Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), testified today 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.
“As a nation, 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. Only through a proper scientific study can we connect the dots to determine if DOD is prescribing anti-depressants to its service members appropriately.
“The statistics we have 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. In 2009, an unprecedented 160 active duty Army suicides were reported, representing a 15 percent increase over the previous year. Why has there been such a large increase in the use of antidepressants among our combat troops? Are 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.
“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 due diligence dictates that Congress utilize its oversight authority in this matter and investigate whether current policies regarding 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.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has expressed concern about many of the same anti-depressants (SSRIs) that are routinely given to our troops. Because of the FDA's concerns, drug manufacturers have revised their warning labels to state that young adults - 18-24 years old - may be at an elevated risk of suicidal thought and behavior while using these medications. Approximately 41 percent of our military forces serving on the front lines in Afghanistan and Iraq are within this same age range. In addition, 40 percent of Army suicide victims in 2006 and 2007 are believed to have taken some type of anti-depressant medication.