Time Story on the Medicated Army

Fighting low morale with SSRIs. The gist of the story in last week’s Time magazine is that the army is using SSRIs to combat battle fatigue and low morale. A disturbing conclusion that one might take away from the article is that the use of SSRIs, used to extend deployments, might actually contribute to the high incidence of PTSD — arguably a more damaging condition that depression. There is a high rate of PTSD among troops who have been deployed two or three or more times to Afghanistan or Iraq.

A new deployment model: As one army source commented this changes the model of how long troops can be deployed:

“Colonel Joseph Horam says antidepressants have made “a striking difference” in the way troops are treated in war….In the Persian Gulf War, we didn’t have these medications, so our basic philosophy was ‘three hots and a cot'” — giving stressed troops a little rest and relaxation to see if they improved. “If they didn’t get better right away, they’d need to head to the rear and probably out of theater.” But in his most recent stint in Baghdad in 2006, he treated a soldier who guarded Iraqi detainees. “He was distraught while he was having high-level interactions with detainees, having emotional confrontations with them — and carrying weapons,” Horam says. “But he was part of a highly trained team, and we didn’t want to lose him. So we put him on an SSRI, and within a week, he was a new person, and we got him back to full duty.

Treating PTSD with SSRIs? Since a large number of veterans are being diagnosed with PTSD. The piece raises the question about whether SSRIs are being used to treat that disorder. This is an important question since SSRIs have never been shown to be effective in treating PTSD. They might function as a band-aid at best.

Chris LeJeune could have told them that. When he returned home in May 2004, he remained on clonazepam and other drugs. He became one of 300,000 Americans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and suffer from PTSD or depression. “But PTSD isn’t fixed by taking pills — it’s just numbed,” he claims now. “And I felt like I was drugged all the time.” So a year ago, he simply stopped taking them.

Suicide and SSRIs. And the article also examines a possible link between suicide and the use of SSRIs, although it’s careful to note that it’s not clear that this is a direct link (i.e. causal). With antidepressants being handed out like candy, the statistic may not be as surprising as they appear at first glance, but they certainly give pause:

Nearly 40% of Army suicide victims in 2006 and 2007 took psychotropic drugs — overwhelmingly, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Prozac and Zoloft.

Check out the story here. The graphic is priceless.

Kalea Chapman, Psy.D.

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One thought on “Time Story on the Medicated Army

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