According to Army statistics, 12 percent of combat troops in Iraq and 17 percent of combat troops in Afghanistan are taking authorized psychiatric prescription drugs. Approximately half of these are taking sleeping medication, while the other half are taking antidepressants - mostly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac or Zoloft.
If usage rates in other armed service branches are similar, this translates into 20,000 combat soldiers taking psychiatric drugs.
The Army has used psychotropic drugs on its troops before, but has traditionally refrained from allowing drugged soldiers to go into combat. But as of November 2006, the Pentagon has allowed the use of SSRIs in combat troops. Some analysts trace this to a desire on the part of the military to make each individual soldier fight longer before burning out. The use of drugs hypothetically allows soldiers to cope better with longer and more frequent deployments, and saves the military from having to train and pay a larger fighting force. Yet health professionals warn that there is no substitute to time away from combat; the longer a soldier goes without a break, the more likely he or she is to suffer long-term psychological illness.
According to the Pentagon, 20 percent of combat soldiers suffer from "temporary stress injuries," while 10 percent suffer from "stress illness." Symptoms include anxiety, apathy, irritability, insomnia, pessimism and, in severe cases, panic, rage, uncontrolled shaking and temporary paralysis.
Some health professionals have also questioned whether the increased use of SSRIs has contributed to rising suicide rates among combat troops. The FDA warns that SSRIs can increase the risk of suicide in people between the ages of 18 and 24, which is the primary age range of combat soldiers.
"The high percentage of U.S. soldiers attempting suicide after taking SSRIs should raise serious concerns," said Joseph Glenmullen of Harvard Medical School. "And there's no question they're using them to prop people up in difficult circumstances."
Original story: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article...