The way to address this issue is two-fold.  First we have to focus on prevention.  This involves informing and educating military personnel on these actions of medical malpractice and in what is being done to them, and informing higher-ups in military command within the DOD what is really happening so that the military stops pushing drugs on their own soldiers.  Furthermore, action must be taken against those who would hook soldiers on, “legally addictive”, drugs.

The second phase is to effectively rehabilitate those who are currently addicted to these drugs, and to do so before they kill themselves too.  There is a definitive timeline here, so this second stage needs to be implemented in tandem to the first one.  The best way to rehabilitate an addicted military individual is with inpatient, residential treatment.

With prevention and rehabilitation this crisis can be averted finally.  Our servicemen and women deserve our deepest thanks, support, appreciation, and respect, not our addictive drugs.

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