Medicating the Military Backfires

by | Mar 2, 2011

Recent military deaths are not all the result of what one would expect – violent combat – but, in an increasing number of cases, from medications being prescribed to “help” soldiers. 
 The NY Times article of Feb 12, 2011, By James Dao, Benedict Carey and Dan Frosch, tells the story of tragic deaths of veterans from overdosed “meds”:  


“…For Some Troops, Powerful Drug Cocktails Have Deadly Results


Senior Airman Anthony Mena

Senior Airman Anthony Mena in Baghdad, 2007


 “…Senior Airman Anthony Mena in Baghdad in 2007. After his death in 2009, a toxicologist found eight prescription medicationsin his blood.


“Airman Mena died … in his Albuquerque apartment, on July 21, 2009, five months after leaving the Air Force on a medical discharge. A toxicologist found eight prescription medications in his blood, including three antidepressants and a sedative, asleeping pill and two potent painkillers.


“Yet his death was no suicide, the medical examiner concluded. What killed Airman Mena was not an overdose of any one drug, but the interaction of many. He was 23….


“On Jan. 29, 2008, Corporal Endicott was found dead in his room at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where he had checked himself in for anger management after another car accident. He was 26.


“A toxicologist detected at least nine prescription drugs in his system, including five different benzodiazepines, drugs used to reduce anxiety or improve sleep. Small amounts of marijuana and methadone — a narcotic that is particularly dangerous when mixed with benzodiazepines — were also found in his body…..


“He survived over there,” his father said. “Coming home and dying in a hospital? It’s a disgrace.”


“Prescription drug use is on the rise,” the report said, noting that medications were involved in one-third of the record 162 suicides by active-duty soldiers in 2009. An additional 101 soldiers died accidentally from the toxic mixing of prescription drugs from 2006 to 2009.


“I’m not a doctor, but there is something inside that tells me the fewer of these things we prescribe, the better off we’ll be,” Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli the vice chief of staff of the Army who has led efforts on suicide, said in an interview.”


Commenting on the NY Times article, Allen Frances, M.D., professor emeritus at Duke, in his Feb. 13, 2011 article, says:


“The New York Times of Feb 14 [NY Times of Feb 12] carries the disturbing news of an alarming increase in deaths from accidental overdose among our active duty military personnel and our war veterans. The usual scenario is a diagnosis of PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] (often accompanied by a pain syndrome), unsuccessfully treated with a wide array of psychotropic drugs, which in aggregate [combined together] wind up killing the patient- often at a very young age. Autopsy reveals significant blood levels of prescribed medication reflecting the heavy drug cocktail and no other apparent cause of death.”


“Individual psychotropic drugs can have serious side effects- in excessive combination which sometimes threaten respiratory and cardiac function in a potentially lethal way. And the whole is even more dangerous than the sum of its parts since the medications can interact to increase each other’s blood levels. Prescription drugs are overtaking illegal drugs as the primary cause of accidental overdose and death.”


This shocking news about compounding the tragedy of war might also evoke these questions:  1) Should stress responses in soldiers be suppressed by drugs?  and 2) Is a stress reaction always a “disorder” that must be medicated?  


A good definition of stress is supplied in an article by Jane Weaver, Health editor MSNBC:


“Stress is a burst of energy,” says psychiatrist, Dr. Lynne Tan, of Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. “It’s our body telling us what we need to do.”  


What, then, would be a healthy stress response to war zones?   And should the senses even be dulled, by drugs, in such dangerous situations?  When one must react quickly to danger, either by attacking, running, or mustering one’s strength, or even anger, should doctors mess with this response?


Secondly, when an individual soldier is exposed to the horrors and trauma of war — to the disassociation from his culture, family and friends — to the horrible physical strain — to the death and destruction from and around himself (admittedly towards the “enemy”, but who nevertheless are co-members of the human race) — can he be considered normal if he does NOT react with stress and negative emotion?  And if this IS a normal response, is labeling it a “disorder” and drugging it, correct for that individual?   These questions should be asked and answered before we continue spending tax dollars on military “meds.”



Leave a Reply


Contact CCHR Florida

109 N. Fort Harrison Ave.
Clearwater, Florida 33755
Tel: 1-800-782-2878