Are Military Suicide Rate Fueled by Prescription Drug Use

Are Military Suicide Rate Fueled by Prescription Drug Use

The men and women who serve the United States in the various branches of the armed forces are more likely to take their own lives than to die in combat in recent years. According to a recent report published in The New York Times, the rate of suicide in the United States military has shot up to where it is even higher than among the civilian population. Whereas the civilian suicide rate in 2009 was 18.8 per 100,000 people, the rate of suicide in the armed forces is as high as 21 per 100,000. This represents an enormous increase in the rates of military suicide, up from 10.3 per 100,000 troops in 2002. In 2012, the total number of suicides among military personnel hit an all-time record, with 349 uniformed service-members taking their own lives last year. To put this in perspective, the number of suicides far exceeded the number of soldiers and other uniformed personnel who died in Afghanistan, which was 295.

In recent years, the term “post-traumatic stress disorder” (PTSD) has become something of a buzzword, replacing “shell-shock” and similar nomenclature to denote the phenomenon of combat veterans returning home in a state of emotional disturbance as a result of witnessing — and participating in — the horrors of war. For most of the years during which the military suicide rate has been steadily climbing, for example from 268 in 2008 to last year’s 349, the reason has been suspected to be PTSD, with soldiers being exposed to the stress of urban combat in Iraq and increasingly long and frequent deployments overseas. A recent report published by the Department of Defense (DOD), however, has demonstrated that PTSD is not necessarily to blame for the largest percentage of suicides in the military.

Whereas it was previously assumed that suicide among armed service members was primarily attributable to PTSD suffered by those who had served in combat, the recent DOD study found a startling fact that seems to turn this assumption on its head. Namely, most of the service-members who killed themselves were people who had never been sent to war. Before looking at the DOD’s research into the alarming rates of suicide, it can be seen that the correlation between combat stress and suicide is a false one. After all, suicide is becoming more common in the armed forces at the same time that combat is becoming less common, with the troops withdrawing from Iraq and scaling down operations in Afghanistan at the same time that the suicide rate is climbing. In support of this observation, the DOD reports that 86 percent of the military personnel who committed suicide in the years between 2008 and 2011 had never been in combat. With so many of the men and women who serve our country choosing to end their own lives — at a rate of nearly one for every day of the year — we as a nation must raise the question of why this is becoming so common. Serving in the armed forces should be a way for a person to achieve self respect and earn honor, as well as setting himself or herself on the path towards a successful and stable career. Why are such a large number of military personnel deciding to commit suicide?

What is Causing the Increase in Military Suicide Rates

A 2010 study performed at Fort Carson, Colorado, involved interviewing 72 service-members who had attempted to commit suicide. Among other things, the researchers asked these men and women why they had chosen to try to take their own lives. Out of a total of 33 possible answers to the question, every single one of the 72 soldiers gave the same response. All of the soldiers had been driven to attempt suicide out of desperation to end their emotional distress. At the same time that military suicides began to increase, another phenomenon was becoming more common in the armed forces: prescription drug abuse.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that in the early 2000s, overall rates of illicit drug use were decreasing. During this period, however, the rates of prescription drug abuse shot up, doubling in the years from 2002 to 2005, and tripling from 2005 to 2008. Abuse of painkillers and sedatives is not the only type of pharmacological problem that may serve as an explanation for the enormous surge in military suicide. According to a report published in Military Times, at least 17 percent of active-duty military personnel are taking antidepressants, as compared with only 10 percent among the civilian population. This, despite the fact that the Food and Drug Administration now requires that pharmaceutical manufacturers place a Black Box warning on the labels for these drugs, specifically cautioning doctors and patients of the proven fact that antidepressants increase the rate of suicide. With so many soldiers, airmen, sailors and corpsmen taking powerful and mind-altering drugs that are known to lead to suicidal thoughts, it should be no surprise to learn that suicide now claims more lives than combat.