Posted : Thursday Jul 23, 2009 11:32:42 EDT
The Senate on Wednesday ordered an independent study to determine whether an increase in military suicides could be the result of sending troops into combat while they are taking antidepressants or sleeping pills.
Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., who pushed for the study, said he does not know whether there is a link, but he believes prescription drug use, especially when it is not closely supervised by medical personnel, needs a closer look.
“One thing we should all be concerned about is that there are more and more of our soldiers who are using prescription antidepressant drugs … and we are not clear as to whether they are under appropriate medical supervision,” Cardin said.
The problem, he said, is that some antidepressants “take several weeks before they reach their full potential,” and during that time there is a risk of increased suicidal thoughts among 18- to 24-year-olds — an age group that includes many service members.
When people taking antidepressants are deployed, they may not be under close medical supervision, especially if they are in a unit that is on the move in combat, Cardin said.
“Surveys … have shown that as many as 12 percent of those who are serving in Iraq and 17 percent of those who are serving in Afghanistan are using some form of prescribed antidepressant or sleeping pills,” Cardin said. “That would equal 20,000 of our service members.”
By voice vote, the Senate approved a Cardin-sponsored amendment to the 2010 defense authorization bill that would order an independent study by the National Institute of Mental Health on the potential relationship between suicide or suicide attempts and the use of antidepressants, anti-anxiety and other behavior-modifying prescription drugs.
That study is expected to take two years. In the meantime, Cardin’s amendment also would require a report every June from 2010 through 2015 giving the number and percentages of troops who are serving or have served in Iraq or Afghanistan who had prescriptions for antidepressants or similar drugs.
The reports would not include names or any specifics that would identify the service members, Cardin said. “We protect their individual privacy,” he said. “There is no stigma attached at all to this survey.”