Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), who in 2009 first introduced legislation to study the increased use of antidepressants among our combat troops and what impact these drugs may be having on the mental health of our troops, today lauded the start of a new multi-site clinical trial utilizing PEER interactive that will finally help determine if DOD is prescribing anti-depressants to its service members appropriately and what is the best form of treatment for Depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and related mental health conditions.
“For years, I have been troubled by the deteriorating mental health of so many of our combat troops and the potential correlation between widely used prescription medications and the record-high suicide rate among active-duty soldiers. We ask so much of our men and women in uniform without knowing the full extent of the mental trauma inflicted by combat. We can take steps to limit multiple deployments and extended separations, but we also must work to remedy the strains and deteriorating mental health of so many of our combat troops,” Senator Cardin said.
“I am proud to announce that Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD, will begin using its new technology, PEER Interactive to help identify how we can best help the mental health of our brave military men and women. PEER Interactive is an emerging technology designed to support physicians in identifying the best treatments for certain psychiatric disorders. During the clinical trial, military physicians will treat 2,000 volunteer study patients with a primary diagnosis of Depression. The patients may also have comorbid disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), and other psychiatric disorders.
“The mental health and well-being of those who have volunteered to serve our Nation must remain one of our highest priorities. There is more work to do and we will use this data in this study to continue to strengthen suicide prevention and overall mental health efforts.”
The statistics are disturbing. From 2005-2008 — the last year full data were provided by DOD — there was a 400 percent increase in the prescription of antidepressants and other drugs used to treat anxiety. Just two weeks ago, the military released data showing that suicides among those on active duty hit a record high in 2012. There were 349 suicides among active duty personnel – almost one a day and the highest since the Pentagon began tracking numbers in 2001 and exceeds the 295 Americans who died in combat in Afghanistan last year. It’s not only our Active Duty Members, but our veterans as well. According to a recent report from the Department of Veterans Affairs that examined suicide data from 1999 to 2010, almost once an hour – every 65 minutes to be precise – a military veteran commits suicide. “We need to know why has there been such a large increase in the use of antidepressants among our combat troops and whether or not these soldiers receiving proper medical supervision. We must gain a better understanding of the relationship between the use of antidepressants and the alarming rate of suicides within the military,” Senator Cardin added.
“DOD has made significant strides in addressing its pre-deployment health care screenings and post-deployment health care follow-ups and treatment, when necessary. It also has taken many positive steps towards de-stigmatizing the process of seeking and obtaining mental health care for our troops. But the use of prescription antidepressant drugs – most notably those known to have adverse side effects – pose an unacceptably high risk to our troops, particularly while they are serving in forward operating areas. My concern is not the long-term efficacy of these drugs, but the volume and manner in which these drugs are being administered to our troops overseas.”
Senator Cardin testified in 2010 before the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee to voice his concerns about the use of antidepressants among our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and ongoing questions about whether there is a connection between the reported use of such prescription medications and the record-high suicide rate among active-duty soldiers.