Washington, DC – The U.S. Senate today, by voice vote, adopted an amendment (#1475) to the
National Defense Authorization Act authored by
U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) that would mandate a study of the increased use of antidepressants among our combat troops and what impact these drugs may be having on the mental health of our troops. All information collected by the study would be at a macro level and would in no way jeopardize the privacy of any individual’s health care or health information. Senator Cardin offered the amendment in response to the alarming increase in suicides and attempted suicides among active military.
“I am deeply troubled by the deteriorating mental health of so many of our combat troops. Multiple deployments, extended separations from family and loved ones, the overwhelming stress of combat experiences, and other factors, each have placed a unique and tremendous strain on the men and women of our all-volunteer force,”
said Senator Cardin.
“While Congress has recognized the strains of prolonged war, and acted to help provide relief by increasing the size of our forces and thereby reducing the number and frequency of deployments, we cannot as easily remedy the stress or mental trauma created by combat experience.
This apparently has led to a potentially harmful practice of the Department of Defense (DOD) administering antidepressants to a population that frequently moves throughout a theatre of war and is therefore susceptible to gaps in mental health management.
“It is imperative that we determine if DOD is
prescribing anti-depressants to its service members appropriately, including the necessary observation by a highly trained mental health provider.
My concern is not the long-term efficacy of these drugs, but the sheer volume and manner in which these drugs are being administered to our service men and women overseas.
“The men and women serving in our military – and equally so, their families – deserve our utmost assurance that we are doing everything in our power to see that our Nation’s war fighters are provided the best medical care available.
An integral part of our commitment, therefore, must also be to ensure that these same men and women, volunteering to serve our Nation, are not being exposed to what may potentially endanger them when they seek the medical care and mental help they need.”
A 2007 report by the Army’s Fifth Mental Health Advisory Team indicated that, according to an anonymous survey of U.S. troops, about 12 % of combat troops in Iraq, and 17 % of combat troops in Afghanistan, are taking prescription antidepressants – mainly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) – or sleeping pills to help them cope with this stress.
This equates to roughly 20,000 troops on such medications in theatre right now.
Many of these same antidepressants, after strong urging by the FDA, recently expanded their warning labels to state that young adults – ages 18-24 years old – may be at an elevated risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior while using the medication.
This same age group – 18-24 years old – represents 41% of our military forces serving on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly 40% of Army suicide victims in 2006 and 2007 are believed to have taken some type of antidepressant drugs – and overwhelmingly these SSRIs.
Among other provisions, Senator Cardin’s amendment directs the Department of Defense to capture – at a macro level and without divulging or violating any protected patient health information – the volume and types of antidepressants, psychotropics or anti-anxiety drugs being prescribed to our men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It will also require DoD, beginning in June of 2010 and then annually thereafter through 2015, to report to Congress an accurate percentage of those troops, currently or previously deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2005, that have been prescribed these types of drugs.