A recent article in the New York Times dealt with the subject of polypharmacy among military and ex-military men and women. The headline says it all, For Some Troops, Powerful Drug Cocktails Have Deadly Results. An army report detailed the increase in suicide that accompanied this development.
“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.
A number of soldiers killed themselves by their own hand, often considered a side effect of certain psychiatric drugs, while other soldiers over dosed on combinations of prescription drugs.
The actual number of accidental deaths from drug combinations I suspect is likely to be much higher than that attributed to drugs. Were the cause listed as “unknown”, for instance, the cause of death would not have been attributed to the drugs that could have caused it.
“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.
When people in the mental health/illness system are dying on average 16 years earlier than the general population, 25 years earlier according to a 2006 study, you know you’ve got a problem. It is my hope that the alarm and the concern that has been generated by these “accidental” deaths among military and ex-military men and women might spread to some of those early deaths in the civilian population.
The problem has grown so severe in the army that the army has issued a new policy on the use of multiple medications.
“The sedation is not necessarily two plus two is four,” said Cmdr. Rosemary Malone, a Navy forensic psychiatrist. “It could be synergistic. So two plus two could be five.”
Our military and ex-military are not the only victims of polypharmacy, but in the service at least the matter is receiving some much needed attention. Sadly this attention comes too late to help those of our fighting men and women who have already died as a result of deadly combinations of prescription drugs.