Of the many tag lines I’ve seen as part of people’s electronic signatures, the most apt for this post is this one:
“I used to care about stuff. Now I have a pill for that.”
Sergeant Christopher LeJeune was anxious and depressed after long duty on Baghdad’s dangerous streets. He often had to collect enemy dead from houses he had attacked. Sometimes there were tiny shoes and toys scattered around. The whole package was starting to get to him. So the Army took care of his problem:
While the headline-grabbing weapons in this war have been high-tech wonders, like unmanned drones that drop Hellfire missiles on the enemy below, troops like LeJeune are going into battle with a different kind of weapon, one so stealthy that few Americans even know of its deployment. For the first time in history, a sizable and growing number of U.S. combat troops are taking daily doses of antidepressants to calm nerves strained by repeated and lengthy tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. The medicines are intended not only to help troops keep their cool but also to enable the already strapped Army to preserve its most precious resource: soldiers on the front lines. Data contained in the Army’s fifth Mental Health Advisory Team report indicate that, according to an anonymous survey of U.S. troops taken last fall, about 12% of combat troops in Iraq and 17% of those in Afghanistan are taking prescription antidepressants or sleeping pills to help them cope. Escalating violence in Afghanistan and the more isolated mission have driven troops to rely more on medication there than in Iraq, military officials say. (Mark Thompson, Time Magazine)
Use of SSRI antidepressants has been linked to suicidal behavior. The FDA requires a black box warning to that effect on this medication. Suicide rates among Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers and veterans are at record levels and there is increasing talk outside the military that the profligate use of antidepressants is a factor. But the military is deaf to this concern because it is using these pills to solve a practical problem. They don’t have enough personnel. It is a problem they created. So they literally ask the wounded to soldier on. But people treated with SSRIs need to be followed carefully and medication adjusted or new ones tried if there are signs of adverse effects. This doesn’t happen on the battlefield. These pills are just bandaids for serious wounds.
I know the propaganda that would be churned out if we determined our adversaries were drugging their fighters. Apparently it’s OK if we do it. More importantly, our citizens are being wounded and we are sending them back without healing them. We are giving them the mental health equivalent of painkillers so they can continue to fight. Doctors who do this are a disgrace and the Army medical corps worse than a disgrace. This is not only malpractice but the unethical practice of medicine. They should have their stateside medical licenses revoked.
The fact that it won’t happen doesn’t mean it shouldn’t.